While the jury is out, to some extent, when it comes to the exact date which marked the start of the art of paper making- after all, they didn’t have that much to write their records on- educated minds would suggest the very first sheet was produced during the Eastern Han dynasty of ancient China, which spanned 202BC – AD220. Since then, people have been penning everything from manifestos to mindless notes on paper; the backbone of communication as we know it. Or at least as we knew it until relatively recently.
We now live in rapidly changing times, and there are few areas in which this flux is felt more than how we deliver messages to one another. You don’t have to work in a PR agency or other media business to know this. The fall of newspapers and print media isn’t the only way in which we are not-so-slowly moving away from a paper-reliant society, either.
Britain’s oldest postcard publisher, J. Salmon, has just announced that it will close business for good in December this year, blaming a shrinking market- the result of selfies and social media- and increased competition from foreign rivals. Put simply, we’re going on fewer domestic breaks, and spending less time there when we do, so postcards can’t even make it to their recipient before we get home. Clearly, it’s far quicker to take a quick snap with an iPhone and post it online for the world to see.
In many ways this is just another case of The Way Things Are Now, although anyone that saw this BoredPanda story about the guy who has been going around America taking new photos of scenes from old postcards, then comparing the often haunting differences between the two, will likely feel the way we do. It’s a damn shame indeed.
This isn’t the only warning sign for le papier, either. The iconic Argos catalogue is no more, so who knows what kids will be pestering their parents with in the run up to Christmas- you can’t fold the corner of an iPad over to ‘subtly’ suggest which game you want, after all. Meanwhile, the Yellow Pages is also stopping its print run, although perhaps that’s not very surprising, as you can get the same business information- phone number, address- with a quick Google search, and most of us went ex-directory years before deciding to stop bothering with a landline at all.
Having said all that, it may not be completely apocalyptic for good old paper, though. In 2016, The Times reported how sales of paper diaries and calendars were actually on the rise again. And in the same year, personalised greeting card giant Moonpig saw its sales soar, although this wasn’t exactly the wondrous news you might assume given profits were falling due to increased production costs- something that has also had a negative impact on the finance streams of newspapers.
So what do you think? Should we ditch the physical to-dos and re-write everything in electronic? Or is there still place for paper in our everyday lives? One thing is for sure, you’re not about to walk into any toilets and find them void of rolls anytime soon, unless you’re in Japan, but that’s a whole other story…