Monica Guzman wrote a thought-provoking article in the Sunday Seattle Times, linked above, that I read in the print-edition of the local newspaper today. I enjoy reading the newspaper each morning; my husband reads the same newspaper in the evening – both times providing opportunities for daily ritualistic enjoyment. Ms. Guzman describes these occasions as “a world where paper is sweet, sweet, sanctuary.”
I’m certainly a technological user. I own a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet (Kindle), and a smartphone. Because I’ve grown accustomed to the ease with which all of these devices are used, I have been guilty of the same snobbishness (read superiority) experienced by Ms. Guzman. I observe someone reading a bound paper book in a coffee shop, or on an airplane, and I think to myself, “Welcome to the 21st century people; how lame can you be?” But like Ms. Guzman, I’m also jealous.
If we compare paper to digital as media, one is smart, and the other is dumb. If we compare them as devices, “(P)aper’s purpose is simple. You look at it or you put something on it.” Digital media, however, has as many “purposes as infinite as the operations they perform.” But is that always a great thing? Take into consideration the columnist’s statement:
Next to the capabilities of digital, paper is dumb. But next to the tranquility of paper, digital is an assault. Alive with possibilities but full of demands. Always connected but never done. (Emphasis mine) Triggers, enablers, provocateurs.
When I finish reading a print-edition newspaper, I don’t leave it on my nightstand just in case updates come in during the night that I might need to read. Ditto with a hand-written letter I receive from a friend – she put down her thoughts on paper, I’ve read it and might even save it, but the letter is finite – unlike e-mails which leap out at us with each vibrating notification.
In days past, when I finished reading a particularly riveting paperback novel, I would close the back cover, hug the book to my chest, and glory in the connection that said book created in me. I might even mourn that I had finished the book. Give me more! When I finish reading a book on my Kindle Fire HDX, regardless of how fabulous a read, there’s no device hugging going on. Instead I’m instantly downloading another title to be at the ready for my next respite of reading time. One down, millions to go.
Convenient, yes, but I must say that before I entered the Kindle generation, I thoroughly enjoyed requesting books from my local King County library, knowing that it might be a few weeks before the title finally became available to me. How exciting it was, however, when I received an electronic notification that the book was now available for pick-up. I might even drop everything, stop what I was doing, and make an extra car trip just to grab hold of the much-anticipated title.
What an extraordinary pleasure that was.
I don’t bemoan my technological gadgets – they do make my life easier and I am certainly more tuned in to the latest updates in the news, good or bad. But I don’t want paper to go away. I cancelled my Newsweek print magazine prescription when they went to an all digital format in 2012. I don’t want to sit at my computer or gaze into my tablet to read a periodical. (Hear that Seattle Times? Keep printing!) But listen to this. Earlier this month Newsweek brought back their print edition. I sincerely hope this is an indication that print periodicals aren’t dead. I share the same sentiment provided by Ms. Guzman towards the end of her article:
Not long ago I was convinced paper was outdone. Outperformed. Beaten. It wasn’t a question of whether paper would die, but when. Now, I hope it sticks around long enough for us to know why we would want it to.
What about you: paper or digital?
I’m thrilled that instant information rules our day for the most part and I’m SUPER thrilled that we can communicate via Blogging, but I’m also a proponent of posted/written communication.
First of all: Blogging.
I think us Bloggers relish the opportunity to “be published” on the Internet because not many of us will ever have a byline in a syndicated newspaper, and book-publishing just seems too hard a goal to attain. With that said, however, I write with this in mind: job counselors often advise employees to dress for the job they want, not for the job they currently hold, so I’m Blogging with a publishing intent that takes me out of my home-office and into the homes of others. If I can’t get others to read my articles, I may as well be writing in a personal journal. So blogging is a great venue in which to reach the masses.
But I LOVE the written word. I own a Kindle, actually, I’m on my second Kindle, and that’s the only way I read books, be they fiction or non-fiction. I’m such a voracious reader, I’m convinced Kindle was invented just for me. 🙂 So when I say I love the written word, what I’m really saying is that I love letter writing. I own stationery, n. paper and other materials needed for writing, and I have a large accordion file that holds greeting cards, n. a decorative card sent to convey good wishes. (Definitions from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2004.) I love sending cards and I love receiving cards, but mostly I love sending them.
Nicole Brodeur, Seattle Times staff columnist wrote a piece that appeared in our local newspaper on January 13, 2012: For The Love of A Letter. She writes how wonderful it is to receive a piece of mail with our name on it, written in hand, which becomes “a bit of humanity among the bills and slick circulars.” She correctly states that the written letter is becoming a dying art, so much so that the United States Postal Service faces a very bleak, if not brief, future. Certainly e-mail is quick and doesn’t require one of those pesky, ever-changing-in-value postal stamps. Evites are quick and oh so engaging – NOT- as we read respondents’ comments about why they can’t attend. But Evites are pretty darn impersonal. Ted Kennedy Watson, owner of two Seattle shops with all things paper, states in Ms. Brodeur’s article that he “gets ‘hundreds’ of emails a day, some invitations to events that, en masse, lose some of their luster. You start to feel more included than invited.”
En masse communications – you’re simply one of the many e-mail addresses in someone’s global e-mail address book. I know we’ll always rely on this form of instant communication – I certainly do – but Ms. Brodeur hits it on the nail when she says that she hopes that “we don’t tweet or tap away the value of putting thoughts to paper, of taking the time.” (Even a “Dear John” written letter is more personal and respectful than a “Dear John” e-mail or text message.) She talks about letters that she’s saved over the years which instantly brought to mind one of my most valuable letters; one which I keep in my fireproof safe: the last letter my mother ever wrote to me. My parents still lived in Hawaii when I moved to the Seattle area in June of 1994 and my mother and I spoke on the phone at least two times a week. But it was her letters that I relished the most. One of those letters arrived in my mailbox on September 22nd, 1994. I read it, placed it to the side, and went about the rest of my day. Two days later my mother died in her sleep quite suddenly and inexplicably. When I received the news in a phone call from my father that day I frantically looked around for my mom’s letter hoping that I had not tossed it in the recycle bin. Glory hallelujiah – I had not. So two days before my mother died, I have her thoughts on paper, in her handwriting, and signed “Love, Mom” at the bottom of the second page.
Somehow I don’t think a saved e-mail could ever render the memories and the sentiments that my mother’s handwritten letter does every time I retrieve it from the safe to read it.
Facebook (I have an account) and Twitter, and other social sites can continue to do what they do, but let’s not dispense with the antiquated and/or archaic practice of putting pen to paper. Please?