My business friend, a successful thirty-something tech entrepreneur, tells me, “I’ve gone paperless.”
We’re chatting on a sun-drenched terrace in Austin, during a mid-morning break at a tech conference. He says this while quickly sending an email with the title of a book I had just recommended. I ask him, dubious that anyone would actually want to be without paper, “Don’t you like to use paper for some things?”
“Why clutter myself and our office with paper when it’s more efficient to go digital?” he says.
I stand opposite him grasping, in my left hand, my Levenger Pocket Briefcase, a leather wallet that holds 3x5 cards, and in my right hand, a rollerball pen. My iPhone is in my pocket, but I pull out one of my 3x5 cards (thick paper, smooth, white, personalized), lift it from its leather case, write a website address and hand it to him.
“Is this your business card?” he asks.
“Yes, it’s useful for writing a note,” I say.
“Huh,” he says, and moves on to another friend.
Being a paper guy at a tech conference is like being a horse breeder at a car show.
The novelty of the old
My guess is he quickly digitized the information and trashed the card. I’m okay with that. I enjoy writing on my big business cards and giving something physical to people. Part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that handing someone a nice card with handwriting on it is, today, something of a novelty. And it’s not just the paper; it’s that we’re connecting with someone face to face, hand to hand.
Not that I avoid the digital life.
I’m writing this blog on my Apple laptop and saving it in the cloud.
And this morning, on my mini iPad, I was happily toggling between the first book I’m reading (very slowly) in Spanish, El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer, and its English translation, The Sound of Things Falling. While reading in this way, my iPhone rests beside me. I speak into it my gringo Spanish, which I’m enormously gratified is good enough for Google Translate to recognize and quickly deliver to me its English translation.
It seems, however, that people are splitting into camps over paper: one camp can’t wait to be rid of paper and another camp, of which I’m clearly a charter member, is coming to cherish paper more than ever.
Let’s call them the Paperless and the Paperfull.
The Paperless are waging a war of words and spin to besmirch the reputation of paper.
Paper is inefficient, they say. Paper is litter and clutter. Paper pollutes the planet: “Please consider the environment before printing out this email.”
That paper beat out the Internet as one of the top 10 innovations since cave days is immaterial (paper, #6, Internet, #9).That the Japanese culture has venerated paper to the point of considering it divine matters not. That paper making gives landowners an economic incentive to reforest their lands in a sustainable manner is off the radar.
For the Paperless, paper is their Uncle Sid they wish wouldn’t come to dinner.
The Paperfull, on the other hand, have an awakened appreciation for what a marvelous technology paper is. I say “awakened” because the twenty-first century, with its explosion of digital devices, has ironically kindled a renewed appreciation for this second-century wonder.
Some Paperfulls love taking notes by hand on paper, finding that it helps them think and better remember.
Other Paperfulls like to sketch out their new ideas on big sheets of paper, reporting something liberating about an expanse of a snowy white sheet. They like paper that is theirs and theirs alone, paper because it isn’t public, but personal.
Some Paperfulls (like me) love reading printed books of the perfect size, like Dave Eggers’s 2012 Hologram for the King, so beautifully designed and a tactile pleasure to hold, or Sigurd Olson’s 1976 Reflections from the North Country, with its sepia-colored typeface and softly deckled pages.
Other Paperfulls keep handwritten journals. Some prefer paper calendars.
Some Paperfulls love sending handwritten notes, reporting them a welcome break from their screens. It is the solace that paper brings, the reassuring connection to something made of organic material, the satisfaction of writing a postal address and pressing on a stamp.
Whereas the Paperless crowd likes to call it “snail mail,” why not call it “hail mail” instead? Like Hail Mary and Hail to the Chief, Hail Mail would play tribute to the strength of postal mail rather than its weakness. Faster doesn’t always mean better. Who prefers a fast kiss to a slow one? (Depending, of course.)
Although I’m annoyed at the Paperless crowd for bad-mouthing paper, I defend them, too. The Paperless are the kinds of people who have always moved civilization forward, the people bold enough to strike out for new territories.
But we Paperfulls are also important. We try to remind our friends not to be too hasty in throwing out the old just because something new and shiny comes along.
I realize twist-off wine caps are acceptable now, but don’t you still love the pop of a real cork? Battery candles make sense on a breezy patio and around children, but who wants to give up a real candlelit dinner for two? And yes, I know my 2006 stick-shift Porsche can’t beat the new automatics, but it sure feels good to shift into third accelerating around a bend in the road.
For me, a veritable Ambassador of the Paperfull, I’m for celebrating both the old and the new delights paper can bring—while also appreciating how my Paperless friends are teaching me new ways of reading and doing.
So how about you, dear reader: do you pitch your tent with the Paperless or the Paperfull? Send me a message and let me know. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments.)