Paper is the least important it has ever been, making it more important than ever in my eyes.
Computers are the way the world works now. News used to come on newspaper, but now there are websites and Twitter and Facebook, all delivering the news directly to us and faster than the newspaper could. Games are no longer on paper or on a board, they are played on your phone or tablet. Even books, the things that are embodied by covers, where you flip through the pages to find a new life to live, even if only temporarily, those are no longer necessarily in paper form. They are just as commonly found in digital form as they are in physical form.
We’ve slowly been moving to this throughout the use of paper. Way back when, there were monks who did nothing but handwrite copies of books and decorate them, quite obviously adding much more value to them than any book nowadays. Eventually, using a machine and movable type, printing became a thing. Rather than handwrite anything more than the rough draft, you simply line up the letters you want and rub ink on them, press the paper to the type, and presto, a printed page.
Over the course of time, you get a much fancier machine, one with many more moving parts: The typewriter. Rather than having to reset the type for each page, why not have the page be stationary and add a continuous roll of ink, then make it so with a single button push you can have that particular letter be inked on the page? It’s amazing just how effective these machines were, churning out books faster than ever!
Then the computer came around and blew the typewriter out of the water! With editable pages without the need for whiteout, you could draft entire novels without the need of a single letter removal, because the backspace button was the best part of the keyboard! The digital age allowed for mass production of books. You could have hundreds of pages, print them in sequence, and bind them so quickly that the initial monk wouldn’t have finished half a page of writing, much less the calligraphy and decoration that would initially follow.
But, why stop there? If it is digital when you write it, why transfer it to the physical? Why not just make it into an eBook, viewable and readable on millions of portable devices? That would give you the potential to be in everyone’s hand or pocket instantly, similar to regular web pages. (Here’s looking at you Google!) Why wouldn’t you? I mean, there’s no material cost, making your profits go up. There are entire devices made exclusively for reading eBooks! (Here’s looking at you, Paperwhite!) Wait, Paperwhite?
That’s right. Paperwhite. A device was made to resemble the color of a piece of paper as much as possible. There is still and always has been something special about a book, about reading that book. There is something significant about turning the pages, which is why almost every eReader has the option for a page turning animation as you scroll. Mostly, though, there is something significant about reading through a book, being three quarters of the way through and knowing you are getting to the really good part, the part the entire book has been building towards, that a progress bar at the bottom that goes away just doesn’t seem to convey as strongly. There’s a note of finality to closing the back cover of the book after you have finished the story that exiting an app can never give. As much as you want to keep tapping the right side of the screen to keep the story flowing, good books will still be called page turners because of the physical nature books should continue to embody, on paper.
Isn’t it amazing how important something so thin and flimsy can be in an age of rigidity and digitality? Reality matters. Physicality matters. Paper matters.