Why print will last so much longer than you think it will (hint: we can feel it)

Print is going to last longer than we might think because we can prove print in a way we cannot prove with digital.

Someone recently mentioned to me that in 10 years, we’ll still be predicting the death of newspapers. I think sitting here, in my office, looking at a copy of the Wall Street Journal that I stuffed into my pocket after finding it on a bench at the 2nd Street station in Old City Philadelphia, I believe that to be true.

Let me say something controversial: newspapers mean something more than news sites. Just like printed photographs mean something more than Facebook pictures.

Digital media still should amaze in their flexibility, utility and reach. But their printed counterparts are also still remarkable for all the reasons their future seem limited: they are inflexible, expensive and in-viral.

For more than their serendipity, when I pick up a newspaper, I so often want to hold on to it because it still feels like the best way to preserve our history: how we see, interpret and understand today in this present. Digital media are so powerful because they are so malleable — we can shape words, correct mistakes, add visual supplement so easily. But when it’s printed — that newspaper, that photograph, that view of the world — what we see cannot be as easily changed.

Understand, truth is very rarely in a newspaper or in a photograph, but what is in them — and what is far more difficult to change — is our version of that truth, and that matters something too.

Our understanding of the world and our trust in it is so tied to having our own piece of it — not sharing it with a cloud — that it’s difficult to give that up. Even someone as young as I am — mid-twenties — understands almost preternaturally the mechanics of print in a way I cannot understand digitizing information. Understanding and trust seem so interlocked.

The reality is that the internet may likely give us a place where all information is accessible and distributable, culled and curated in ways absolutely unimaginable in the history of civilization. That reality does, I believe, make us better equipped to understand, and, with a set of ethics, that means we are more able to hold accountable what was said, what was thought, what was shared in the past, in a much cleaner way.

We don’t need a stack of yellowed newspaper clippings anymore in that world. But won’t we still frame photographs for some time now into the future?

Because while there are so many ways to improve on print, we feel so much more in control of that stack of clippings and that framed photo than we do with them in pixels. So while our senses say we should pull the plug on print promptly, it’ll take a decade or two before we overcome the feelings over which we have less control.

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