The Photocopier and the PDF
The photocopier changed the pamphlet game in a major way – it simplified layout, it simplified reproduction, and it increased the output in a given amount of time substantially. It is on account of the Xerox machine that the “Zine” comes into being, a form of political pamphlet taking its name from the “magazine.” Some of the earliest zines were about social sub-cultures, and fandom in particular. They could also be regional, and often also even neighborhood specific, serving as a way of connecting people who had the same hobbies together. But unlike previous hobbyist publishing, zines were often aggregated – one could find collections of zines on different topics. The zine was a form of information that was cataloged, and that was significant because as technologies began to allow for the standardization of information systems, that allowed zines to be accessible by various institutions, and through this, the political pamphlet experienced an institutionalization that it had not yet known. It could now be accounted for in formal historical narratives. There have been collections of political pamphlets published for centuries, but they were always products of their time: limited by reach, or literal number of copies. The zine was different, it was mass produced, and massively accessible.
It may be that the zine was the last physical form of the political pamphlet, before the digital revolution, and it is worth noting that with the loss of physicality comes the loss of eye contact. The zine was the last political pamphlet that was given by hand from one human to another, that arrived in a mailbox. From then onward, it was all ones and zeroes.
The Portable Document Format, commonly known as the PDF, was the first common format for the digital political pamphlet. That isn’t to say that there were no pamphlets born digitally before the PDF, but the PDF was the first standardized format. The file format was invented by John Edward Warnock, who intended it to "effectively capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print these documents on any machines." Originally called Camelot, Warnock invented the PDF at Adobe in 1991. One of the underground movements in Chicago during the 1990’s, the Jane Collective, published its views and experiences via PDF. The distinct advantage of the PDF was ubiquitous access – it did not matter whether the reader was using a PC or a Mac. The PDF file format was free to use, but remained proprietary in Adobe’s name until 2008 when Adobe released the technical specifications, allowing the PDF to become an open standard. The specifications were published by the International Organization for Standardization, representing the first truly global format the political pamphlet has ever embodies. Now, it was certainly true that prior to 1990, political pamphlets may have traveled to other countries, but when the ISO published the PDF filetype as an open standard, the medium itself became widely accessible. The PDF could be linked to on a webpage, but users would need to know the URL of the page. The PDF could be emailed, but the pamphleteer would have to know who he wanted to send his pamphlet to, he couldn’t simply write “the public” into the recipient box. Therefore, despite the global nature of the PDF as an open standard, there was still one more major innovation in the medium of the political pamphlet that had to occur before the global public could be the audience for a pamphleteer. That innovation, of course, was social media.