Handheld Technology

Rant: Paper still beats digital for many tasks

The arrogance of the digirati knows no bounds. Their characteristics are petty snobbery, the desire to be the first on the block to have the latest gewgaw, contempt for the analogue world, blind faith in – and obeisance to – selected brand icons, and a tendency towards being short-tempered, argumentative and generally very, very angry.

Another sign of the committed digirati is that they are utterly wedded to binary apparatus. They will never read a book when it is not on an e-reader, will keep their agendas on software or cloud calendars, and make their shopping lists on LCD screens. This is risible behaviour that ignores the strengths of one of the greatest communications medium of them all – paper.

Only a Ned Ludd type would recommend going back to paper and ink for all documentation tasks but the 3,000-year-old material for saving and sharing our thoughts remains supremely flexible. Think of what we often want from computers today: a way to organise our ideas, show thought processes, create intuitive documents that can be easily highlighted and formatted, can incorporate images, cutting and pasting between documents, scalability, low cost, archiving, governance… the list, on paper, goes on.

Of course I wouldn’t use paper to send messages to hundreds of friends or colleagues but paper is wonderfully portable, beautiful and tactile. That in part explains why in some ways we are seeing a revival and re-evaluation. Look at the interest in exquisite book editions such as those by Slightly Foxed, in beautiful jotters, writing paper and pens. Or the ongoing fascination with page design and passion for fonts and typefaces and collecting autographs.

Paper doesn’t respond well to damp or extreme heat but then neither do electronic devices. In large volumes the paper industry is not very environmentally friendly but in more modest amounts and with the right controls it is highly sustainable and paper is wonderfully disposable and reusable too. Paper degrades over time but then so do tapes and disks and digital information must be preserved in formats that, it is hoped, will be readable by future generations.

I like paper; prefer to read books and good newspapers and magazines where possible to staring into the dull flat electronic screen. It’s easier for me to keep shopping lists and reminders on paper. I can interview people and make notes of their comments in the tightest of spaces, saving these notes in folded pocketable form for subsequent digitisation if necessary. The digirati need to accept that paper remains a remarkable and relevant material and will do so for a long time yet; certainly for decades after the current generation of devices becomes toxic landfill.


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Torquemada, not his real name, has been casting a jaundiced eye on the technology world since the Sinclair C5 was causing as much excitement as the driverless car today, a 64K RAM pack could turbocharge performance, and Alan Sugar was the equivalent of Elon Musk.

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