Changing Times

Weblogs have come under quite some fire recently in the newspaper I regularly buy. Janet Street-Porter‘s comment last week was followed a day later by an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. In both cases their generalisations are quite amazing. For me and many others this medium is a mere tool.

Around 1993 my introduction to the world of publishing began with a desk-top publishing (DTP) programme on my brother’s Amstrad PCW. I used to produce a newsheet – “TIM’S”. A couple of years later I initiated two student magazines linked to my interest in development and human rights, “Modern Times” and “Circulation”, which I produced on my own first PC, a 486 machine running Serif PagePlus. Other publications followed. I self-published my first novel with its miniscule circulation using that same machine with Word 6, my trusty HP Inkjet and a binding machine.

At university I spent my second year laying-out the student magazine using Adobe PageMaker. While doing my Masters in 1999, I added Quark Xpress and Adobe Photoshop to my portfolio. Then in 2001, I discovered the internet as a publishing medium and so began a website called “My Journey”, which later became “Our Journey” when I got married. “Euromuslim” and “AlienNation” were two group efforts I toyed with for a while.

You see, for over a decade I have been interested in publishing and writing, and the weblog is just the latest tool in this process. I am really not interested in “blogging” per se, but in communication media in general. I read only two weblogs on a regular basis, one which provides media analysis and one which encompasses matters of the deen. I occaisionally browse other Muslim blogs to get an idea of current thought in western Muslim communities, and a couple of private novel blogs belonging to fellow writers who wish to share their work in progress, but this is the entirety of my engagement with the “blogosphere”.

I write and publish because it is a hobby of mine, as the years have shown. Is there something special about a weblog? Not really. I use the software provided by Blogger because it is more convenient than the FTP method I used when I first discovered the Internet and the DTP adventures before that. I have had so many people coming up to me recently, telling me that they read my “Blog” and I find it quite embarrassing. I’m somehow ashamed to find myself part of this great global trend. But then I remind myself of the same condescending criticism of DTP ten years ago. “Real Publishers” turned their noses up at these upstarts, just as “Real Commentators” mock those who use the medium of weblogs today. No doubt the internet is awash with detritus, but please: so is TV, Radio, Magazine Publishing, Book Publishing and the Newspaper Industry.

I can understand the snobbery on one level: the media and publishing are industries which are intensely difficult to enter. Despite my job interviews with all the big names in publishing I never got my foot in the door given all the competition… so I can appreciate why those on the inside are so protective of their position. But times change. The traditional printing industries died with the advent of the Apple Mac and digital repro in the 1980s. The men who created plates with lead characters protested in their time. And many a small press cried when the DocuTech arrived, whilst others thrived. Times change and media come and go. Newspapers have seen their circulations diminish in recent times, perhaps with the advent of the internet. It is still possible that they might all but die out, newspapers becoming the realm of enthusiasts alone, just as the skills of the calligraphers and copiests of old petered out.

For me, IT has always been a tool, a mean to an end and not an end in itself. No doubt I could have established for myself a great career by now, with great wealth in the bank, had I viewed IT differently some years back. Instead I saw software as a means to achieving my goals, as tools to help in the creative process. Just as a wordprocessor helped me to write, the software of the Weblog now helps me to publish. It is a tool, not an end in itself. A newspaper is a tool too, aiding communication. Those who have let it become an end in itself will awake one day to find it dead. Those who see a tool for what it is will move with the times and adopt whichever gives them the edge. Flint tools gave way to bronze and bronze to iron. This is the way of man.

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