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Paper computers: Not mere pulp fiction

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? I love it when I read or hear the phrase “Print is dead”. Idiocy is so enthralling. I am fascinated by people who can shamelessly proclaim their own ignorance in public with such determination.

Tomorrows World Elliot light pen 1967

Future tech: Elliot light pen shown on Tomorrow's World in 1967
How many trees could you grow in that time?

Since I last commented on this issue in a column I wrote nearly 13 years ago, things have moved on dramatically in the field of touch and stylus-controlled display interfaces to replace clunky old tech such as physical buttons and fixed imaging. But a bigger challenge to my assertion that the world of ‘print’ actually covers anything from braille embossing to laser etching comes from the “Oh that’s not really print” brigade.

I’ve read similar super-qualified arguments in other fields, such as “golf isn’t really a sport” and “medicine isn’t really science” – the implication being that brain surgery is nothing more than a performance art, a kind of slow-motion miniature knife-throwing act.

The fact is that print is here to stay, whether in 2D or 3D. I can’t help it if some tech-heads are too thick to understand what print is. How the heck do you think they make printed circuits? Duh.

Another cliché I enjoy immensely is the one about print-on-paper being evil because paper manufacture is biologically unsustainable. Apparently, producing traditional ‘dead-tree’ versions of books, magazines and newspapers is an affront to Mother Nature and contributes to deforestation.

Except that Finland, from where practically all wood pulp for the European paper industry is sourced, has laws dictating that three new trees must be planted for every tree felled.

Sure, there are issues of forest management to account for, not least the rate of cutting versus speed of growing. But planting things that take at least 20 years to mature does not strike me as biologically unsustainable as, say, oh I dunno, building more nuclear power plants in order to keep our paper-free electronics recharged, leaving a toxic legacy measured not in decades but centuries.

Electronic waste dump in China

Paper recycling is a bit more manageable than this

If that wasn’t bad enough, as any hippy watching you read an ebook on a train will bleat, an unwanted book is a damn sight easier to recycle than an unwanted plastic circuit board. Not only is our determination to burn up electricity out of control, so is our propensity to stuff the plastic bits of old computer kit into landfill. And by ‘old’, I mean ‘36 months after it came off the assembly line’.

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