The Pleasures Of Paper

Earlier this week I went to the office. I was working on comparing and organizing and incorporating the contents of two different documents, and I decided that would be easier and more efficient if I would print them out, bring them home, and do the comparison and organization work on paper, where I could lay the documents out side by side.

It’s the first time I’ve actually worked with paper in months, rather than editing and moving things around and cutting and pasting from one document to another on my laptop. When I was working from the office before the shutdown occurred, I was paper-oriented, although I was trying mightily to become more electronic, so as to minimize the need for paper files and storage boxes. But when the shutdown occurred, working on paper really was not an option, so I went full electronic of necessity.

Working with physical documents made me realize that I miss paper. Creating and editing documents on a computer is fine, of course, but there is a tactile element involved in working with paper that you just don’t get with a computer. Writing on the paper, drawing brackets and arrows to shuffle content around, crossing out duplicative sections with a definitive flourish, using an actual highlighter with that unique freshly opened highlighter smell, and then crumpling up and discarding the paper with a set shot at the recycling container when the work is done — each act has its own little satisfactions. If I had a spindle, I’m sure I would enjoy folding, spindling, and mutilating, too.

I suppose that, at heart, I’m a Dunder-Mifflin guy.

My return to paper was enjoyable, but it will be brief. The reality is that paper, for all of its pleasures, is just too bulky for remote work, and it’s easier, cheaper, less wasteful, and more environmentally friendly to do everything on the computer screen. But I did enjoy my brief return to the paper days.

Paper Passes

I recognize that I am an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy in many ways.  I don’t have the latest gizmos.  I don’t keep up on new apps.  And when I travel, I like to have a paper boarding pass.

I recognize that continued use of paper passes is a Stone Age approach to travel.  The airlines are trying to get everyone to use apps.  Delta even puts a plug for “flying paperless” on its paper boarding passes.  And, obviously, avoiding unnecessary paper use is more environmentally friendly.

Still, I prefer the paper pass.  I like its tangible quality.  I’m admittedly the Uptight Traveler, so a paper pass provides the immediate reassurance I crave when I’m on the road.  I can reach into my suit coat pocket, fish out the paper, and see that I’ve got a seat assignment, check my boarding group, and use the flight number so I can find my connecting gate on the overhead monitor without muss or fuss.  I don’t have to worry about thumbing around on my phone or having the boarding pass app time out and the phone screen go dark just as I’m approaching the gate agent.

Increasingly, travelers are using boarding pass apps.  There are still a few dinosaurs out there with paper passes, though.  We’re not quite extinct yet.

Cleveland’s Free Stamp

Another piece of modern public art that I really like is Free Stamp, a large painted steel and aluminum sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen.  For years, Free Stamp has graced a small park along East Ninth Street in Cleveland, just south of the expressway that separates the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum from the rest of downtown.

Why do I like Free Stamp?  Because this is a whimsical sculpture that will inevitably grow more interesting as time goes by.  When the sculpture was created, paper was the preferred medium of business, and ink pads and stamps that said things like “Paid” and “Handle with Care” were used routinely.  Of course, in the business world you wouldn’t need a stamp that said “Free,” so the sculpture was a bit of a joke.  But now, as paper has gone the way of the Dodo and electronic transmissions are in vogue, I doubt that any business buys or even uses stamps anymore.  And that is what will make this sculpture even more interesting in years to come.  What will people who grow up in the age of email and the cloud, and in the ages of even more advanced communications forms to come, think when they see this giant sculpture, and will they even dimly understand what it is supposed to be?