November 7, 2002 / Photography / Winter 2002

Going Digital

Written by Scott Dennis

I remember the first time I had to depend on a computer to help me create a yearbook. It was my first book and the staff told me it was easier to develop yearbook pages using the computer. At that time, I was completely computer illiterate and had every intention of staying that way. As far as I was concerned, computers were the spawn of you-know-where and I was having nothing to do with them.

Now, 12 years later, I have a completely rational and empirically reasoned hatred for the thing. However, the reasons for that hatred have changed. Also, as I have become more familiar with computers (and by default, more and more dependent on the silly blinkey boxes), I have observed four stages people go through to move from complete computer paranoia to complete computer dependency.

Stage One
people are complete and utter computer xenophobes. These increasingly rare individuals will not come within 50 feet of a PC. They feel that any contact between themselves and the computer will somehow result in the computer suffering a complete meltdown and they will somehow be responsible for it. In fact, if they can avoid any room that has a computer in it, so much the better. Fortunately, this breed is beginning to vanish as more and more computers invade our everyday lives and take over our most mundane operations. Most Stage Ones have advanced to Stage Two or Stage Three. A rare few have even progressed to Stage Four. By the way, do not even try talking computer jargon around these folks. They will get the “deer in the headlight” look in their eyes, and begin searching for the nearest exit.

Stage Two
people have overcome their initial irrational fear of computers, but have not truly progressed beyond operating one or two programs. Most have grasped basic word processing and maybe, just maybe, simple layouts. Some may have gotten spreadsheets down, but it is unlikely. Again, this is a vanishing breed. Some computer jargon is understood, but much goes way over their heads. Most Stage Twos are completely happy with whatever computer they have on hand, regardless of how antiquated it is, as long as it does the job they want it to.

Stage Three
is where yours truly resides. These are the people who have begun their complete and utter dependency on the computer. They have mastered most of the major programs out there and can do some manipulation of these programs’ parameters to get a desired result. They have also realized just how easy the computer can make many tasks. Yearbook adviser Stage Threes have come to love such programs as Photoshop, Illustrator and other graphics programs. These advisers are also completely familiar with page layouts on QuarkXPress or PageMaker, and cannot even imagine returning to paste-up. Fear is no longer a factor in dealing with computers. Now, it is a simple hatred at how incredibly easy it is to cause a computer to hiccup or, worse, cough up a hard drive.

They also begin to suspect computers are far more intelligent than they let on and will, at the worst possible moment, eat a file, corrupt a layout, or otherwise refuse to behave just out of spite. Also, there is the beginning of the realization that they are hopelessly dependent on the computer for their lives and/or livelihood (in our case, livelihood equals yearbook) and this will, if they have not progressed to Stage Four or eased back into a form of Stage Two, turn into a self-loathing for being so utterly dependent on such an inanimate, spiteful object.

Some will advance to Stage Four, but many are secretly happy to be complaining Stage Threes. 90-95 percent of all computer jargon is understood at this stage. Many Stage Three people are using such things as digital cameras, scanners, external hard drives and the like. Most Stage Three people are competent to proficient with all of these peripherals. Advanced Stage Three people will be able to think of things computers should be able to do and find a peripheral that will do it. These are the people who try to stay on the cutting edge of technology (i.e. one to two generations back from the absolute latest). This is a growing group of people for reasons mentioned in Stage One.

Stage Four
people are scary. These people love computers. They talk to their computers (mind you, in loving terms. Stage Three people will talk to their computers, but in terms that generally cannot be used in polite society). These people know computers inside and out. Hardware, software, firmware — you name it, they know it. They can make computers do things that their original designers had no idea a computer could do.

Graphics? George Lucas should be so good. These folks are waiting for the day when science will come up with some sort of bio-cybernetic brain implant so they will never be without their computer. Peripherals are not an option. They are an absolute necessity.

Jargon? You mean there is another language other than “computerese?” Some of you may have staff members that fall into this category. I know I do. These people must stay on the bleeding edge of technology. They must have the latest and most powerful. Nothing less will do. These are the ones who will volunteer to be part of any test group or beta program a computer manufacturer or program manufacturing company is doing. If they could become part of the R&D department of a major computer company, they will think they have died and gone to heaven.

While the above list is completely unscientific and utterly the creation of yours truly, it does point to some things we as yearbook advisers need to address. First, the largest percentage of Stage One and Stage Two people are found…guess where…in education. We, who are supposed to be preparing our children for a profitable future outside school walls, are ourselves at best computer handicapped and at worst, computer illiterate. Much of this comes from our stubborn desire to maintain the status quo and a deep fear of change. Hey, it is natural — we are teachers.

However, we are also yearbook advisers. We are one of the very few departments in a school that is governed by an outside entity — the publisher — and publishing is governed, in part, by technology. Remember my mentioning how computers are getting into everything? Well, they are a growing part of publishing as well. If we want our staff kids to have a true and accurate picture of what being in publishing is all about, then we ourselves need to keep up to date with the current trends in technology. Not too sadly, the days of paste-up pages and manual cropping of photos are fading away. The computer can do so much of this so much quicker and it really is not that hard to do.

Fortunately, the nice thing about technology is that it does change quickly and because of that, technology that is one or two generations back becomes very affordable and still gives our staff members a taste of what the real world of publishing is all about. Many yearbook advisors need to be at least at the beginnings of Stage Three and the deeper into Stage Three you get, the easier and more realistic your yearbook program will be.

Let me make a couple of suggestions. First, if you are not already submitting your photos in an electronic form (either by scanning your pictures using a flatbed or photo scanner or by using a negative scanner), then you should investigate doing this. Most yearbook publishers have to scan yearbook photos anyway to prepare them for publication. If a yearbook staff does this, then the final form the photo takes is under the control of the staff AND, if done properly, saves time at the plant. Cropping, clarity, contrast, all of this is at the staff’s fingertips. Plus, as mentioned above, this allows a yearbook staff to get a real taste of what a publishing plant does, and it opens a whole new area of image manipulation that can seriously jazz up a yearbook.

Second, if your department has not already gotten into using digital cameras, look into investing in one or two for candid shots. Nothing presently will replace film and a darkroom for sports or action shots, but for candid shots, digital cameras are the way to go. Literally, the photos move from camera to photo editing program to submission. It cuts the time down by at least half and there are not piles of ruined photo paper in the trashcan as the darkroom tries to get the photo right. Life does get so much easier using digital cameras.

I think we all know that technology will continue to advance and yearbook publishers, in trying to remain competitive, will be keeping up with it. We owe it to ourselves and to our programs to try to do the same. Publishing a yearbook is hard enough as it is. Since we are stuck with these blinkey-boxes, we should make them earn their keep

Scott Dennis