e pluribus printum

Tears are being shed for the death of the printed newspaper.

The words of patriots are bent to serve pure nostalgia.

Dead? Rubbish! The fourth estate is healthier than ever, at last in the hands of the rabble instead of landowners and scandalmongers.

I see that many jobs will be lost, but how ludicrous today to imagine spending terajoules of energy to cut down the sun’s embodied rays, transform them into paper, ship the paper, apply chemicals to store redundant, stale infodata, and deliver bundles of atoms individually to each home, or to boxes that clutter the street, to be paid for with more atoms.

Is today’s paper even a gigabyte? I can download that faster than I can walk out to the porch on a winter morning.

Buckminster Fuller called it ephemeralization, to do “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.”

The savings to our culture, if not to the individual newspaper owners and employees, are enormous, in terms of saving wasted energy and space in our landfills. Perhaps something is lost, something quaint and romantic, akin to the scratch of a needle on vinyl, or the hard jangle of Ma’s steel bell. I’m sure it will be preserved in some way, perhaps as Neil Stephenson describes in The Diamond Age:

…the top stratum of New Chusan actually got the Times on paper, printed out by a big antique press that did a run of a hundred or so, every morning at about three a.m.

About the jobs. There is a harsh reality at play here. We are finally reaching the heel of the curve that has been joked about since the 1960’s – man being replaced by machine. Or, in this case, by nothing. It’s a huge social problem getting ready to break – how many people, from printers to projectionists, longshoremen to CPA’s have seen their livelihood reduced to irrelevance already?

A generation of veterans and union workers got greedy, demanded an unreasonably good lifestyle, and got it, borrowing against the future to finance it. We’d replace them with robots, but frankly, asians are cheaper and easier to replace… for now. In the long term, they will demand the same standard of living that we enjoy, and technology will enable it.

It’s a thing of beauty and the realization of an ancient dream – we may soon see a situation where no more than five or ten percent of the planet has to work to support nine billion souls. The social problem, however, is what you do with eight billion people who don’t have to do anything?

I’d like to imagine the answer has to something to do with personal fulfillment and lifelong learning, that each of us with two legs and two hands can be inspired to bring about a renaissance – no, a naissance, a new birth like none the world has seen.

But probably, they’ll just sit around and watch TV

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