Misreading Paper and Print

Sometimes in the rush of change people misread what they are seeing.  If there’s a mantra for the 21st Century it should be “take a closer look”.  While the floodgates of modern media have brought us an amazing array of information, images, and ideas, it has also brought with it an outrageous amount of mis-information.  Sound bites are less about news and more about noise.  The alarming absence of perspective both fascinating and frightening.

Paper is a good example.  A surprising number of people believe that not printing on paper saves trees.  While being a responsible user of natural resources is important, the reality is the paper and forest industry grow and harvest trees specifically for paper making.  These managed forests better serve the environment through carbon sequestration and cleansing of the water aquifer. Print creates a demand for paper, which in turn creates a demand for trees and managed forests, all the while holding development or other less environmentally friendly uses of land at bay.  It may seem counter-intutitve to you, but it’s true.

A surprising number of people believe the e-devices (smart phones, iPads, laptops, net books, etc) populating the modern world have little to no impact on the environment.  The fact that it’s against the law in 50 states and the District of Columbia to toss your cellphone in the trash ought to tell you something—lithium batteries are hazardous waste.  Unfettered access to the on-line world sucks up a huge amount of energy.  It requires bricks and mortar, air conditioning, electricity, computers and huge data centers operating 24/7/365.  The increasing use of fossil fuels including coal and petroleum to provide the electricity for data centers is growing 24% a year. “E” is not free.

While some take newspapers, magazines and book manufacturers to task for not quickly adopting new forms of content delivery such as e-readers, the argument that paper is used to create scarcity conveniently overlooks the fact that only 83% of US homes have computers, fewer still broadband access and that e-readers are largely out of financial reach of many families and especially children.  Paper, in the form of books, magazines, and newspapers are readily available free in public and school libraries, at reasonable prices on newsstands and if you’re not too fussy on seats in subways, bus stations and coffee shops.  Paper as a metaphor for scarcity or the means to slowing idea creation seems wildly outdated.  E-devices are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean paper or print must go.  If you love breathing fresh air and drinking clean water assuring a demand for print, paper and trees may be the best and most beneficial idea yet. It could likely turn out that print is the renewable way a responsible world communicates.

One thought on “Misreading Paper and Print”

  1. I love my books, but could it be because I am one of the baby boomers? I think not. There is something to say about having mixed media… we need to break away from two dimensional worlds. Without interacting in the “real world” I am afraid we will lose touch with reality. I am making a conscious effort to read to my grand children, to let my grand children watch me read a book, rather than using yet another e-device. Yes, I have begrudgingly moved to the smart phone and yes, I do love the technology, but I believe we cannot afford to, as a society, go completely paperless.. as you point out so eloquently, it really is NOT good for us or our planet.

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