Sunday, August 19, 2007

Paper, Stone, iPhone

People have been complaining about the big stack of paper printouts they have received from AT&T for their iPhone service. Some have been objecting almost as much to the paper delivery as to the bill, saying that if the iPhone were as a true harbinger of the future as its champions (including me) claim, its telephone carrier would have figured out a way to send the bill electronically.

But I doubt that paper’s really the issue. I've never seen anyone object to getting paper cash in hand.

Paper, of course, has long been waived around as an early item to be replaced by the digital revolution. I remember lots of talk and writing back in the 1980s about the "paperless office". It didn't happen.

I’ll let Sierra Waters, heroine of my novel The Plot to Save Socrates, explain why. Here’s what she’s thinking on the very first page of the novel:

The Plot to Save Socrates

...written on the only substance which could survive decades, maybe longer, without batteries, which required only the light of the sun to be read, or the moon on a good night, or a flickering flame when there was no moon. Paper. A marvelous invention. Thin and durable...

And paper also has what I call "reliable locatability" - what’s written on one part of a piece of paper today will be in the same place tomorrow. Interestingly, paper - like parchment, vellum, and papyrus - was initially invented as a means of liberating the written word from its carvings on stone. But in the digital age, one of the main advantages of paper is its durability.

Which is why, much as I dislike bills, I actually prefer getting them on paper. I like having handy copies of how I spend my money.

Meanwhile, if the history of phone and online service is any indication, iPhone AT&T service will sooner or later progress to very low, flat rates for huge amounts of data - which I doubt that anyone will be complaining about, whether on paper or screen.

See also The Secret Riches of the Panda

And, for more on the history and future of paper - The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book
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