There’s a fascinating discussion going on at the LinkedIn Print Networking Group about the viability of print in the age of web, email and social networking. While guessing about the imminent death of an industry is always great sport, the death of print is wildly overstated. While print now has numerous competitors for “eyeballs” and attention, it still remains one of the most effective communication mediums on the planet. In a time when only 77% of American households own computers, print narrows the digital divide by providing ready access to books, magazines and other knowledge resources affordable to most everyone or available for free at community libraries.
Information technology marketing has long thrived on “smoke and mirrors” announcing new product launches well before the underlying technology is ready for “prime time” and by selling products that do not function as promised or are so complex they require a programmer’s level of knowledge to operate. While I love technology and use plenty of it, I have also seen it unnecessarily waste limited financial resources, deliver mediocre results and frustrate even the most devoted users. Technology companies positioning themselves as the “green” alternative conveniently overlook the 24% annual growth in energy demands from server farms essential to powering the Internet. Browsing the Internet for just 12 hours a week will require over 300 pounds of coal to fuel the electrical demand. Who browses only 12 hours a week? It’s clear we need to be paying closer attention to the impact of our prolific technology usage.
The United States alone dumps 200-300 million electronic items every year. While the Basel Convention bans the export of hazardous waste, US e-recyclers have successfully circumvented the treaty rules resulting in global e-waste dumps around the globe. With only about 14-18% of computers and computer related junk suitable for recycling, the race for the next generation of faster chips or the latest Netbook is really a race to top off landfills. Toss a computer into the landfill and your great, great, great grandchildren will be unearthing the circuitry, along with mercury, cadmium, and other toxins five decades from now. Toss a book or newspaper into the landfill and all of it will be gone by the time your grandchildren head off to school in the spring and probably sooner. That’s something to think about. E-waste is a big environmental issue and a huge business opportunity for someone with the necessary smarts and funds to create a responsible recycling management system.
While the ‘digital natives’ among us will always sing the siren song of a technology future and the well meaning will believe they are saving trees by not printing e-mail, the paper industry continues to lead the way in recycling nearly 58% of all paper consumed while printers are finding new solutions to complex communication needs. Printing companies remain among the most resilient, technologically sophisticated and nimble manufacturing enterprises on the planet. Printers bring a unique perspective and deep knowledge to the communications marketplace found nowhere else. That’s the real story about the future of print and the graphic communications industry today.