This morning on the way to the metro, I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition and a story about the mayor of Karachi, who was asked whether or not Dubai and its spectacular growth was a model for the development and growth of Karachi. The mayor's response was that he preferred Karachi to be the model. But then he went on to say something that caught my attention: Karachi should be the model for such growth, but of course they were "cutting and pasting" ideas from many different places in figuring out their development.
I was struck by that metaphor of cutting and pasting and by how it has become much more prevalent in the last decade than it was when I was in school. When I was in high school--in the mid 1980s, not that long ago--I was on the school newspaper staff and we used to lay out our paper on bluelines by sticking and rearranging the various elements of the page: the story, the headlines, the bylines, the graphics. It was how we edited: we cut out paragraphs and moved them around. That was cutting and pasting, with razers and glue. But I don't remember the dominance of that language, of referring to not only laying out the page but to all sorts of editorial labor as cutting and pasting. I think we just called it putting the paper together.
My realization this morning was that to "cut and paste" has become the dominant way of describing the processes of editing and compiling, just as there is hardly any literal cutting and pasting going on. It was a brief moment of recalling how much our world is shaped by material processes, even by material processes that are no longer. And how much more is that true even as we communicate and live more and more through computers and digital media.