We love technology – the instantaneous flow of information and data, the interconnectedness of people who would never otherwise meet, the crowd-sourcing of digital solutions. In our line of work, we have marveled at the seismic shift in the ease and innovation of creating graphics and images, the global opportunities that opened when file transfers and commerce moved online, and the digital transition from plates and darkroom photo processing to computerized pdf workflows. It all makes for an exciting age in which to live. Technology has quickly, and not always painlessly, transformed the print industry from one about ink and paper into one of interactive communication, new media and data interpretation. And yet…. there’s just something about paper.
At the heart of this human love for paper is the physical, solid, stackable nature of the thing. It is organic. It has weight. You can hold it in your hand and point to the truth – “See? It’s right there in black and white.” Or color. Whether it is centuries of reliance on the physicality of having the “written word” in your hand, or whether it is something more primal, paper and printing hold a powerful place in our psyche. Think about it: your birth certificate, your child’s first crayon drawings from school, report cards, your ticket stub from a favorite concert, a treasured valentine or love letter, a “welcome home” sign, a sketch of a great idea, an autograph of your hero. At all the important, memorable moments of your life, paper has played a central role. It is usually the means by which you remember and treasure those events – unplugged.
Today, technology is clearly altering some of that relationship. The recent bankruptcy of Kodak seems to many of us who grew up in the last half of the twentieth century to be unthinkable. Yet they have announced they are going out of the film business. The woes of the USPS are a result of email and digital communications usurping the role of snail mail. Newpapers and magazines are struggling with the transition from paper to online versions. But paper still carries the word and image of our culture in ways that electronic media is not yet able to – by its very physical nature and our historic appreciation for its reliable, tactile properties. It is still capable of putting your message right into someone’s hands regardless of internet providers or the accessibility of a wifi signal.
Still not convinced? Watch this great video from Domtar’s “Paper because…” initiative that spotlights the contradiction between students who at first say they want to live in a paperless world – until they are told their diplomas will be handed out in pdf format.
An electronic diploma would convince most all students that paper has a clear place in our lives and futures. Maybe the tech future will gradually change this romantic attachment we have to the beauty and functionality of paper, but I doubt it will erase it anytime soon.