While doing the long overdue job of sorting through my over abundance of books the other day a question occurred to me: how often do we use paper anymore?
I mean obviously we use some. Toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, paper dishes etc. The wood fiber industry is in no danger of failing anytime soon!
But how often do we refer to paper for information? On my shelves I have at least a dozen and a half books about “how to do this” or “how to do that”, many of which I have never picked up, even if I had done projects in related areas. Several of these books ended up in my giveaway pile.
Even books of photography or art or fiction are hardly picked up anymore.
The reason for all of this is obvious. The internet has pretty much everything we need. Millennials have nearly given up on paper. They are often accused of being know-it-alls (isn’t every generation?) just because they feel quite confident that they can find answers to every question just a few clicks away. This is the first generation in history in which nearly everyone has virtually immediate access to vast quantities of data and information.
I remember the days when the internet was considered the last place to go for information. Every page was suspect, and if you couldn’t back up the fact with a book, you had better not put it in your research paper. Now, even the Bible is on an app or website. I’m certain I don’t have to fact check that one.
I greatly appreciate having the Bible in an app. It’s easy to find verses by keyword or topic, and I can even click the word to find out the original Hebrew or Greek words. How many paper books would I have to refer to to find that info?
These days I now carry a bigger library of fiction and textbooks in my pocket than many of my ancestors had in their entire house. And with internet access I have the ability to find any number of recipes, how-tos, and hints and tips. There is no need anymore to occupy large quantities of space with tomes of outdated information.
This easy access to billions (trillions? more?) of bits of data can be overwhelming. There are things that are much simpler to do with old fashioned paper or a few phone calls or face to face meetings. Like car repair. Type in any symptom of car trouble into Google and you will likely find at least fifteen different diagnoses with at least seven different fights going on in forums about what the proper repair is. While I have learned nearly all of my mechanical knowledge from YouTube and forums I must say there is nothing quite like the Haynes Manual when you just need to know something simple.
They offer online access to these manuals, but for the same price you can have a real object in your hand, available even in the iffy phone service of southeast New Mexico. And unlike online versions your subscription will not expire and the site will never shut down.
What else do I want in paper? Well, the owner’s manual for one. Do you know how hard it is to look up fluid capacities and recommend oil types on a tiny little screen? Fortunately most cars still come with those.
And magazines. There is something great about being able to pick up some colorful and quick knowledge while sitting in a doctors office or car mechanic’s shop (because YouTube failed to mention that one step). It makes you look less stuck up to be flipping through a magazine than it does to have your nose buried in your phone.
Kids books also. My kids stare at enough screens all day, they need something tactile that doesn’t make random noises and overstimulating flashes. A child reading a book is a classic image that should continue to be ingrained into our collective psyche.
What do I want to stop seeing on paper? Bank statements (usually a week behind), letters stating “disregard if you have already addressed this matter” (yep, three days ago, thanks to web alerts), and pretty much any bill that I have already set up online bill-pay for. All the nonsense that comes into my house and makes me think “oh this is important, they took the time and money to print it out” can go as well.
Books are not ever going to disappear, there will always be some nostalgic souls out there who just want to hold one in their hand. Or people who enjoy searching through page after page for the (probably outdated) answer to one question.
My prediction is that books are going to be the vinyl album of the next generation. “Oh wow, did you see they put that out in book?! We should totes get one to sit on our shelf. That would look swell!”
The word “swell” will also make a come back. Oh, I hope not…