Why most dreams die

Background: This one came to me as I sat in yet another committee meeting, perhaps the 30th meeting of the publications committee in a museum I was about to leave, and all we had achieved was a publications policy, when we had been appointed as a publications committee, to seek, foster and assist publication. The museum (which must remain nameless as any opprobrium adhering to it might harm its near-neighbours, Darling Harbour and Chinatown), still produces mediocre print materials.

Young Gutenberg bounded into his Divisional Supervisor's office, full of infectious youthful enthusiasm.

'I've come up with this really neat idea!' he started in, but then his voice faltered, just a little. He was too young to realise that Divisional Supervisors are immune to every known form of enthusiasm, but something told him that his reception was to be less than enthusiastic.

The Divisional Supervisor set aside the latest issue of his favourite journal, Creative Budget Cutting. His face formed itself into a frown as he looked the youth up and down. 'Oh yes?' he murmured icily.

'Well, I've got this idea to make lots of books, all at once . . .' he began, but his Divisional Supervisor cut him short.

'Books? BOOKS? You can't go copying books!'

Gutenberg's lower lip trembled a little at this stern and unexpected reaction. 'Why ever not?' he asked mildly.

Patiently, the Divisional Supervisor explained. 'There's no Dewey decimal classification system yet.'

'Couldn't we develop that as we go along?'

'Think about it. You go printing off books all over the place, and where'll we be in 500 years' time? You'll have to wait, lad, until we have our plans ready, and know what approach we want to take to this book problem.'

But young Gutenberg was full of the resilience of youth, and could not be spurned so easily. 'Maybe I could print just one or two LITTLE books?'

The Divisional Supervisor was horrified. 'And what happens if we decide later that BIG books are the best way to go? How will we fit your LITTLE books into the standard bookshelves we'll need to make?'

'Maybe if I just do one book then, and if it doesn't fit, we can throw it away after . . .'

'No!' The response reeked of finality, full of the sound of distant doors slamming shut. The Divisional Supervisor waited for this answer to sink in, then said more kindly, 'You can't just go printing books promiscuously. You've got to have a style manual before you go printing books.'

Young Gutenberg wrinkled his nose. 'But that'd be a book itself, wouldn't it?'

The Divisional Supervisor nodded, relieved that young Gutenberg was finally beginning to understand. 'That's exactly it. So the whole scheme's impossible, as you can see. Now if you'll excuse me, I've a meeting on financial accountability to attend.'

Disconsolate, young Gutenberg wandered off, and invented the bicycle instead.

Alternative/supplementary happy ending

Twenty years later, Europe had been revolutionised. People everywhere had copied the Gutenberg bicycle design, and made their own bicycles, unrestricted by policy or planning.

In just a few years, ordinary people's social circles in Europe expanded from five miles to thirty miles. Cycleways were developed to meet new needs, people started to marry spouses from further away, genes spread, and ideas spread even faster.

Thirty years after the invention of the bicycle, the demand for new ideas was so great, Gutenberg's son invented a watermill-powered manuscript machine that could write six copies of any book, all at once, day and night, so long as a boy kept the ink-wells for the six quill pens topped up. The machine was fed with the words by punched leather 'cards', held together by long pieces of string.

The information revolution had arrived.

Which future will you pursue?

Peter Macinnis

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This file is part of a series, written by Peter Macinnis, and last revised on February 27, 2010 when I happened to look, and saw some typos.

This file is http://www.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/lit_test.htm

It may be freely reproduced for educationally useful purposes (you decide if it is useful), if the file is reproduced as it appears here -- I like people to know that it is me causing them annoyance :-)