We need to change our thinking about print. Yes, it is sustainable, yes it is lovely and yes it is good for the planet. None of this has to change. What has to change is our view of print’s purpose. Most of us tend to think of it as a tool for communications or as a beautiful object, for instance a well-produced book. But it is also a technology independent means of storing data, the ultimate environmentally friendly archive.
Think about it. Ever since the advent of digital photography people have been taking and collecting photos. There are trillions of them floating around in the ether and even though we value these images, too rarely do people print them out. Whole generations are creating images that depend on digital technology in order to share and view them. What happens when the digital technologies fade into obsolescence?
The same is true for nonimage content, diaries, love letters, birthday greetings and family correspondence. The idea of archiving in print all this sort of trivia may sound silly, but print is a more trustworthy medium than a sim card or USB stick when it comes to archiving. How many Bernoulli drives have you got knocking about and how many SCSI cables and computers with SCSI ports? Once upon a time a 20MB Bernoulli was the leading edge in digital storage. If you used them to archive images and datafiles you also needed to hang onto Bernoulli compatible computer. How many of us have done that?
Print is technology independent so whatever you archive in print will be accessible for a very long time. Yes, it is vulnerable but no less so than digital storage. And its ultimate fate has a fine less malign influence on the environment than all that mag tape, PET film, CDs and DVDs.
It is highly unlikely that people will ditch their digital media archives overnight. But perhaps we all might want to consider print’s role as an environmentally friendly archiving tool. For the things that really matter there really is no other choice.
– Laurel Brunner