Wednesday, June 9, 2010


As I am sitting in a chilly air-conditioned room printing out hundreds of pages of manuals, I decided it would be an apt time to think about paper.

What is it that makes people want to have a "hard copy" of something anyway? It must be security. It's written even into the terminology. A "hard" copy is one that is concrete, will last forever unlike a "soft" copy which must be something erodible and delicate. With paper, the knowledge that anything, short of a devastating fire, in which case who cares about the documents anyway, could happen and you will still have a copy of that document. In this digital age fires are less feared. Instead it's the computer virus. The hacker. The hard drive failure. All these things strike fear into the hearts of people everywhere whether they will admit it or not.

In addition to the psychological desire for security, there's the environment to think about. One large tree makes approximately 90,000 pages of standard paper. Yes, that sounds like a lot of pages. Now think about your household. Phone book, bible, novels, tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, wallpaper, and newspaper are just a few common paper products. Not to mention manuals. With all the new electronic gadgets these days there are more and longer manuals than ever. How many times do they get read? Maybe once if at all. Increasingly they are coming on CD, which requires no paper at all. The manuals I am printing, in fact, also came on CD.

Why then am I printing them out?

It is not for the first reason; the fear of destruction or damage of the CD. It is because of another aspect of paper. The tactility of paper. The high contrast of black ink on white paper that matches the ambient light levels. The Kindle has attempted to recreate the light levels of reading books to avoid strain on the eyes. However, they still do not have the proper rough texture of the pages; the ability to slip in post-it notes or scribble in the margins. Are these the only aspects of paper that make it so desirable? Once we can recreate the texture and even odor of paper, will it become obsolete?

One can only hope.

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