Wake up and smell the snailpapers

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-07 09:49
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Wake up and smell the snailpapers

The likelihood is that if you are reading this column you are online. Though China has to some extent bucked the trend of declining newspaper circulation the bet is 20 years from now it will be the same story here as everywhere else. The daily snailpaper is on its way out.

"Snailpaper," you say. "What's that?"

Wake up and smell the snailpapers

Well, following on from the idea of calling post that is written on a piece of paper and physically carried from one destination to another, snail mail (or smail, as opposed to e-mail), we have arrived at a point in history where we must start talking about the newspaper in the past tense by giving it a new name snailpaper.

Today, fortuitously, is International Snailpapers Day. Since you probably don't know what this involves, it's the first ever, after all, I will enlighten you. Right now, you should stop reading this article if you are online, log off and not get connected again for the rest of the day.

Instead, you are encouraged to pick up a newspaper, savor the feel of natural fibers, enjoy the rustling sound as you turn a page, press your nose to the newsprint and wallow in its inky tones. Savor this multi-sensory reading experience, as it fades away, like papers themselves.

International Snailpapers Day is the idea of a friend of mine, Dan Bloom, who has graduated from earning his living as a newspaperman to being a blogger and neologist. Based in sunny Chiayi, Taiwan, Bloom has been telling anyone who cares to listen (and he's hard to ignore) that we need a new term for newspapers.

"Don't get me wrong," he says, "I love the old-fashioned newspaper and we must do all we can to preserve it. Calling it a snailpaper might serve some small purpose, even if it is as a historical footnote to the slow death of what we all once loved and cherished."

Bloom's timing is uncanny because the iPad was launched this weekend in the United States and it's expected to revolutionize reading in much the same way that Apple transformed the phone into a multi-purpose communications device, able to do anything, from shopping to being a Star Trek Phaser app.

It all sounds wonderful, of course, but Bloom and others are right to wonder where this revolution is headed. We are already immersed in screens, connected 24-7 and at a loss for what to do without these devices.

Enter stage right, Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by media critic William Powers. Set to be published later this year, the book will make an argument against "the sacred dogma of the digital age - the more we connect through technology, the happier we are".

According to advance publicity from the book's publisher, Harper Collins: "Connectedness serves us best when it's offset by its opposite, disconnectedness. There are ways to strike a healthy balance between the two."

International Snailpapers Day is an opportunity to pause for a moment and if not smell the roses, inhale a little newsprint, before it's gone forever.