Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My relationship with paper and the printed word is slipping away

How is your relationship with paper these days?

Recently my aunt revealed a family artifact from the 1940's. It was a large volume of The Daily (newspaper) from the University of Washington. My Granddad in his college days worked for The Daily in various capacities. The paper itself was heavy, almost like parchment, and the ink had an emerging neon like-quality outlining the black of the nostalgic typeface. The ads depicted products and services likely departed from institutional memory.

"What do we do with it?" First things first, I had to put it down. It was heavy. I thought it might be able to be a coffee table book, assuming the table was the size of a standard door. I wondered if the U Dub would want this archival piece, but I'm sure they have their fair share of archives. "Let's keep it in the family." I appreciated the sentiment, because I will examine the volume one day. In some ways I wasn't sure it was wise to keep. This volume is big, bulky, and a lot of paper. I wondered about the value and usefulness of this paper.

Last night at a meeting, a member of the congregational Transition Team handed me a piece of paper with an article about our work together for the church newsletter. I didn't want the piece of paper. I'm less likely to read the piece if the writing is on paper. I asked her if she could email it to me. I was a little surprised by my request. I immediately started thinking about how I ended my newspaper subscription at the end of November. I like some of the tactile activity of reading the newspaper, but I don't miss it like I thought I would. My cycle of actions is beginning to disengage my life from the printed word. About the only reading I look forward to reading is a letter or card from a family member or friend, or a book I'm looking forward to reading, or for most of my Bible study. I imagine that will change soon, I can't quite get myself to direct 300 dollars toward a Kindle at this time. The iPhone I purchased in October has expedited the shift from paper to electronic communication and reading.

I know others have gone through this transition without much thought, pain or reflection. I can't say what I'm feeling with disengaging from paper is pain. I think that paper is a medium for relationships. My understanding of news and writing came through my relationship with my Granddad and paper. I still like writing and receiving cards from the people I love--especially handwritten cards. The Bible carries a bit more meaning when I turn pages and use my hands with the gentle motion of page turning and using my finger. This is my relationship with God we are talking about.

I can now imagine a day where I am not reading a printed word on paper for hours at a time. Last night I caught a glimpse of that life and the transition I am making. I'm not sure my life will be hurt by this change. That life is definitely different.


  1. I love the feel of a physical book in my hands. I use Logos, but just love to take the commentaries off the shelf, use the physical Bible, and a legal pad.....can't get away from it totally.

  2. I LOVE books, even as physical objects regardless of content, their feel, the sound of pages turning, even the smell. Probably a tad idolatrous! But I get what you're saying here. I do at least half my research for the Buzz online. I don't read newspapers anymore, I read news online. Still read the Bible in book form (I feel this is a must), but use online concordances and other tools. But I write most of my notes down on a legal pad, like pastoralmusings above. Still handout paperwork for group discussions - that will probably change once I can be sure everyone in group has access to a computer and email (not everyone does just yet). I have found it personally more taxing physically to read from a screen than from print on paper; something about the light of the screen. And sitting in a favorite chair with a good book is still for me THE cat's meow.

    Still, it is strange to sit up and notice the changes taking place in the way we read. It comes "like a thief in the night!" Can hardly remember the change from vinyl to cassette to CD or from VHS to DVD (well, I do miss vinyl).

    Great memory/thought provoking post! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I don't think the book is going away in my lifetime--but the shift is dramatic. The attachment to books has a lot more history and more relational quality than vinyl or cassettes. I have been startled by my shift away from paper. I think each of your comments reflect the potential relational quality of the word on paper. We also know when the word on paper is junk.