Thursday, January 16, 2014


Is paper disappearing?

Are books going, going gone?

There have been rumors that reams of paper, notepads, note books, various paper goods -- yes, even toilet paper -- are going to disappear.

I wonder and worry about this. For writer Em, golly, it's important that books be published on paper, not just online, or  electronically -- books -- hard covers, paper backs, as well as pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers. Good Lord, if paper is disappearing, are books going to disappear?

Publishers were going out of business  before the Kindle appeared. Publishing houses were  merging; and manufacturers of typing paper, stationery, wrapping paper, cardboard  containers were shifting into plastic substitutes.

Back then, I figured it was just a trend.

Here's what I learned  from The Week Magazine's recent article about the book business. It was written by staff reporters, who quoted Nicolas Carr, who wrote three prize-winning books on where the Internet is taking us, what it's doing to our brains, and what's happening to books.

 Carr said, 
"The demise of paper has been predicted for a century,  Gutenberg, we
know, but what about  the eunuch Cai Lun? He invented paper in A.D. 105. -- mashing bits of tree bark and hemp fiber together in a little water, pounding it into a paste,  let it dry into sheets in the sun. Cal's  method is still pretty much the way paper gets made today.

"The craft of paper-making spread quickly -- within a few centuries, paper replaced animal skins, papyrus mats, and wooden tablets that the world was using for writing  and reading. When Gutenberg created the printing press around 1450, inky fingers became inky machines, but it was Cai Lun who gave us our reading material." 

Not sure where the article was heading about the future of paper, and books -- wonderful real books -- I devoured the statistics and details.:

The average American goes through a quarter ton of paper every year. Over the last decade, in developed countries, paper consumption has fallen sharply. The arrival of the personal computer and its companion printer didn't do it, but the rise of the Internet has made using paper an old-fashioned thing. We’re writing fewer checks, sending fewer letters, circulating fewer reports -- even love letters, love notes,  are passed between servers.

When Edison came out with the phonograph,  Scribner’s Magazine published an essay by the French litterateur Octave Uzanne titled “The End of Books.” Apparently every time a new communication medium has came along -- radio, telephone, motion pictures, television, CD-Rom -- pundits have said we won't need books anymore. H.G. Wells wrote in one of his books that microfilm would replace the book.

Even so, other authorities -- educators, researchers -- have said that flipping through printed sheets works better, helps you learn better than reading an electronic page. Tests have shown that reading is a bodily activity --  we take in information with our  sense of touch as well as with our sense of sight. A sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single “page” at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, and develop a mental map of the contents of printed text, is "significantly important." Surveys in the U.S. and other countries, show that college students clearly prefer printed textbooks.

Hey, my husband, actor John Cullum, has said when he's  "up" (can't remember the next line),  he remembers the look of the  page, the  paragraph, and the panic vanishes.   

Back and forth, the magazine article went, between what's great about e-books, and what's important about books with pages you turn, finally reporting that after an initial boom, electronic book sales are currently five percent less than they were last year, that in the U.S., some two billion books and 350 million magazines will be rolling off the presses.

The very last sentence in the magazine article was Nicholas Carr saying: "Something tells me Cai Lun isn’t turning in his grave just yet." So, at least the eunuch who invented paper back in 105  isn't worried. 
Another brilliant guy, George Bernard Shaw, whom I admire and respect, said: "Only on paper has humanity yet achieved glory, beauty, truth, knowledge, virtue, and abiding love."

Yes, yes, that's what I feel! I love books, old books, second hand ones, new books, the smell, the feel of them, the look of words on a page. I'm really not sure that there will still be books on paper to read 10 years from now, but it's a relief to know that other book lovers feel the way Bernard Shaw, Nicolas Carr, actor John Cullum, and I feel.


Stan said...

Good article Em. This is going to be a debatable issue for years to come. I think books are an absolute necessity, but many publishers are doing both traditional and digital publishing of books in an effort to capture both sides of the consumer need.

Toilet paper, God I hope not

Anonymous said...

This is quite disheartening, but we will certainly all be in trouble when toilet tissue becomes extinct.

Carola said...

Except for books, I think it's good that paper is disappearing: it's a huge strain on the environment. I even like reading newspapers on a Kindle, because it generates less waste. But I really do like reading physical books: I choose them over Kindle books every time, except when I'm traveling.

Poet_Carl_Watts said...

I hope not. When the power fails, where will be go for information or for entertainment?

Relying only on electronics is a key to civilization disappearing as knowledge is lost in the cloud that crashed too.