Undine has some useful thoughts about paper and its irreplaceability. She notes that there are some instances in our professional lives as academics when hard copies of documents are not just preferable, they’re irreplaceable:
Sometimes paper just works better, and we ought to be able to acknowledge that.
Example: An upcoming conference is making the program available either in e-form or in paper form. I applaud the decision on a conceptual level, but it left me in a dilemma. Since I felt guilty ordering the paper form because of all the green rhetoric surrounding the choice, I ordered the e-version, but who am I kidding? I’ve tried getting .pdfs on a Blackberry screen, and even if the document doesn’t fail to download and go into a holding pattern, which it does about 90% of the time, the print is too tiny to read.
What I’ll probably do is print some pages before I go, but I’d really rather have a booklet so that I can mark the sessions in case I change my mind later. I won’t know where I’m going at the conference, but at least I won’t have a conference program that pegs me as a Despoiler of the Earth.
This is a great example. Bound copies of conference programs easier to use and encourage actual conference panel attendance. How many of you go to every panel you preselect in advance, and how many of you (like me and Undine) change your mind on the fly and go to different sessions entirely? That can’t happen without a full program. Why put on a conference if you’re not interested in making sure audiences can find the panels they want to see? With all of the petroleum burned for travel by conference attendees, worrying about the paper used for printing a conference program seems like an almost pointless gesture. (Let’s face it: the greenest of all possible conferences isn’t as green as everyone staying home and skipping the meeting.) I think it’s smart to ask your membership or registered participants if they want a hard copy of the program–that would be frugal and responsible without depriving the interested membership of a printed program.
Besides, moves like not printing conference programs don’t actually save paper, they just shift the paper use to somewhere else. (Undine notes this too, and complains about administrators expecting meeting attendees to print up their own copies of documents. “Uh, no. That’s not part of the deal. My home printer is not at your service. In these cases, I exercise my Thoreau-given right to civil disobedience and bring the laptop with me to the meeting with the documents loaded on it.”) I’ve tried printing a few pages from a conference program and found that I used nearly as much paper as a printed program would have, just to print up a day’s worth of panel descriptions.
She concludes her musings on paper as a viable technology with this:
Another thing about administrators and technology: even though I like technology, it seems wrong to me that administrators are so dead keen on it that they care less about how it’s used than if it’s used. Faculty are now evaluated in part on whether they use technology or not (see The Chronicle for tsk-tsking about the sad sacks who don’t), and I think it’s because administrators are entranced by the shiny and in love with anything they can name and count. Good teaching = can’t be counted except by student evals. Teaching with technology = something to count.
Back to paper. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are all kinds of technologies that we can choose from, and we shouldn’t shy away from paper if it’s the best one.
Right on. Administrators love technology, because people think it’s doing something magically special for education so they buy it and want professors to use it regardless of its actual strengths and powers. I refused to use PowerPoint in my lectures for a number of years, because all I saw was that it was being used badly without adding anything beyond what an overhead projector could accomplish. At my former university in the late 1990s, I sat through countless meetings run by administrators in which we were subjected to bad PowerPoint lectures in which the administrators did nothing more than read the words on the slide and give us a Xeroxed stack of meeting slides so we could follow along ourselves. Now, that was a stupid waste of paper.
Paper has stood the test of time. Microfilm? Microform? Microfiche? Faxes? MS Word ca. 1986? Your BASIC programming homework on 5-1/2 inch truly floppy “floppy discs?” Your college emails on a VAX system? The PDFs of articles you downloaded last week? Not so much.