Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When last year’s visiting Press lecturer, Darren Wershler (see the posts below for the project that we did with him) gave his talk, he brought up many interesting and provocative ideas in regard to the future of the book and various forms of web-based publishing. He talked about writing constructed through the use of Google and other software, QR codes, and Twitter and other social media, and how these new modes of textual generation and distribution are affecting the practice and role of writing.

Shortly after that lecture, Steve Hayward’s Beginning Fiction class, who had been at the lecture and participated with other parts of Darren’s visit, came to The Press to learn and do a project. They decided that they wanted to respond to Darren’s lecture somehow, to use it as the basis for whatever they did at The Press—a little old + new media.

They had already written some Twitter-length fiction (Twiction: stories containing no more than 140 characters—an extreme, media dictated form of flash fiction) and wanted to use that as the text for the project. But how could Twitter and letterpress printing fit together? The answer came in the most ubiquitous link between the physical world and the web: the QR code. The printed QR code could literally be the (hyper)connection between the physical mode of text distribution (a book) and the electronic mode of distribution (in this case, a Twitter account set up to publish their Twictions). Scanning the QR code took a reader to the Twitter page of the class. The QR code became both the aesthetic and the conceptual driver of the project.

[Aside: one of the central tenets for structuring these class projects is that the students are given as much control and ownership as possible—both what to do and how to do it. I always give feedback on their ideas and help to guide them in terms of what is possible and what is feasible, but ultimately these Penny Press projects are conceived and executed by the students.]

We also decided to augment our hyper-project with that oldest form of social media: the letterpress printed broadside. We designed a poster that was made up of the QR code, the Twitter URL blind stamped at the bottom (for those without smart phones), and the actual text of the Twictions, also blind stamped, printed directly on top of the QR code. The blind-stamping allowed the QR to remain functional. These broadsides would be hung all over campus, with no explanation beyond the information encoded in them, as a real world, guerrilla expansion of the project.

Printing the QR codes on the book covers.

Blind stamping on the book cover.

The polymer plate for the QR Code.

Printing the QR codes on the broadsides.

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