The New York Times recently ran a front page story about a U.S. Justice Department report on the agency's diversity efforts. The final assessment was posted on the web last month, but over half of the report was "blacked out." Obviously, a scandal in the making: the agency responsible for enforcing U.S. civil rights laws censors a highly critical report and then publishes the report on the web, deleted sections and all. (The most divisive figure in American politics Attorney General and Justice Department head John Ashcroft is nowhere to be seen.)
Enter Russ Kick, "a self-described 'information archaeologist...'"
Mr. Kick, an editor in Tucson, Arizona, found a way around the Justice Department's editing: "he was able to call up the document in its Adobe Acrobat format and, using software that allows editing of PDF documents, then highlighted the blacked out editing bars and deleted them. The original, unedited text then appeared."
We are into new territory here. Adobe's Acrobat product is a newly ubiquitous tool the new lingua franca of document standardization around the world. Adobe gives Acobat away for free, and thereby it owns an important information pipeline by helping the world to share. Acobat is the ultimate fulfillment of modernism's goal of streamlined communication. However, Acobat not only facilitates the distribution of information, it also facilitates the layering of information in a document some visible to the world, some visible only to a few. Plus, those extended bars on top of text the black magic markers of censorship are easy in Acobat.
How do we get to that level below, that place where the original perhaps occasionally even the truth is revealed? Do designers, often experts at using Acrobat, become the new P.I.s, or criminal investigators, at finding what is hidden beneath the seams? Is this a case where running a design process in reverse, undoing the layers of content, is the way to the truth?
Is Russ Kick showing the way for designers?