I BRING paper to my classes. After three years of studies, I am glad to put to use all these discarded but still useful sheets.
I bring these sheets for reuse also because I’ve noticed that Millennials don’t have much use for paper. Rather than copy the lectures or assignments I scribble on the board, my students take a shot with their phone. They record thesis consultations. They present with PowerPoint.
When I announce an “exercise,” the one or two students with paper often end up sharing the pad with classmates. Perhaps like one awaiting word from someone on a journey, I push this pile of paper on my students because I would like to catch sight of their penmanship or read thoughts that haven’t first been Googled.
A Sept. 4 report from the International New York Times (INYT) confirmed what I always knew. Makers of backpacks—a $2.7 billion industry led by JanSport producer VF Corporation—are redesigning this student staple because Millennials bring fewer textbooks and more electronics.
A team from VF Corporation interviewed two groups of “extreme” backpack users: mountaineers and the homeless in San Francisco. The first group packs gear that must instantly be reachable. Because their life, too, hinges on this packing principle, the second stores disposables in shopping carts but also keeps money and food in backpacks.
All this industrial brainstorming is creating a new crop of backpacks that responds to the digital lifestyle, from designs that can fit solar panels for survival to so-called “Digital Burritos” that ensure cords and chargers will not emerge tangled from a bag.
And paper? The INYT article only mentioned water-resistant materials, which may be regular features that are in place to primarily protect electronic gear. More than three decades ago, I closely examined the straps of a backpack before buying to make sure the bag could hold all my notebooks, novels AND the books I would still be borrowing from the library.
In a coffee shop, where I take an occasional cup of hot choco to chase away midweek blues, I noticed that I seemed to be the first to shake open the shop’s newspapers, whether I came early in the day or just before closing. Even when they don’t come alone, the other patrons are often “in a relationship” with their gadgets.
So when I once saw a fellow writing in a notebook, I stared long and hard just to verify the pencil wasn’t a stylus pen and the platform, a touchscreen gadget in retro disguise, made to look like a notebook in the “classic” style.
As all letter writers, paper book readers, and other pre-digital dinosaurs know, a sheet of paper means communion. Blank or covered in script or text, paper invites indwelling, an emptying and a refilling that I’ve never been able to do in front of a screen.
St. Augustine traced the word’s origin to “com” and “unus,” meaning “with oneness”. His definition embraces every possibility paper can conjure, from a reader’s escape into a world spun by language and imagination to the daily acts of resuscitation that bring together a psyche sundered by timetables and minutiae.
While industries move on and embrace the digital as the future, I think I’ll stay with paper. I agree with mountaineers and the homeless: Keep your lifesavers close to you.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 22, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”