Pulp and Paper Canada

Why people like paper

July 1, 2000  By Pulp & Paper Canada

The Paperless Society/Office — the clarion cry from the “techie” (and environmental) community, just doesn’t seem to be the reality. This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the human interfac…

The Paperless Society/Office — the clarion cry from the “techie” (and environmental) community, just doesn’t seem to be the reality. This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the human interface with information and what paper is all about. It is clear that people enjoy using paper, but what is important to the industry is that these use-attributes be fully understood and defined in consumer-use terms. Furthermore, the prospects for new or unusual attributes or applications should be exploited, ones where paper would have the clear advantage over other media.

The essence of paper as a medium for communicating information has come under more scrutiny in recent times as it faces competition (or threat) from an explosion of alternate media choices. Information is everywhere — I like to think of it as a “flux”, which is bombarding us much like radiation. Humans access this information flux through various media, and their choice of media depends on how the information will be used. Enabled by accelerating technology, the information flux is intensifying, but humans are biological and cannot speed up at the same rate. In fact, the human yearns for “quiet time” from their interface with this fast paced information world. The theme that is often missed, therefore, is the “time budget” of individuals and how choices are made within a constant 24-hour time frame to access information. Paper is a medium choice, and it is not an all-or-nothing choice of the “paperless society” paradigm.


The Medium: People choose to use paper as a medium because it is convenient. It necessitates no new mastery of software or an unfamiliar device. Paper is versatile. It can be posted on a bulletin board or given away, folded for compacting or spread out for broad scan. Paper is easy to share in a personal way, and so appeals to a fundamental human need. Paper offers an easy tool for study and learning, which is why we hit the “print” button on any e-message that requires further study and reflection. Paper allows exceptionally high image quality. Paper has time value; the message is more or less permanent, which is not the case for electronic media, where degradation or corruption is a risk. Paper is portable and offers a convenient surface for instant notations. Many people find this attribute important for creativity, which results from being able to view a large surface area and allowing rapid, easy browsing and connecting of themes and ideas. This is about the ability to organize visuo-spatially, by which is meant “the cluttered office syndrome”, or its equivalent in the boardroom or on the coffee table. In summary, paper is versatile, economical and, above all, has the overriding attribute of “tangibility.”

The Message: A message on paper is real for the recipient; this is a quality not shared by the electronic version. This appeals to the human need to physically touch something, to feel in control of it. It speaks to feelings of trust, security and empowerment over the message. One of the continuing dilemmas for most (all?) electronic messaging systems, be it computer related, TV, or radio, is the issue of security. A paper message also has leisure appeal. The reading of a newspaper is not only about getting news; for many people, it is a leisure and learning experience. If the information need is news only, then that is usually accessed from electronic media forms.

Another interesting view of paper vs. electronic forms of messaging is the human process of reading. Studies on this phenomenon indicate the emergence of a different approach to reading for the video screen. In summary, the message on paper is a richer experience. This experience also appeals to history and tradition, emotions that are deep-seated for humans. Any message requiring study and reflection needs to be viewed on paper. So Marshall McLuhan got it wrong when he declared, “the medium is the message.” What is becoming apparent is that “the message is the message!”

Why is this important?

By understanding why people continue to enjoy using paper, it will be possible to build on the attributes of value and exit the products where value is not sustainable. How well it handles, such as stiffness, bulk, and tactile attributes can be built in and marketed as a brand; image attributes, such as sharpness, snap, depth, and color fidelity may also be built into brand promotions. In the future, progressive paper, printing and ink companies may find ways to achieve 3-D image effects, and build in superior consumer handling characteristics.

Paper can appeal to all of the senses, not just touch and sight. Xerox has new technology which will read the image, compare it with an image file, and incorporate an appropriate scent to paper. Building scent attributes into paper products has huge potential and adds enormous emotional appeal. The challenge for the paper industry is to define and aggressively promote “The Paper Advantage.” P&PC

Alan R. Procter can be reached at alanprocter@attcanada.ca for more information, visit www.futureviews.net


The Medium

simple to use versatility share with others study/learn low cost high image quality time value portable make personal notations organize visuo-spatially

The Message

browse security empowerment work facilitation broad scan trust leisure appeal richer experience

The Future

3D image effects tangibility appeal to all senses find me

A new richness for the paper medium


Newspaper: Large page browsing, column scanning

Magazine: Small page browsing, spot reading

Book: Linear intense reading

Video screen: Circuitous reading through links

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