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The printed word has been inked into our lives since ‘block printing’ came to Western Europe in the 1300’s. By the mid 15th century, ‘movable type’ meant that books could be printed and we never looked back from there on. In our 21st century, digitalised world, do we still need print? Newspapers, CD’s, DVD’s and all kinds of tangible consumables with print on are being ditched for downloadable versions.

So how easy would it be to live a whole day without the printed word? Would it be any easier if you chose to live it at the weekend or on a work day? Has it really become such an integrated part of our lives, or does the invention of computers, laptops and tablets mean we can get through life without it? You might think this sounds quite easy, but when we invented a handful of fake ‘game show’ scenarios, we found that the imaginary contestants found it very difficult to go without the printed word. Now this doesn’t mean a whole day without printing anything, it means a whole day without interacting with the printed word, so there’s no picking up pieces of paper with text on or buying magazines! Let’s see how our contestants got on…


Gutenberg moveable type pieces


Scenario 1: The work day.

Okay so this is undoubtedly going to be the hardest challenge of them all, just how exactly do you get through a whole work day without interacting with the printed word? With the average office decorated with printers, fax machines, scanners, photocopiers and piles upon piles of printed documents and reports; it’d be impossible to do. You wouldn’t know where to look!

Okay, so let’s take contestant number one. Bob Johnson*. Bob Johnson is a marketing director for a large leisure company, he’s kindly agreed to partake in our challenge, and he thinks he can go a whole day without using the printed word to help him in his day to day activities.

The rules in this game are simple: get three strikes and you’re out. As this round is set in the workplace, we’re guessing it’ll be no time before Bob Johnson is sent away without his prize money! Here we go, enter Bob Johnson…

A boardroom meeting in session



8.40am: Bob Johnson arrives at work. He avoided his morning newspaper today and so he gets off to a good start.

9.00am: Bob checks his emails. Brilliant, he thinks, as he looks at the computer-generated words which are positively not printed on his screen!

9.10am: A work colleague enters his office and asks if he would like a hot drink. Bob accepts his usual tea and two sugars. When the drink is brought to him, it isn’t sweet enough. Luckily, Bob always keeps a few sachets of sugar in his top drawer. As he tries to figure out how to open the little packet, he notices the word ‘open here’ printed on the top. Isn’t that helpful. Wait, did someone say printed? Strike 1.

9.45am: After spending half an hour typing up a sales report on his laptop, Bob heads to the toilet. If it wasn’t for the little sign that said ‘Gentlemen’, he wouldn’t know which door to go in, and could be in a bit of trouble. That’s printed of course. Strike 2.

10.05 am: The CEO enters Bob’s room holding a wad of 4 newspapers, ‘Hey Bob, have you seen our ads in the tabloids today? Your team did a really good job on the visuals. Here, have a look…’ And as he glanced over the discount savings offer he had so proudly conceived a week ago, he had hit his third strike and was out of the game! Strike 3, and Bob’s out!

How it happened:

You see, Bob thought he was being smart. Avoiding LaserJet printers and staying well clear of anything remotely ‘inky’. But the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t just his workload that consisted of printed type, but it was his sugar packets, toilet door signs and newspapers. The printed word gets everywhere and you may think you can avoid it at work, but sometimes it will be hiding in the most unexpected places!


Scenario 2: The day off.

Emma Wood* is a student at university, on her day off from lectures, she plans to let loose and relax before her big night out in town. She has also decided to apply for our challenge, and thinks she can easily go a whole day without the printed word! With no workplace in sight, and any coursework, essays and printers stuffed away in her wardrobe, she’s roaring and ready for the challenge ahead! Let’s see how she gets on and if she can beat Bob’s time of 10.05am.

Group of students stood outside uni

10.25am: Emma wakes up, after a late night out last night, the last thing she plans to do today is read, write, type or print. A perfect game plan for a day without the printed word!

11.05am: Emma and her friends sit and chat in the shared kitchen, sharing stories of the previous night and their plans for the summer.  No sign of print here, good work Emma!

12:00pm: Emma and her friends decide to grab some lunch at a nearby café. They all finish their salads and sandwiches and get the bill. It is Emma’s turn to pay this week, so she squints at the tiny writing on the slip of paper and begins to fumble for her purse. Oh no, the receipt she has just studied, was in fact printed! Strike 1.

12.10pm: Emma is left paranoid as she now realises this game is harder than she thinks. On her way home through the city, she keeps her head down and tries to avoid looking at any shop signs. Good tactic Emma, but quite dangerous, we ask that our audience please do not try this at home!

12.20pm: Then it happens. A student club rep thrusts a flyer in front of her face and she is met with not one, but hundreds of colourful printed words! Strike 2.

13.05pm: In the clothes shops, Emma and her friends decide to treat themselves for the night out tonight. Emma finds some shoes and checks the size: Great, the right size! But how did she find that out? From a little bit of printed text on the inside of course! Strike 3, and Emma’s out!

How it happened:

Well Emma managed to beat Bob by three hours, but she still couldn’t make it till the end of the day. Eventually, the printed word caught up with her! Again it was necessities such as food bills and clothes sizing labels. And when she tried to avoid it, it caught her in the form of advertising: a nightclub flyer! This means we have no winners today and the power of the printed word is still proven to be stronger than ever.

What this tells us about printing.

If you read our article about prints that changed the world, you’d know that since the invention of the printing press, and modern movements such as Pop Art, print has become the very fabric that runs through life. Channelled through marketing, advertising, instructional guides and everything in between, print exists in all aspects of daily life. It’s pretty hard to avoid.

When you print off documents, reports or designs, you’re actively partaking in the printing process, but not many of us stop and think about the bigger picture: just how many things are printed? Sat here typing this, I can see than my shoes have print on the inside, as do my trouser labels. If it wasn’t for these, I wouldn’t know what size I was supposed to buy or how to wash and dry them.

If you could spot any other instances where Bob or Emma would’ve come across printing, please let us know! You can also continue this discussion on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

*Please note: all characters in this article are fictional examples. Any similarities to real people are purely coincidental!


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