It goes like this: Every few months, some blogger decries the death of print media, an efficiency guru campaigns for paperless offices or a paper airplane goes missing over an ocean. Paper is being torn asunder as a medium. We get it: screens are in, paper is out.
As a writer whose career exists in the twilight between pulp and pixels, I’m necessarily neutral on the matter. Some money comes as checks, some as direct-deposits. I pet the paper tiger with one hand and the digital tiger with the other. Being part cyborg, I admit to a proclivity for digital but I’ve been largely ambivalent about the issue until yesterday, when Restoration Hardware dropped a 17 pound chunk of eco-terrorism onto my porch.
I’m not kidding – the catalog was 17 pounds. It’s behemoth weight was printed on the plastic binding that contained 12 individual volumes of the home furnishing store’s entire 2014 catalog collection. It was a sad day for the green scene. From a certain angle, the stack of pages resembled tree rings.
Hasn’t anyone told RH that printed catalogs are the phone books of retail? And phone books are dead. They should plant a grove for every doorstop they delivered this season and rename themselves Reforestation Hardware.
In the old days, to address your disapproval of such an eco-affront you’d need to tie a note to a brick. In this case, the RH catalog collection has the same mass as a cinder block and, if chucked through the window of their Corte Madera corporate offices, methinks the medium is the message.
Heaving the whole unopened tragedy into the recycling bin brought to mind a time I was dining at a vegan Santa Monica eatery when a waitress balked at a table’s request for take out boxes. “Let’s save some trees, people,” she said, which received the swift retort, “It’s okay, I’m Julia Butterfly’s agent.” I have no idea if that was true or who was being more of an ass on the evergreen battlefield of eco-one-upmanship. Julia “Butterfly” Hill, you will recall, was the twenty-something who lived in a 1500 year-old redwood tree for a couple of years to prevent it from being chopped down by loggers back in the late 90s. She’s now a 40-something who offers life-coaching and does speaking engagements for $6,000 honorariums. (I too am a forty-something and will gladly coach you for a thousandth the price. Like so: “Get off your butt and give me six bucks.”)
I’m confident that 99 percent of my printed work gets recycled. That would be the newspapers for which I write. The books, I suspect, get burned. Newspapers have always been repurposed, hence the affectionate terms “fishwrap” and “birdcage liner.” I like to pretend my columns get wrapped around roses, but getting shat on by canaries is better than not in this trade. Because that means they’re alive and well in the coal mine of traditional media.
With the proliferation of the word processor in the 80s, an essential element of writing changed forever. No longer were we typing on single sheets of paper, but rather on endless virtual scrolls. Some writers stopped using paper altogether as a sprig of eco-consciousness sprouted in their minds. Others just wrote more digital compost.
Imagine if Kerouac, who typed On the Road on a roll of teletype paper, had a blank canvass that scrolled into infinity. He’d still be writing On the Road. He’d also be 92 and no one wants to read about the exploits of geriatric drivers and their forgotten left-turn signal, blinking its syncopated rhythm with the heartbeat of a lost generation.
Whenever I finish writing a novel or a screenplay, I print what I call a “trophy draft.” It’s usually the only time I ever print anything, and I only do it in the off chance that the Internet might someday evaporate, taking my cloud-stored oeuvre with it. The problem with committing a draft to paper is that it’s tantamount to leaving behind physical evidence of my own ineptitude. I’ve come across such drafts long after a project has been published (or, as likely, buried in a virtual drawer) and have shuddered at the paucity of the product, let alone the waste of a tree. And this is my life’s work.
Clearly, Restoration Hardware has a healthier sense of their own cultural contribution. Print isn’t dead. It’s undead and weighs 17 goddamn pounds. And it can kill a cat. I bet.