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Opening Arguments

Good news for trees

The latest news on the convergence front is that, with your TiVo, you'll be able to transfer television programming to your video iPod or Sony PlayStation. We've been talking lately about the survivability of newspapers. Maybe it's time to wonder if there's even a future for words on paper.

Print has had a couple of advantages that are rapidly disappearing. The most obvious is portability. You could carry a book or magzine or newspaper around with you in ways you couldn't for any electronic form of information, except radio. With cell phones and lap tops and MP3 players and PDAs and now this, everything is equally portable. What's the pont of carrying around something as limited as mere words using a medium as fragile as paper when you can carry around everything, including text, in a durable format that's always at your fingertips?

And with print, there has always been a sense of editorial judgment that fixes something in a time and place. A group of people -- the author, publisher, copy editors -- decided that something was important enough to put between the covers of a specific book and saved in that frozen state for all of time. Look at which books were the first to go -- encyclopedias, books that told us there was a body of knowledge that wouldnt' change. There's so much available now that our greatest concern is how recently it was updated. And there's nothing electronic archiving can't do better than print. Someone I know recently got everything ever published in The New Yorker on a set of CDs he can stick in his coat pocket.

Can anybody think of anything I'm missing? Is there any particular reason paper should survive as an information medium? I've heard many people say, "Well, there's just something about holding a book or magazine that you just don't get by reading online." Yeah, that old intangible, mystical something. Talked to any high schoolers lately? A lot of them don't exactly feel that way.

Posted in: Web/Tech


Steve Towsley
Tue, 11/22/2005 - 11:49am

I think the brain may assimilate text off a monitor somewhat differently than from paper. For example, I know that I much prefer a paper print-out to edit something I've written. When proofreading off a screen I may miss something, whereas proofing on paper enables me to note every little correction.

I also have a difficult time reading books off a screen.

Paper has no refresh rate. The brain may find that advantageous when trying to comprehend more challenging subject matter. Print on a page is sharp and crisp and shows up better in brighter light for people whose vision requires extra illumination.

A digital screen, on the other hand, washes out in brighter lights, its focus can drift with use, and its crispness depends upon maximum resolution and other factors.

I don't know why some of these things make a difference. I just know that for me they certainly do. I would not want to give up paper.