Peak Paper


We Three Kings...

We Three Kings…

We three Kings [penguins] of orient are[n’t]

The world hit ‘peak paper’ in 2013, and the production of it is now falling, what was once a meme, the paperless office, is now twenty years later becoming a reality.¹ In the 20th-century, the growth of information and the primary means of its dissemination, paper, grew in lockstep. In the 21st-century with the advent of the Internet that relationship was broken. In 2010, Eric Schmidt of Google estimated that “Every two days we create as much information as we did up to 2003” and yet paper production is in decline. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect the e-card ever to overtake the paper valentine, especially if your cardstock missive has its message of love written in candy sprinkles. There is something tactile and pleasing that the holding of a card, letter or book will never have supplanted by a text, email or e-book. There will always be books, but there will also be more e-books. Like the CD/DVD in this age of downloads and streaming, most books will soon be sold around Christmas as gifts.

Let’s turn from the grandeur of macroeconomic to our personal microeconomic situation, with a topic of current discussion in our house, should we keep getting the paper? Anne says yes. I say no. The paper in question is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, once the flagship of the Pulitzer publishing empire. Like all such dailies it has suffered under the digital onslaught and is now just a skin and bones ghost of its once former corpulent self, but that’s not my main gripe. Nor is the fact that on most days the paper is thrown into the recycling bucket unread. No, my real gripe occurs when we go on vacation, request a hold on the paper, which is accepted by the Post, but then ignored by their delivery guy. If not for the kindness of our neighbors, we would return to a front yard littered with old newspapers, a sure sign that no one is home and who knows what other nasty surprises left inside the house, just a symptomatic dysfunction of print.

¹ “Doing more with less: the economic lesson of peak paper” by John Quiggin

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