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THE PERSISTENCE OF PAPER IN THE DIGITAL AGE

What ever happened to the the so-called 'paperless office' predicted by many experts at the dawn of the digital age? Expanding their December 2007 SNCR report "On the Evolution of Content," Danny O. Snow and J. Dawn Snow will guide a quick live safari of offbeat (and sometimes humorous) examples of papercentricity found online. While amusing, this brief expedition will pose some serious questions about why digital content continues to migrate to print (rather than vice versa) in the 21st century. A printed transcript will be provided. Not.

Just for fun, visit the Web locations below... and look for the links reading "Print this page!":

  • "Tips to Reduce Printing"
  • "Saving the Forests"
  • "Can You Go Paperless?"
  • "How to Recycle Paper"
  • "Six Tips from Microsoft for a Paperless Office"

  • All kidding aside, there are serious reasons why people continue to prize printed materials in the new millennium. Many are sociological phenomena. Others involve psychological dynamics like engagement, participation, concentration and focus.

    But there are physical factors as well...

    PAPER AS A TECHNOLOGY:

  • Platform Independent
  • Super High Resolution (Reflection v. LED)
  • User Friendly
  • Zero Downtime
  • 100% Secure
  • Always in Stock
  • No Interruptions ("You've Got Mail!")

  • “With the Web, people could access more information more easily than before, but though they used digital means to find and retrieve information, they still preferred to print it out on paper when they wanted to read it.”
    -- Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper in The Myth of the Paperless Office (2002)

    MORE QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:

  • Does the rise of any new technology force its antecedent to disappear? Did TV eliminate radio? Did paper itself rapidly supercede paprus and parchment?

  • Does paper serve some needs better than others? Communication (print) v. storage (digital): in the process of communication, how does the reader interact with the medium, or "experience" it?

  • Why do people embrace paper? "Paper has intrinsic properties that (1) make it easy and enjoyable to work with, (2) help us make sense of information, and (3) are conducive to certain kinds of reading and thinking. They are properties that [our] newer media, for all their wonders, have not yet learned to match." (Sellen and Harper)

  • Where is hard copy favorable? Marginalia, reading with "Focus" or "Savoring" v. information retrieval: co-creation, participation, engagement. (Zaltman, Conde-Nast 2004)

  • Recommended Reading:

    Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal by William Powers, Media Critic, National Journal 2006.

    On the Evolution of Content

    MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED:

    This presentation is whimsical by design. The points above, while persuasive, are largely anecdotal. More serious study is needed to compile concrete evidence that documents physical, psychological and sociological reasons why paper remains so prevalent in the digital age. Please contact SNCR if you are interested in funding additional research.

    About the Speakers:

    Danny O. Snow is a Senior Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. A Harvard graduate, Snow has been widely quoted about new publishing technologies by major print, broadcast and online media coast-to-coast, including AP, NPR, UPI, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and others. He has also served as a contributing editor to BookTech: The Magazine for Publishers, as a panelist and moderator at national publishing events such as the North American Publishing Company’s “PrintMedia” expos and PMA’s “Publishing University,” as senior planning consultant to Lulu.com, and as a POD book publisher with Unlimited Publishing LLC.

    J. Dawn Snow is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Sociology at UC-Berkeley under a National Science Foundation fellowship. She also serves as managing editor of The East Bay Quarterly (EBQ), a new journal of arts, culture, politics, opinion and news from the East Bay of San Francisco, which is published monthly online and quarterly in print.


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