Did you ever consider the political implications of the ascii standard? No? Thought so.
Someone who did is Robert Bringhurst. And these are not the only implications of typography that he has considered. The title of his book The Elements of Typographical Style may not be sexy, not the kind of thing you would read on the bus or in bed, but, holy shit, it is! If one happens to be a typography freak, this is just heaven, but I suspect that even people who use Times New Roman and Arial (or who don’t know which fonts they’re using, which probably means that they use Times New Roman and Arial), might find something to enjoy here, and even get their horizons widened, so that the next time they open a book, they may not go straight to the mental images behind the curved lines on the paper, but stop for a split second and think “hey, that’s a nice ‘g’!”
Where was I? Oh, the politics. Consider this, about the ascii character set, the standard upon which most computer type setup is based:
The fact that such a character set was long considered adequate tells us something about the cultural narrowness of American civilization, or American technocracy, in the midst of the twentieth century.
The basic ascii set has room for 94 characters. Since c. 1980 we have had the extended ascii set, with 216 free slots — a considerable improvement. But —
This ignores the needs of mathematicians, linguists and other specialists, and of millions of normal human beings who use the Latin alphabet for Czech, Hausa, Hungarian, Latvian, Navajo, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yoruba, and so on. The extended ascii character set is the alphabet not of the real world nor of the un General Assembly but of nato: a technological memento of the them-and-us mentality that thrived in the Cold War.
Bringhurst is a Canadian, of course… They ain’t so bad, them maple-lovers!
And if you thought that things have improved — well, yes, perhaps. But Bringhurst has some cold water for that burning enthusiasm too:
The rate of change in typesetting methods has been steep — perhaps it has approximated the Fibonacci series — for more than a century. Yet, like poetry and painting, storytelling and weaving, typography itself has not improved. There is no greater proof that typography is more art than engineering. Like all the arts, it is basically immune to progress, though it is not immune to change.
The ascii set has 94 characters, Gutenberg used 290 for his bible. ‘Nuff said.