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Life after Paper

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Life after Paper

Post by The Invisible Man on Tue Mar 20, 2012 10:19 pm

This article brings Catalyst Paper to mind and why the company is unlikely to get strongly back on its knees unless it diversifies.

Life After Paper

Paper will remain a large market for the majors to harvest for quite a while yet, but basically the important event horizon has been crossed: paper is no longer culturally central to the world. Even digital technology, which for decades relied on paper-based metaphors to ground its user experience is slowly weaning itself off conceptual dependence on paper-based mental models. No longer do we talk primarily in terms of Web “pages.” We talk of streams, apps and interactive media. We talk of “content” as an abstract category that is separate from presentation media. We talk about how we can explicitly design the content-medium coupling that was natural with paper, in order to combat piracy.

The most interesting impact will not be at the level of paper-like substitute technologies. It will be at the level of organizational and political life, as an entire world architecture based on paper is slowly replaced. The shift marks the end of the very idea of canonicity in cultural life. Blogs replacing paper newspapers isn’t just a technology shift, it is a culture shift from canonicity and “newspapers of record” to a much more uncertain world.

The analogy to the fall of the Roman empire works well. During the Pax Romana, the system of Roman roads tied Europe together and created a uniform culture everywhere. Afterwards, the roads fell into disrepair, and local cultures began thriving. The end of Pax Papyra will see similar dynamics. The culture around domains where the smartphone replaces paper will be very different from the one around eBook readers. API-based structured communications will drift far apart culturally.

The many-headed digital hydra that is replacing paper is inscrutable, mysterious and ineffable in a very different way. It is much harder to trace the contours of the new post-paper world.
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The Invisible Man

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