#TBT Automatic vs. Handmade: Is One Better?

Today’s Throwback Thursday post comes to us from October of 2014 when Miranda Lambert was heating up the charts with a new song and an interesting message. I still think that in some instances the old way of doing things might have been a better (or at least a more meaningful) way to get things done. Read on and let me know what you think!

I love Miranda Lambert’s new song, Automatic. Have you heard it? It’s all about how we used to do things for ourselves and now so much just happens with little or no effort. Her point is that we get out of life what we put into it, so having things handed to us lessens the importance or meaning of the item or act. For example, we take it for granted now, but newspapers have not always existed. Yes, I know, some have closed their doors, but we still have many in print and online. However, in the 18th century, they were only beginning to come into their own. In my American Revolution era romance, Emily’s Vow, Frank Thomson is a Continental Army spy who is undercover in Charles Town, South Carolina, playing the part of a printer. He’s not happy about his assignment, because he’d prefer to be out and about than tied down to one place and then inside to boot. The work of laying out the type and operating the press is hard and tiresome and downright frustrating to this strong, adventurous man. Yet it’s the paper that enables him to relay coded messages to the American forces surrounding the besieged city. It takes time and effort to accomplish his objective, too.


Recently, I went to Philadelphia, home of not only Independence Hall (the site of the debate and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution) but also Benjamin Franklin and his print shop replica. The park ranger on duty in the Printing Shop demonstrated the process of printing a one-sided broadsheet. When the press was active in the 1700s, it took several men doing individual jobs at the press to make each copy. One man laid out the type in the appropriate channels using the small metal blocks with letters on them. (Interesting side note: The two “cases” of type sat in such a way as to have one on a table (the “lower case”) and one mounted above on an angle (the “upper case”). We still use those terms today, don’t we?) Another man inked the type. Another laid on the wet paper in the frame and lowered it over the inked type, then slid it into the press. The “puller” then pulled the lever to apply the pressure to make the print. One copy of the news or announcement was made. One. The goal was to make something like 20-30 copies an hour. Compare that to the automated presses newspapers use today and I think you can imagine how much more treasured having a broadsheet or pamphlet was then than now.

I think Miranda Lambert is on to something. Not that I want to go back to the way papers used to be printed in lieu of the current processes! But there are aspects of our current society’s expectations as a result of how fast things are done or produced that I wish were different. Can you think of something we take for granted that perhaps we shouldn’t? Or, the opposite, something you wish was more automatic?

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