Thursday, January 20, 2011

On paper and communication

One of the rules I set for myself at the beginning of this project is that any trash that is generated because of someone gifting something to me will not be considered my trash. When someone gives you something as special as a gift, it is hard to say no to accepting it. To me, a gift is given to convey thought, love, spirit and appreciation. Not accepting a gift, I imagine, can hurt someone's feelings, especially if they didn't know that I was trying to create as little trash as possible. It may be a different story if the person gifting knew what I was trying to do, but that is a different story. In the end, I have made a trade-off, a significant one; I have traded in trying to not create trash, whether it is mine or someone else's, for the appreciation and kindness someone is willing to show me. This is by no means an easy trade-off, and such situations always make me think and reconsider my stance. The point is that, as a conversation between Matthew and I alluded to, we make trade-offs every day, as resolute we may be in our stances on issues. Many times, especially when making choices related to the environment, it is difficult to know what may be the lesser of two evils. I would say, in general, that if you are in such a decision-making place, it is probably better to avoid anything in which you have to make such a decision. But here now arises a quite difficult question - how do I feel about paper vs. a computer?

As many of you may know, I am technologically challenged, but this is not a bad thing. I have definitely been able to get done what I have needed to get done, especially in the laboratory, with the little skill I may have. I much prefer paper and pencil over computer screen and keyboard when it comes to reading and writing. Much of what we read and learn nowadays is on a computer screen, and that includes personal messages from other people and pictures from the National Geographic. The University of Michigan has been on a quest to digitise its entire library, which consists of millions of books, and billions of pages. I envision a future in which people grow up readings solely on their Nook or Kindle, without ever touching a piece of paper. But there is something wonderful about receiving a letter in the mail, or opening up your favourite magazine, especially if the magazine is beautifully edited and laid out. When taking notes in class or during a discussion, there is a definitiveness and uniqueness in the act of putting pencil (or pen if you please) to paper - no one in the world has my handwriting (although my sister's is very similar), and no one will be able to replicate exactly what I have written down. (With computers, Times New Roman here is definitely Times New Roman there.) There is a bond with the paper, and although it is not scientifically measurable, I contend that emotions are more adequately conveyed by paper than by computer.

But what about the environmental impact of paper? Paper can be made from trees that haven't been grown ethically or sustainably, and bleaching paper produces dioxins. This is an extremely difficult consideration, made more difficult by the fact that by 2014, as David Owen wrote in The New Yorker about Jevon's Paradox, the amount of energy used by the US computer network each year alone will be equivalent to the amount of electrical energy consumption in the entire country of Australia each year. This is besides the continued environmental and social impacts of resource extraction. So there is clearly a significant decision to be made - paper or computer? I vote for paper.

1 comment:

  1. And look at China and India's growth over the next 50 years...what will those stats in your last paragraph be like with another 2 billion people owning their own laptop and smartphones?

    I prefer paper for note taking as well...something about putting that pen to the pad and having to think about shaping each letter myself. I remember things better when I write them down.