We Love Paper

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 03/04/2013

While we’ve been debating for years whether the paperless office will come to pass, discussions of technology and working styles are one portion of the argument-but the fact that people have a sentimental connection to paper is the other.

1 March 2013 - Photizo Group
By Jennifer Sekelsky
It’s probably a given that people have an emotional connection to the things they use every day. That’s why people name their cars or (companies hope) take sides in a “cola war.” People also love an underdog, which I think has as much to do with why some people will champion a possibly outdated technology as much as nostalgia.

While we’ve been debating for years whether the paperless office will come to pass, discussions of technology and working styles are one portion of the argument–but the fact that people have a sentimental connection to paper is the other. We kind of love paper, even as we admit that it is possibly irrelevant or environmentally unsustainable. It’s more than just that it is useful, paper’s got a certain intangible emotional association that our digital devices don’t. That’s why even as more and more of us exclusively read and write on digital devices, The Nikkei is reporting that paper notebooks are currently enormously popular in Japan and the BBC tells us that fountain pens are making a resurgence. Paper has been around for a long time, and people know it will last. Paper feels permanent in a way that pixels on a screen simply do not. In discussing the stationary phenomenon in Japan, The Nikkei article quotes Takamasa Sakai, R&D supervisor at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, as saying that because a growing number of people choose not to have children, “they are increasingly seeking ways to leave proof of their existence.”

Even as they struggle to disprove the now entrenched view in popular culture that paper is bad for the environment, paper companies haven’t missed the emotional connection that people have to paper, and they hope to use this attachment to help paper remain a sympathetic character in the public eye and to keep people buying. Domtar has been running its “PAPERbecause” campaign since 2010. In a recent press release, the company said the latest update of its campaign will feature humorous vignettes that showcase paper’s “enduring value in everyday life,” including one that shows a husband disappointing his wife on their anniversary by sending an e-card instead of a paper card with a handwritten note, which illustrates some of the ways something expressed on paper (and therefore the paper itself) is seen as enduring and intimate, whereas something expressed electronically is not. Meanwhile, Two Sides has its “No Wonder You Love Paper” campaign. Both campaigns highlight why paper is useful and beneficial, of course, but they also promote paper based on that intangible emotional connection. A brilliant example of paper as a sympathetic character can be found in the adorable Oscar winning animated short (profiled hereby Fast Company) about a chance meeting between strangers that turns into love – with a little help from a bunch of paper airplanes made from printed forms at the male protagonist’s office. In a bit of irony (that was probably not unintentional) this lovely little nostalgic film was made using all new digital animating processes that replicate old-fashioned analog processes. Newer high-tech devices are not necessarily portrayed as sympathetically in the arts.

However, companies producing digital products haven’t missed the necessity of emotional connections either. Technology can face a bit of a challenge in the sentiment department. Most of the products replacing paper products are still new, and most people don’t love adapting to (or adopting) new ways of doing things. New technology needs to be useful, but it also needs to make people like it. Reams of paper (metaphorical, perhaps) have been written about how Apple’s success has been based on this principle. As a recent Fast Company article  says, “Analog Will Never Go Away” because “convenience isn’t the only thing people care about.” As the article explains, “Analog persists, in part because of nostalgia but also because formats like film, print, and vinyl reflect the people and processes that made them, forming an emotional connection that digital can’t match.” Digital products frequently attempt to bridge that gap with “skeuomorphism,” modeling the digital interface after its real-world analog. However, as Sacha Greif, a French designer living in Japan, says on his blog, the “problem is that when borrowing elements from a design’s previous incarnation, you often also bring its limitations along for the ride, even when these limitations have no reason to exist anymore.”