The Paper Document: No Special Technology Required

Nov 18, 2014

 By Mark Pitts
 Executive Director, Printing & Writing

  As we approach the first anniversary of our move to the new AF&PA
  office on K Street, I am reminded of the move preparation, which
  involved much cleaning and sorting of materials that had
  accumulated over the years. One item that caught my eye was a
  very large magnetic tape cassette that was a size I had never seen before. Whatever was on that tape, which I am sure was important at the time, was destined to be lost forever. Who knows what kind of media player would be required to retrieve the information? Such is the case as a newer, faster, cheaper way to record information overtakes the previous version.

Looking back, data storage has reinvented itself many times, from punch cards, mag tape, cassettes of increasingly smaller sizes, CD and DVD disks, to the USB drives and cloud storage we use today. Remember the 51/4” floppy disc? Don’t know about you, but my computer does not have a slot for that.

Here is my point: digital storage of important documents, data and memories will continue to evolve, and the technology we use today will most likely be obsolete in twenty years. Accessibility of digital information depends on having certain technology available to retrieve it. That is the beauty of paper. Information recorded on paper is secure, will last for generations, and will never need special technology or remembered passwords.

Had the information on that strange cassette tape I discovered a year ago been recorded on paper, we could have determined whether it should be saved as an important element of our industry’s history, or relegated to the recycle bin. Paper always provides options. Technology, not so much.

For anyone interested in the history of recorded media, this video by Frank Romano, a leading authority on graphic arts technology and trends, captures a unique collection he assembled.