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Paper is dead, long live paper

What we lose with digital media

October 9, 2021


There is a sort of gravitas when pulling out a thick book and sitting down to read. I sometimes imagine myself leaning back on an overly conspicuous leather chair while reading in a large, dimly lit library sipping a coffee, holding a pair of spectacles in one hand, and pensively stroking a bushy gray beard with the other. The heft of the book, the distinct smell of a library, whatever it is, something about paper enthralls me, which is interesting since I have spent so much time trying to remove it from my life.

The tech enthusiast side of me has always tried searching for the next best thing, the perfect paper replacement. I’ve tried everything from Kindles, Google Docs, Boogie Boards, iPads, Google Keep, Todoist, Remarkable, and the likes of any service that moves something from the physical world to the online, but without fail, there’s always something that ruins the entire experience. It’s like there are two irreconcilable sides of me at war with each other: my love for efficiency and technology, and free form and physicality. Whenever I use my tablet extensively, I start to miss everything about paper. When I use paper for too long, I feel like I am sacrificing the convenience of digital content. Every day my brain flip flops, paper or pencil?

Why paper?

I’ve begun to realize that no matter how much technology improves, paper replacements will only be that. A replacement. You don’t drink diet Coke when you want the real soda in all its tooth decaying goodness. Some things can never be replicated, simple as that.

Paper is not only a medium for words but thoughts, emotions, and the passage of time. Paper is history, and as much as we’d like to think we left the printing press behind, in all its antiquity, there is a certain value that comes with having an actual thing, an object with a physical presence. For instance, journaling.

I never understood why people are so intent on keeping online journals when it defeats the entire purpose. Journals are supposed to be close, personal, and in a way, journaling apps are ephemeral. It takes one click by the right person and bam, everything is gone. Not only that but there’s something satisfying about flipping through all the pages of a notebook, reminiscing and knowing that my words and thoughts have substance: taking up both space and time. In some sense, I feel closer to the writer when their work is in front of me, a connection that is only possible through paper and one I can’t quite explain. I’m forced to give all my attention to what’s on the page, and in a world where endless entertainment is one swipe away, that’s something we could all use more of. Granted, everything eventually fades, but paper is real in the moment, while thoughts encoded in ones and zeros are only ideas, impersonal and raw. However, it is about maintaining a balance, weighing the benefits or drawbacks of one alternative over another.

The world today

Digital content is the very definition of impersonal, masked by the algorithms that curate them. Ironically, this post might fall under this category, but it goes to show the lack of black and white in this world. You could say this is another post among thousands being mass-marketed to people, packaged, and sent across cyberspace. To that, I say you’re right! The whole point is to understand what is being given up in return for the convenience of technology.

Newer isn’t necessarily better, and there is something to be said about the ways of old, occasionally. Perhaps I’m merely wistful, yearning for an era that I never experienced and one that wasn’t filled with an endless cascade of unsolicited information. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one my age who wishes that platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, or TikTok didn’t exist, not because they infringe on privacy, influence elections, or lead to declining mental health, but so I can have a conversation with someone about paper, someone who isn’t staring down at a screen.

I hope I’m not the only one.

— k.k.