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Chapter 1. Digital Photography from 50,000 Feet > How the Technology Got Here

How the Technology Got Here

For millennia, text and pictures were more or less equals: Scribes illuminated or illustrated a manuscript at the same time the text was drawn. The only technology involved was, say, a quill pen and the tools used to sharpen it. When both text and graphics were hand-drawn, it took a little longer to create an illustration, but, as they say, a sketch is worth a thousand words. Until the invention of movable type, text and graphics merged seamlessly, with neither form of visual communication having a “technological” advantage over the other. Of course, manual methods sharply limited access to visual information, unless you were royalty, rich, or worked in a profession that required literacy.

That balance between text and graphics changed dramatically when movable type simplified the printing of books about 500 years ago. The distribution of text suddenly became several orders of magnitude easier than the reproduction of images. Movable type let text reach the masses, but pictures still had to be laboriously carved as woodcuts, engraved in steel, or converted to halftone dots before they could be printed. The transmission of words by telegraph predated wirephotos and fax machines by roughly a century, and the first 35 years of the Computer Age were dominated by text and numbers. Newspaper advertisements in the 1860s were better illustrated than accounts of the Civil War, and computer artists a century later sometimes created portraits by assembling ASCII characters into crude mosaics (if you’ve seen some of the pinups that resulted, you’ll know why they were considered crude).


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