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Why Paper Is Eternal

[Hewing to rule 113 of provision 17(b) of Article XV of the Bloggers Collective Bargaining Agreement (2007), I have taken a few days off. This is known among surface dwellers as "vacation." Thus I am not here and this is not exactly what you'd call "happening." However I'm quite fortunate in that, while discussing my Outlook piece the other day with my friend Bill Powers (media critic of National Journal), he alerted me to a new paper he has written for Harvard's Shorenstein Center. He discusses at great length the future of paper. He's an optimist. I think you'll learn a lot from this thoughtful treatise. Send it to anyone you know who cares about the future of newspapers, magazines and books.]

Click here to read "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal" by William Powers.


Though paper appears to be a relatively "dumb" medium, it too performs tasks that require special abilities. And many of paper's tricks, the useful purposes it serves, are similarly products of its long relationship with people. There are cognitive, cultural and social dimensions to the human-paper dynamic that come into play every time any kind of paper, from a tiny Post-it note to a groaning Sunday newspaper, is used to convey, retrieve or store information. Paper does these jobs in a way that pleases us, which is why, for centuries, we have liked having it around. It's also why we will never give it up as a medium, not completely. For some of the roles paper currently fulfills in our media lives, there is no better alternative currently available. And the most promising candidates are technologies that are striving to be more, not less, like paper. Indeed, the pertinent question may not be whether the old medium will survive, but whether the new ones will ever escape paper's enormous shadow.

By Joel Achenbach  |  August 21, 2007; 8:36 AM ET
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