The Praise of Design (Episode 17 Translation and Transcription)

Week after week, I yearn for the beautiful moment when, after barely enduring the insufferable burden of my own existence, the joyous hour finally arrives, in which I can rid myself of masks and appearances. Then I adopt the role that destiny had reserved for me: being your faithful storyteller. The respite that The Snack brings to my famished soul is but a fleeting moment, an ephemeral joy that wanes the very moment I publish the weekly episode, and I’m forced to await until the following week when I’ll once again be able to abscond myself from loneliness and project my best wishes to the chosen listeners of this godly, cyberphonic production.

I wonder, do I really need to return to my isolation, or is there a way to maintain your subtle enthusiasm throughout the week? I’m convinced that you posses the answer to this question. However, The Snack’s hermetic listeners stubbornly remain silent about such an arcane mystery. I see them leaving a comment, here and there, on Facebook’s most disparaged posts; I see them share their wisdom and interact among themselves with poise, thus promoting the most delectable things for the enrichment of all our lives.

I see you, I read you, and I ask myself whether your faithful storyteller could at some point be a part of such a happy community. Dare I call for your participation, that you acknowledge me with your own voice? Of course, after each episode, there is always hope that I establish an authentic connection with the listeners. And in fact, some podcastists, like the gargantuan and mysterious camel whisperer, always remind me that there are human beings on the other side of the microphone and the digital interface. So be it, dear listener, this episode will be dedicated to two from your number, whom I keep very close to my heart, and to whom this episode concerns thematically. I won’t give their names, but I’ll provide some signs that you may know them as part of the chosen: the lady with the curly hair and the big eyes, and the gentleman with the abnormally long arms and the noblest sentiments. But, my admiration notwithstanding, I offer also tribute.

So, from the thickest fogs of destiny, comes to us The Metaphysical Snack’s first promotion. If you want to win something, and at the same time partake of this delightful intellectual ambrosia, listen carefully until the end.

The shrewd among my listeners will remember that I recently had an excellent adventure at the Book Fair, from which I emerged the owner of a mysterious tome: Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie. After reading fiction for the first time after a long hiatus, I delved into the chosen book’s pages and remembered with a whiff of Nostalgia my tenderest youth. Soon, I found myself deep in the story, and the characters no longer seemed fictitious, I could almost touch them with the fingers of my imagination. I thought, why not cook a Snack about it and share with you the many wonders that I discovered between its pages?

Fear not, dear listener! I have no intention to spoil the book for you. This shall be a strictly thematic exploration. I promise you a beautiful story… Spoiler-free.

Sometime in the Twelfth Century, somewhere in the Holy Roman Empire, in what today we know as Belgium, or perhaps Holland, or perhaps France, or perhaps neither, there lived a benedictine monk who wrote manuals about several arts, such as painting, glass working and metalsmithing. This mysterious monk, who maybe didn’t even exist, is better known by the pseudonym Theophilus Presbyter, or Theophis da’Monk, among friends. His work, De diversis artibus, comes to the hands of Peter Schoeffer, Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by page 110.

Learnèd listeners, the nerdest among you must surely know that Peter Schoeffer is a historical figure, one of the first printers, who alongside Gutenberg developed the art of printing books, a technique that changed the world. The fictional Peter Schoeffer, receives Theophis’s book from Gutenberg himself and reads:

Act prudently Oh Man, by whose labor and toil so many sacrifices are offered to God. Be guided by the fire of a greater ingenuity: with all the might of you mind, hurry to make what is still missing in the house of The Lord.

Dear listener, we live in a time of multiplication. Thousands can listen to this Delightful Snack without a single word ever changing, thanks to the miraculous artifacts. Some five hundred years ago, how would I’ve transmitted my doctoral discourse? Well, I’d have had to speak this very words in front of an indisposed rabble, formed by the shadiest of characters. A couple of hours later, in some murky tavern, it already turns out that I said that The Snack was all about the importance of the printing press for the spreading of ideas. Another says that the point of it was about some bro, Damonk, who did a pimpin’ press. Yet another, is sure that I just meant that reading is super duper important to improve, and keep growing as a person.

Since there is no way to reproduce the episode, it starts to degenerate. In the next town, some heard that someone gave a sermon about some real persons that later became fictional but had a book that allowed them to cross between realities. Because that’s just too sci-fi, a month later, rumor has it that someone spoke about fictional books that speak about real characters, who in turn wrote real books that speak about fictional characters. It’s starting to sound a lot like witchcraft, isn’t it?

A couple of hills away, in our rival town, stories begin to circulate about a storyteller who owns an evil book in which he captures real persons and turns them into fictional characters, thus condemning their poor souls to never be read again… because the book is in Latin. Sooner rather than later, they start honing the pitchforks and lighting the torches. And while I’m getting ready to cook next week’s Snack, they come to my shack, bring down the door and drag me by my fictitious hair all the way to an accursed fire where they sentence me to die at the stake. Miserable, just when I find myself in that unhappy choice whether to howl in pain or taste my now medium-rare flesh, I can’t help but thinking: If only there were a way to spread my ideas without distortion!

But alas! It’s too late.

Before the printing press, ideas couldn’t be spread faithfully. Telephone (as in the children’s game) had been invented long before The Telephone. Texts had to be copied by hand, and mistakes were common. Besides, there was always a creative scribe who wanted to leave his mark, or a zealous editor who thought knowledge unworthy of another’s eyes. So, being able to produce identical copies of a text was highly desirable.

In other words, it was highly desirable from our own historical perspective, because we understand the many benefits of the printing press. But those who were the users of books in that most controversial Fifteenth century, were at the same time the producers of books. The idea that a text could be multiplied identically, over and over again, meant that scribes and copyists were all of a sudden useless artisans. The usual creators of the medieval book, saw the printing press as a contraption engendered by Satan himself… Before we judge them, we need to walk a mile in their shoes. How would you feel, oh productive listener, if tomorrow you were told that there’s this new machine capable of doing your work without ever screwing things up and a thousand times faster? By the way, here’s your severance package and many thanks.

For my part at least, I’d make my indignation known. I’d argue that The Snack is a product of human creativity and inspiration, and that there is not, nor will there ever be a machine capable of podcasting with so much feeling, with so much flavor, as I do despite my many human imperfections.

Certainly, a couple of centuries later on, when the Podcastator 5000 arrives in stores (Podcastator 5000 says Let’s Rock!), able to produce some 10 daily episodes of this gorgeous phenomenon, without ever repeating a joke or mispornouncing a single word, the lucky few that get to live in such a paradise will surely think that blessed was the hour when the miserable flesh and bone storyteller was replaced by something much much better.

Dear listeners, we are on the brink of a similar revolution. We have more in common with the characters in Gutenberg’s Apprentice than seems apparent at first glance.

Peter Schoeffer himself was a copyist. In the novel, he experiences profound disgust at the printing press. He sees it as we would a robot that is there to replace us. That is, until he discovers that in the new technique there remains a trace of humanity. In the end, the printing press was created by humans and it serves as an amplifier of creation. He couldn’t have known it then, but he had an intuition of the depth of the invention. Gutenberg’s technique would allow for the spread of ideas, and would open the doors for limitless invention, a transmission of knowledge that would be the foundation for new wonders and developments capable of transforming the world from its very roots.

In some stinking workshop in Mainz, Peter Schoeffer holds a small piece of metal. Carved on it, a letter. On that simple act, hangs the course of our History.

Now, dear listener, the writer, that most dispossessed of all artists, may try to claim ownership of Gutenberg’s legacy, in a sad attempt to escape his abject condition. He could even try to safeguard human dignity in the labyrinth that is multiplication. But he is mistaken, because Gutenberg’s true heirs are non others than designers.

Just like in printing, multiplication beats at the core of design. Its creations are reproduced by the millions and they populate our lives, making them better or rendering them insufferable. Look around you, dear listener: your daily world rests on the products of multiplication. The smartphone on which you’re listening to my voice, the shoes with which you dance to this sublime melody (Jazz in Paris plays in the background)… the cup in which you drink coffee, the spoon with which you pour sweet sugar on it. The objects that surround us carry the intention of a designer. Some of them have done their job well, and the results of their office are products that, despite being copies, just like books, have voices of their own.

The objects around us, if they had a good designer, blend with our humanity as if they had been especially designed with it in mind. Try to imagine the huge intellectual effort implied. The designer had to extract something essential about our interaction with the world. By understanding something elemental about us, the designer created an object that allows us to interact and navigate reality with intention and meaning.

For sure, multiplication can be used to stuff the world with ugly, shallow, and pointless objects. That’s production for production’s sake. Think about horrid cities, grey and unforgiving; think about useless products only destined to haunt the landfills of this Earth. What would our friend Da’Monk have to say? He advises that we make good use of our wit and our ingenuity to improve the world, because there is no place for grievance in sincere creation.

That is why, designers need to be alert. When Gutenberg unraveled the mysteries of multiplication, it was nevertheless Peter Schoeffer who found a higher meaning to the art of printing books. Well, dear designers, listeners of The Snack, it’s likely that our generation will witness the next technological leap in human history. Are you going to be on the side of ugliness, or beauty?

Thank you for listening to this prodigious episode of The Metaphysical Snack. As I promised at the beginning of the show, the first Pisco-promotion is at hand! If you want to win my copy of Gutenberg’s Apprentice, leave a comment on the Facebook page (, and tell me which book changed your life and why. Come on! It’s time to share your wisdom. I’ll announce the winners live on October the 18th, so make haste. Don’t miss this opportunity to win a great book and forever be known as the first ever winner in the stupidest podcast, for the brightest minds. See y’all next week.



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