Thursday, May 28, 2009

1984@451ºF: Requiem for paper

I shall miss you.

Admittedly, I have become less patient with digging physically through thin layers of pulped and pressed trees, on both a merely visceral level and also in terms of how the contemporary pressure to know everything precisely and immediately — to have facts and figures and photos to entice, back up, be countered or agreed with, on hand, in documentation and very quickly — has made perusal into a folly, deep reading an unaffordable luxury, and proper digestion of information a thing of the past.

I do not think people have gotten smarter or that they have such lighting-fast synapses that we can actually keep up with all the input we receive.  I believe that the best conclusions are those that take a bit of time to assemble.  There are always five or six sides to every story … and it's often not the correct story one guesses to start with.

Most of us do not take time or have* time to read much. It is done in 20-second to 5-minute snatches.  Personally, occasionally and especially when I was lately in undergraduate classes again, I will finish a whole chapter (or, in magazines, a whole article) before becoming distracted by something else and wandering off the job.

Perhaps I am just kind-of stupid.

I believe, however, that I can see writing on the walls about where writing is going to live.

The other morning, which seems so incredibly long ago and did even several hours after it was gone, I tried to compensate for having to get up and work very early and all day long on something that is not my own project (and is not being managed in such a way as to minimize impact on the domestic environment) by getting coffee and eating a pan au chocolat.

At the café, I picked up from their overflowing recycling bin one of the clean section As ofthe daily local, dated a day earlier**, and I enjoyed being able to start on page 1 with a story, jump to page 23 to finish it and then read the rest of the articles backwards to page 1.  I liked having reading material provided for me.  It helped make sense of all the random radio-news items I had been hearing for weeks but could not understand for lack of time and lack of sleep enough to keep my brain able to take in or put out more than a sentence at a time.

When newspapers can no longer afford to use cut-down trees or recycled formerly-cut-down trees to share information by physically delivering these printed pages to place after place after place, day after day after day, I will be sad.

Is it the same as having a set of newsprint pages lying around to share at a coffee shop to have tastefully-concealed computer stations offering items free-of-charge to patrons? With le screen, we would all have all the limitless choices we do right this instant and would opt not to stay with skimming or reading through 20-some***  items — no,  we would be bouncing to whatever Friend-345 recommended as a link on Facebook or be looking at the first paragraph of five or six stories recommended by whomever is in charge of culling stories for Yahoo! news digest pages.

Sometimes it is nice to have limited options in entertainment.

On a physical level, paper is portable and does not require anything but the energy of the sun to be useful as an information-sharing device. Yes, at night this is not true, but even the poorest person has access to daylight.  And many do have electricity or other sources of artificial (fossil- or nuclear- or bio-fuel) options.  Many, many more do not have computers and power enough or can afford phone or cable connections to get to all the information being stored in a machine that is specialized, requires power and technically-informed maintenance in order to function.  It is centralized; papers — books are everywhere.

I hate all the paper in my filing cabinet.  Of course, I love it, too. There are clippings.  There are entertaining letters from creditors and other official offices.  The letters live in a 70-pound plastic tub.  The photos, as with phonograph records, I shall not weigh.

At ye olde IRS, I developed a new anti-appreciation for the tedium of paperwork, and in only 8 short weeks … the day-traders who have literally a half-foot of one-sided printed pages detailing every little financial orgasm or wound, the destitute whose 1040EZs only contain a name, no address, no number, no job and an extra note in the "do not write here" spot that was my stamping target, reiterating, "I have no income."

By now, with almost a fortnight between me and the desk, the lights, the carts, the folders, the German-made stamping tool that looked exactly like the one they had in the B&W 1960 videofilm they showed us that one time the director was talking, my cuticles are no longer shredded and my first misplaced blister is not a scratchy entity on my palm; my thumbs, index base, pen-ballast at final knuckle of my right's middle finger have stopped peeling, the sharp spots of dead skin no longer needed.

I used to think of Tom Joad and how he was used to swinging a pick-axe from his prison term but had to re-break his hands after being away from it for a while; he mixed mud into his broken blisters and took solace from wincing that the blister is the built-in step to a protective callous. Our skin is interesting that way.… the paper cuts in the web connector between my thumb and hand, on every finger on both sides at one time or another, coupled with staple-scrapes on my wrists like Morse code and the shocking stabs from unsterile barbs sharp like tiny sudden attacks from the back of tax documents carelessly fastened together or falling apart from their fourth or possibly tenth human handling — I shall miss none of these.

Would that everyone did e-file and save laborers the trouble.  Many of those who felt the need to cram an eventual shelf in a cave with their hard copies used an accountant or professional preparer, even Turbo Tax, so it is not at this stage a matter of access.

I usually work in the industry that is dancing around trying to reinvent itself.  As it is an industry and not an art, the dance is not very fun or spontaneous. Though my keyboard is nearly as stained as the pages of my favorite novels: hummus, blood, pen marks, and other evidences of emotion or carelessness, it is not cozy in bed nor something I want to be staring at when at coffee shops. Bye, paper, bye, no one wants to buy you when you are priced what you really cost …

And we shall become more stupid, less informed, etc., as no one is paid to track down facts — as no one has either access or willingness to read them.  It was readily apparent that most of the people I was sitting around night after night were not tuned in to even the basic information streams we computer-chained office people are used to, we have-time-enough folks with merely one job, no kids, and only moderately demanding and not consuming obsessions, hobbies, illnesses or charges … when someone nearly one's own age, with a college degree (and to be fair, very sleep-deprived with two full-time jobs) turns to ask, mid-narrative, "Which is the bad Korea again," I have very little analysis to offer that you can't fill in for yourself.

However, having some researching journalist come and really look at how many accidents we night-owls cause nationwide by our ridiculousness (mandatory per lifestyle and circumstance), how much we contribute to the health-care bill down the road by our poor sleeping and eating habits, how many relationships we let go of attending so that they die, how many politicians we allow to continue in their negligence while we are not watching … well, it would interest me.  Too bad that I couldn't afford to hire someone to do that (you know, like in the Marxian model, where art-lovers somehow actually support artists directly and completely, sans government-grant interference).

*(We can deal with this modern myth or fact later.)

**(So old, so outdated, by Internet-news standards : )

***(I am estimating; though I did bring the paper home to remember to be against a comment in an anti-cursing article, I am not going to count articles right now)


hearmysong said...

bien ecrit, comme d'habitude.

tu me manques!

Hyperblogal said...

I like this post.. Still wonder: Are cyber trees necessary for email?

Applecart T. said...

C'est trop dramatique, non?

Et sombre … noir sans ____ (reason).

:::: )