April 30, 2010

More Ado About Nothing


I thought I'd seen everything there was to see about nothing.

Or about pages containing nothing.

A few months ago, Tillerman caused quite a stir in the sail blogging community by posting a completely blank blog post.

No Lasers, no pix of his grandkids, no defiant tea bagger protestors with pathetically misspelled signs.

Just a blank screen with This Post Has Intentionally Been Left Blank.

The post got a huge number of comments and prompted a whole series of follow-up posts about minimalism and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, (who, himself, enjoyed quite a nice ride by making a big deal about nothing, or nearly nothing). There was an associated Tillerman writing project, and there may have been a book deal, too, for all I know.

I thought I'd seen the last of nothing until I was Googling the other day, trying to find some stuff I needed for work, when I stumbled across a whole world of previously undiscovered nothingness.

There are people in this world, it turns out, who have taken the page intentionally left blank to heights Tillerman could not have dreamt of.

I have more than a passing interest in this because the page intentionally left blank was born in the world of publishing, which, for better or worse, has been my reluctant home for.... well, for a lot of years.

When books, magazines, or newspapers are printed, it's usually done on large sheets of paper that contain many individual pages. Each sheet is called a 'signature' and will contain 4, 8, or 16 pages - or more, but always a multiple of one of those numbers. The whole business gets folded and cut up as it's bound into a book or folded into a newspaper. So, if a book runs to only, say, 15 pages, there will inevitably be one page that ends up being blank. In practice, some content is usually placed on the blank page, mainly to keep bloggers from writing posts about pages intentionally left blank.

But there are some publishers who do not read blogs, and they find it easier to just insert the words this page intentionally left blank. They've got to put something there, or people would feel some vital content was missing. It's just like Californians feel that every square inch of a subdivision must be paved over, for fear of being deprived of something.

Before the internets came along, no one cared about any of this except technical droids who had to actually set up the printing presses to publish books, magazines, and newspapers. But the wonderful thing about the internet and personal computers is that they have made our lives much more efficient and have freed up our time so that we have a lot more of it to waste than ever before.

Tillerman may have done a mere blog post left intentionally blank, but did you know that there is an entire ongoing research project and permanent website dedicated to the blank page?

On this remarkable website you can read about the history and cultural significance of the intentionally blank page. If you like, you can exchange ideas and theories with the TPILB team who run the website (yes, they have their own acronym).

The website is actually ground zero for blank pages on the internet. There are detailed instructions for how to create a blank web page and visitors are encouraged to join the growing community of blankness. Imagine what a thrilling event their team picnic must be, with everyone showing up wearing team logo blank tee shirts.

If that's not bizarre enough, the ultimate bestowing of aura and significance has been visited upon the intentionally blank page. Wikipedia has created and diligently maintains a page devoid of all content, which it labels 'Blank Page'. Like the famous monolith in Stanley Kubricks's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, its blankness is chilling.

Wikipedia has also seen fit to create a page that explains in detail exactly what a blank page is, for those with limited imagination, I guess.

There is also a remarkably useful page for translating into 28 different languages the phrase This page intentionally left blank.

When archaeologists of the 25th century unearth the mouldering hard drives that were home to these web pages who knows what mystical or religious significance they will attach to this obsession with blankness? What will they think of us for having so revered nothing?

I, too, have been trying for days now to find some meaning in all of this.

But I got nothing.



  1. This commenter's mind has been left irreversibly blank

  2. Thanks, Baydog, and thanks also to the dozens of other commenters who have understandably chosen to leave this comments page intentionally blank.

  3. I wonder if there are corresponding notices in clear-cut forests for the trees that were intentionally cut down to provide intentionally left blank pages? "This forest intentionally left blank."

  4. the blank commenter5/3/10, 10:53 AM

    This commenter has understandably chosen to leave this comments box blank.

  5. in cocktail party chatter on sunday, i heard about a fellow who went silent and found he heard much more by not speaking. He ended up defending his dissertation in silence (I do not know how! powerpoint?) After a long period, he broke it to now give talks about the joys of being silent.

    yes, i know, I should have stayed silent. but so curious! anyone know more about this fellow?

  6. For a long time I posted about the joys of not doing blog posts.

    How wise I used to be.