2012 Prediction: Paper Will Be the Next Disruptive Technology

There’s a little-known scene in the movie “Star Trek: First Contact,” where Lt. Commander Data, an android, observes Captain Jean-Luc Picard touching the hull of an historic spacecraft. The captain smiles and taps the ship with his bare fingers, to which Data asks, “Sir, does tactile contact alter your perception of (the ship)?”

“Oh yes,” Picard says. “For humans, touch can connect you to an object in a very personal way. It makes it seem more real.”

Data then touches the ship himself, and says,” I am detecting imperfections in the titanium casing. Temperature variations in the fuel manifold. It’s no more real to me now than it was a moment ago.”

Data’s reaction is similar to how many of us interact with both objects and information today. More and more, our “things” are trapped under a layer of glass. We can “touch” but we can’t always feel. We live our lives from screen to shining screen.

It’s a digital world – and overall, it’s a far better world. But digital should enhance physical experiences, not replace them or separate us completely from what makes us human.

This is why I believe it’s time to make a place for real objects and real connections. It’s time for a truly disruptive technology to bring us back to our senses.

It’s time for paper.

No, I’m not joking. And no, I’m not just an old journalist pining for the days of picas and ink-stained fingertips (okay, it’s true I’m old, just not insane.) There is a place for paper in a digital world, because although all information will soon be converted into bits, human beings are still made of atoms.

Our sense of touch and its emotional resonance is unique from other animals. Paper transmits feeling in ways screens can’t begin to deliver. Paper is far from perfect, but it’s more than ready for a renaissance.

Despite the meteoric rise of e-books, the largest growth is in the print-on-demand sector, increasing 169 percent in 2010 and even greater in 2011. Lulu.com, a leading print-on-demand press, expects $40 million in revenue this year, up from $34 million in 2010.

And investor Warren Buffet’s latest purchase? The Omaha World-Herald, a newspaper. Said Buffet, “I wouldn’t do this if I thought this was doomed to some sort of extinction.”

I’m being a bit overly persuasive – of course paper will never be what it once was. This shift to digital didn’t start with the iPad or Kindle either, remember LexisNexis in the 1970s?

But we have reached the point where paper is again disruptive, and when incorporating paper or print into communication can set you apart as an innovator rather than make you appear old fashioned.

Access to information should not be confused with connection to that information. Commander Data from Star Trek was able to access information about the spacecraft, but he couldn’t connect with it in the same way as Captain Picard.

The key question we must ask ourselves is should traditional mediums transition to digital, or should digital technology serve to enhance and improve traditional experiences and interactions? Can we live a life under glass, or do we need to get out once in a while?

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