Submitted: The Two Sides Team November 12, 2015
by Barbara Goldman
The question of paper's falsely prophesied demise rests on a strawman argument. Reasonable analysis, limited to the printed word, would conclude that the differences between reading on various screens and reading on paper may be nuanced, but those differences do matter. Twenty years ago I entered the Electronic Age and became enamored. That entry accounts for the indispensable mode by which I read newspapers, periodicals and websites which bring me news and commentary. But, my original love affair with paper is unalterable. Electrons are efficient, paper is elemental. Owning a "Captain Marvel" comic book was then, and would be now, about the 'feel' of the pages, and how they stacked by my bedside table. Buying a book at the corner candy store was an interaction which cannot be duplicated with Amazon Prime. What comes easily now with iPages makes me almost giddy. Staring at an empty sheet of yellow notepaper then, sharpened pencil in hand, could be an arduous exercise. Even the Underwood typewriter's keyboard as I hunted and pecked for words to stamp on white paper made me pay attention. How I learned to write, physically learned to write on precious paper, one sheet at a time, shaped the way I think about writing this blog seventy-five years later. A toolbox has room for a hammer as well as a Dewalt drill.
In the late forties, paperbacks, those small, soft covered products we assume were always on the market, became a new phenomenon. Critics decried their existence, arguing that the 'book' was threatened. A new generation of critics, somewhat tempered now by reality, still argue that the issue of "paper books" is in doubt. I doubted their jeremiads then, I doubt their lamentations now. When two good ways of reading exist there is a healthy market for both. Without the filled bookcases in the modest tenement apartment which was my home, I might not have become the kid who read under the covers with a flashlight. It is short-sighted to miss the obvious—Paper Made It Possible to Become Educated. Without the paper industry I might have spent more hours listening to the radio. Not the same as reading "Black Beauty" between the green covers of a Grosset & Dunlap 1942 edition of a 'feminine classic.'
These days my first impulse when searching for a recipe is to touch the iPad and narrow down the overwhelming choices. Not a bad way to go. Why then do I cherish the Herald Tribune Cookbook that will eventually be given to my daughter? Every now and then a copy is available on eBay. But mine has notes scribbled on favorite pages, mending tape on the spine and vestiges of chiffon cake batter. The paper has memories that no Food Network site contains. I have a habit of writing notes in the margins of books I own. It tells me years later what I had on my mind when I first held the pages. Technically, I could do that with electronic text but as aforementioned it would not be the same. Hurrah for the differences.
When my daughter was four or so, we had a discussion on where milk came from. She told me that milk came from bottles. "Doesn't it come from cows?" I asked. "No," she said. “They give milk because that's what the bottles are for”. Well, paper is there, thank goodness, and we fill up the pages! With this line of reasoning we should keep growing trees, keep making paper and keep filling up the pages.
Note: these comments are electronically written, transmitted and read. No calamity is in the offing. I shall forthwith print out a copy for my paper files. Yes, they are being kept on paper as well as in digital form. Two formats are better than one.
Barbara Goldman was a Senior Adjunct Professor at Adelphi University, Garden City, New York for thirty years. In addition to her supervisory duties she also taught courses in Children's Literature. She was an elected member of her local library board of trustees for eighteen years. In her eighties now, she still writes poetry, swims laps and spends lots of time reading new political non-fiction. She looks forward to soon becoming a great-grandmother.