Sunday, 25 February 2018

On Paper

The technological evolution of the past  four decades has brought society many things. Some of them good, some of them poor, as well as things that started with positive intentions that went beyond the motives of the creator. The online-based animation known as ‘Pepe’ comes to mind. It is also more than likely that the progenitors of Twitter did not have ‘hate mobs’ in mind when launching their communications platform. This is the core of the issue however. When it comes to the human animal, communication is of vital importance, as is the medium through which this is achieved. Marshall McLuhan may have somewhat overstated the case with his ‘the medium is the message’ but he was generally on point.

Interpersonal communication in ‘real time’ is, of course the primary mode, as well as the generally preferred, the written word not being far behind. A fact reflected in development of methods and mechanisms of communications technology thus far. Each iteration along being another attempt at mimicking while strengthening  two primary modes. Nowhere is this clearer than with the telephone. Despite the spectacular innovations achieved since its inception, the fundamental function and meaning of the telephone had remained the same since Bell first shouted to Watson for assistance, his call picked up by the then experimental transmitter. To allow people to speak to one another over great distance via the use of technology. Is it the same perhaps not but the verisimilitude can be striking. Similar to watching a live theatre production on television. It is worthy of note that while ‘landlines’ are a thing of the past, telephones and similar technologies not only still exist
but are at an all time high. If anything, platforms such as Skype are an improvement, not only allowing for auditory communication but visual, which can very closely mimic in person conversation when used correctly which is part of the reason shy consumers responded to it it so strongly.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the written word. What was once a primary mode of communication, even after the invention of more direct forms such as the aforementioned telephone, in a situation which was, ironically, the reverse of what we have now. Telephones were considered somewhat distant, while letters, and other such things sent by post, particularly hand written and signed ones, were thought of as personal, involving a tangible reminder of the sender. This is roughly still the case with print books, despite the change in printing manufacturing over the years phasing out features such imprinted text. In mass communication terms however, beginning with the early days of chatrooms in the early 1980s, there has been a slow erosion of personal connection. The core of the issue is not the people. It is the Internet itself, or rather its etherial nature. Not in terms of how content is created, at least not inherently, there still being involved in much of the content but how it is transmitted and contained. By and on machines with no permanence in reality. Words on a screen that disappear whenever the machine turns off, cannot get online or, heaven forfend, breaks behind mending. Paper, on the other hand, is more static, permanent, being desired as it is from the earth itself in the form of tree and hemp pulp. There ways to turn paper to nothing but tend to be a great deal more deliberate and short of burning, there is always the chance of recovery. At least more so than with a hard drive. Besides which, while writing on a screen applies to one sense, sight, text on paper can arouse up to three. Sight certainly, as well as touch and, sometimes smell depending on the type of paper, as well as giving allowance for the inclusion of scent such as perfume or cologne. Once a fairly common practice. It has, in fact, gotten to the point at which online based text platforms, at least in terms of interpersonal communication are used primarily as a preliminary. Phrases such as “please call” and “let’s talk on Skype”, having become a mark of seriousness in terms of online correspondence, whether it be in the context of potential employment or a potential amorous liaison.

While the depletion of the tree population is indeed cause for concern and it would be foolhardy to return entirely to paper, advancements in recycling techniques has made it possible to send a tangible missive with a somewhat clear conscience so, when it is important, one might well be advised to consider making an appeal to permanence.

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