Is The Feel of Paper Immortal?

From: Selmer Bringsjord <brings_at_RPI.EDU>
Date: Wed, 30 Sep 1998 01:13:43 -0400

I'm on-line lots, and I like it just fine, but paper is special for
aesthetic reasons that make me somewhat skeptical about predictions that
it will die. I even confess to spending fairly large amounts of money to
place myself in positions where paper fits, and computer screens don't.
Machines in my Lab of every variety, machines throughout my house, my
laptops with CDPD modems so that a TCP/IP connection can be maintained
wirelessly, inverters in my cars for power... and so on: this is my life.
But because I guess I've written a thing or two, I have some money to burn
-- and I burn it sometimes for peace and isolation where *print* journals
and books rule. It's brisk on the Atlantic now, even this close to the
mainland, and a fire is burning out here in my house on Block Island. The
last thing in the world I want to do right now (paradoxically!) is read
stuff on this bloody screen. I can pick up this issue of the journal
*BBS*, drop it on the floor (I can even hit it with a hammer and no damage
results), toss it over to the couch, stroll outside with it, stroll back
inside and curl up with it beside the fire, and so on. These joys will
not die, nor will the search for them; I'm not just reporting
idiosyncrasies here. Ergo, either paperless scholarship must somehow to
some degree take the form of hard copy (electronic books, e.g., that are
wirelessly updated, etc.), or paper will survive. I imagine, as well,
that parallel points can be made about aesthetically pleasing *generation*
-- of math, say. Trying to work out a complicated proof via a keyboard is
nauseating. (The literature shows that even the primitive formal work
required to excel on standardized logic tests (e.g., the logic sections of
the American GRE and LSAT) screams out for paper and pencil.) I'm working
on understanding how certain rather tricky wave equations capture physical
processes that are uncomputable. I'm going to flip on the light at my old
desk here, and pull out my sketch pad. There are equations and proofs to
work through, with figures and jottings and symbols that cannot flow
freely from my mind through my keyboard to the screen, but which can be
shaped easily by pencil. Now yes, I typed this out cold, and Stevan types
out stuff cold with his fingers flying over the keyboard all the time
(which is why the paperless medium fits him like a glove), but that's just
straight text, simple text. For the other stuff I'm glad my desk, with
its low-tech tools, awaits. Tomorrow I'll bring the journal to the beach.
I'm not worried about getting sand in it...

   Selmer Bringsjord * * Professor
     Director, Minds & Machines Lab & Program
     Dept. of Philosophy, Psychology & Cognitive Science
     Department of Computer Science
   Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy New York 12180
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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