Sacred Paper

Bolter’s analogy of us living in the “late age of print” (loc 213, 2001) being similar to the late age of capitalism stated by Jameson (1991) held true for me in more than one way. I am often abhorred to see how much waste our societies produce these days, and feel consumerism (a direct product of capitalism) is the culprit. An element that I have noticed more and more with students is that as we progress towards digital devices is that the relative value of paper has decreased. The combination of the paper based system and digital media has led to large amounts of waste and a decrease in care for organizing our older, paper based learning. In this transition time, we need perspective and perhaps even find a role for the outgoing technology.

Perhaps a concerted effort should be made to elevate our trusty paper based technology to a new role. A role less about creating permanence in what is written and more about diving into the personal. Perhaps we should look at the qualities paper can and always will afford us, and elevate these to an official, more sacred status.

As an Environmental Studies teacher, I have always felt a pang of guilt printing handouts for students, watching the paper go from an orderly stack of bleached cellulose to scattered throughout the room, most often neglected. At the end of each term, I go through workbooks left behind in my class, seeing only a few pages of writing followed by many black sheets on their way to the waste bin (I do intercept them FYI). Events like these reinforce my feeling that perhaps we need to make a concerted effort to retire the printed word from some of its traditional roles, and find a more intimate use for it.

Paper most certainly does hold a relevant position in today’s school. Art paper, that thick stuff which offers a blank canvas for personal expression and the development of fine motor skills, is cherished by teacher and student alike. The paper is ceremoniously handed to the student as a creative space to play, and then taken home by the student after being displayed for all to see in the school. The paper technology, in this case, follows closely on the etymology of the word techne, “which could be an art or a craft, a set of rules, system or method of making or doing, whether of the useful arts, or of the fine arts”(Bolter, 2001, loc 473). Just like the fine arts which still see paper as a meaningful technology for self expression, a journal of thoughts and ideas could play a similar role for many other courses.

A personal journal is not a new idea, but also takes on a remedial role in most schools. The journal is often conveyed to students as their personal space to express their own thoughts and feelings, and does not transcend to all aspects of learning. As Bolter states, Because writing is such a highly valued individual act and cultural practice, the writing space itself is a potent metaphor. (2001, loc 433). With respects to journals, the writing space could be seen as a metaphor for your mind, and how you structure your thoughts throughout the day. The advantages a journal may have in this respect are exactly those which print technologies have offered our society in the past: a sense of permanence, so that as your thoughts and ideas grow you can retrace the processes that led you to where you are. It also provides an artifact of your learning journey, and in a consumer culture like our the artifact still is very much relevant. Interestingly, trends indicate that perhaps paper is already growing into a more sacred status.

Among the list of luxury goods, it is strange to see a paper company among the most profitable. Moleskine, however, has grown from a name known among the literati to a mainstay in bookshops and airports around the world. They pull in 93% of their revenue through selling paper products (Seward, 2013), which is pretty incredible in this digital age. As a company, they continue to grow and expand despite their entire model being based on a technology that is thousands of years old. In fact, the use of luxury journals such as Moleskine have become de rigeur even among technology startups (Sax, 2015).

The numbers are in, and the people are voting for paper to play an ongoing role our technology filled culture. If schools can encourage teachers and parents of the new role of paper in our culture, perhaps we can move forward with less waste, and more meaning moving from the tip of your writing device to your acid free, forest friendly, recycled journal.

References:

Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, The cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Sax, D. (2015). Why Startups Love Moleskines – The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-startups-love-moleskines

Seward, Z. (2013). Everything you need to know about Moleskine ahead of its IPO. Quartz. Retrieved 24 June 2016, from http://qz.com/64551/everything-you-need-to-know-about-moleskine-ahead-of-its-ipo/

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