Within a few months of starting to blog in late 2004, I wrote a piece, Love and Respect for Print. In my mind print has always stood for permanence. I suspect it is why we still print contracts for people to sign.
I have given a seminar and even written about how to get your photos and movies from the shoebox to DVDs and the web. While on the surface it might look like I am abandoning prints for the digital world, I actually take a small Canon Pixma printer with me to the seminar to emphasize the importance of getting a real copy of your favorite photo onto to paper. I also talk about how long inks and papers last.
One of my messages is that we should not abandon paper. I am delivering this thought at a time when newspapers are dropping faster than rain in a nor'easter. Today we heard that the Rocky Mountain News will publish its last issue on Friday. That ends around 150 years of publishing. I can only hope their archives survive.
This morning I read an article by John Dvorak called, Our History: Error 404.
Part of Dvorak's worry is legitimate, and part of it just highlights what historians have had to do for many years, piece together records. When you start digging around in your own family history, you are very lucky if you have a few letters and written documents to help tie things together.
At one time people wrote lots of letters, that was the way people communicated. The telephone changed that long ago. I went to military school as a teenager. That was in the sixties and change was already upon us.
One of things we had to do each week was write a letter home and have it graded and perhaps censored before it was sent home. Most of the censorship was self enforced since you knew teachers were going to be reading the letter. In retrospect that weekly activity taught me how to write interesting letters.
At the same time I got into the habit of calling home by telephone either Saturday or Sunday. It became a habit I followed until my mother moved in with us in 2000.
Most of the real information was conveyed by telephone. It became almost a ritual. When I got married, my wife quickly added her folks and every weekend until their deaths we called them. Since we lived far away in Canada for many years, there was something reassuring in those phone calls. However, there is no written record of those calls. I wish there were just a few recordings.
The phone calls started breaking down written history well before computers did. When we first moved to Nova Scotia, we were on a party line with nine other people, most of whom enjoyed listening to any conversation whenever they got the chance. After all, we barely got two analog television channels and one CBC radio station.
Telephone calls were also expensive in those days so I guess the cost along with the party line was the driving factor behind my golden age of letter writing. I ran into a few of my letters in cleaning out my mother's home after her death. It was fun reading them and reliving those times.
Then a few years later, a friend of mine in Boston send me a package with several letters that I had sent her during our first years in Nova Scotia. Since we have been great friends for close to forty years, she thought I would enjoy revisiting them. I read some of them last month. They were filled with information that I had long forgotten. The letters even contained some hand drawn maps. There was a time before Google maps.
I will probably end up scanning a few of the letters, but I will try to save the paper copies if possible. They are a detailed record of daily activities years ago. Those letters are just the type of information that historians need in order to write meaningful history.
As an undergraduate in college, I spent a lot of time reading microfilm and musty pieces of paper. I wonder what historians will find in the future. Maybe they will be mining hard drives, but I hope it is easier than that.
I for one doubt that all the history will be gone as Dvorak postulates when the switch gets turned off. I suspect enough paper pieces of it will survive for historians to piece things together. Certainly there are enough National Geographics holding down bookcases to provide a good start. A friend of my in New Jersey says he is not worried, his basement is full of the good stuff.
I know I have boxes of paper, books, and magazines. I even have some of the high school literary magazines where I was a contributor. One has one of the few poems that I have ever written, another has one of my only short stories. Over the years I have kept magazines and papers that mean something to me, the first Doonesbury cartoons from the Harvard Crimson, even a paper copy of the Guardian Newspaper article that I wrote. They might all end up in the trash when I am gone, but I suspect some will survive.
While my web musings might disappear when the switches are thrown, I know they will have created some memories. Some will likely survive in print, and I have not given up on a book.
The first chapter or so is done, mentally I am ready to move forward with it. Maybe the nasty weather I have invited next week and turning the pages on another decade will get me moving forward.
Paper is not dead. It just is not the first choice these days. Paper needs to be used when necessary.
The lack of paper is not even the biggest problem. After all you can print all the emails you want. My wife printed and saved all the emails we received from our oldest daughter the first year she was in college. I have newsletter that I created for her the first time she went off to camp.
The biggest problem is that we have so much information that figuring out what to save is a challenge most people just ignore.
I hope that what papers I leave behind will be of value in the future even if only to my family members. They might last longer than the DVDs that I have created.