Paper’s Unexpected Comeback

August 7, 2015

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For over 2,000 years, paper was it. Our calendars, our email, our Google Maps, our texting, our to-do lists — all of it was on paper. For hundreds of years, it served us very well. Then came the commercialization of the Internet and the advent of the consumer-friendly personal computer, and paper...well, you know the rest of the story. In most ways, the rise of technology and the fall of paper has made us faster and more productive. Who among us would rather lug out a set of encyclopedias than look something up on Wikipedia? Probably not many.

What if, though, there's something about paper that can't be directly translated into an app or a program?

The leadership team at Harvest recently took a trip to Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor-based IT company that is quickly becoming known for their collaborative culture and where employees visibly experience joy in the workplace. As an IT company, you'd expect them to use an application for everything. Imagine our surprise upon arrival at Menlo, when we saw paper everywhere. Even more compelling was the fact that an abundance of paper appeared to be a contributor to employee satisfaction.

Picture if you will, walls papered with colorful sticky notes, decorated with pushpins on cork boards, string used for dividers on timelines, and index cards for project status reports. We saw budget projections papered on the walls, with every index card representing a percentage of revenue. Presentations were hand drawn on oversized sheets and mounted (no endless PowerPoint presentations here). We may have been surprised at first, but after hearing the logic behind it, we saw the writing on the wall...literally.

Paper doesn't require you to login or tell you that you've typed the wrong password. It doesn't require you to type out a cryptic and blurry captcha code. It doesn't chirp out a judgmental noise when you press the wrong buttons. It doesn't require you to learn which symbol means which action when you're stumbling through a new website. Paper is easy. And apparently, it makes people happy and productive (as demonstrated on the faces of their team members we met that day and through the longstanding success of Menlo Innovations).

In response to paper's diminishing importance, The Paper and Packaging Board has a new campaign. Check out this ad to see how they're breathing new life into paper.
Click here to read Michael S. Rosenwald's take on the Paper and Packaging Board's newest ad campaign.

This isn't an entirely new concept, either. Pixar created a short film in 2012 called "Paper Man," in which they crafted an entire love story out of a single piece of paper.


Aside from the inherent romanticism of paper, there may be some technical advantages to paper. We looked into it, and found an article that stated there were four benefits of writing by hand:

1. It's better for learning. When you physically write out notes rather than typing them, you stimulate a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System. This part of your brain basically prioritizes your thoughts and decides which thought should be brought to the forefront and which ones can wait.

2. It makes you a better writer. Many writers say that it's better to write out their drafts and then type them out later. They claim that writing makes them go slower and gives them more time to craft the perfect sentence.

3. It will prevent you from being distracted. The internet is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it can be more like a siren than a muse. With pen and paper, you don't have to worry about seeing a glimpse of a cute puppy gif on Facebook — which could lead you down a dark gif road to cute kittens, pranks, and other distractors.

4. It keeps your brain sharp as you get older. Some physicians have found that writing has is a cognitive exercise for baby boomers to keep their minds sharp.

Now, we aren't about to throw out our computers any time soon. We still need our smart phones and tablets to function. But maybe, there's something to be said about the possibilities and physicality of good old fashioned paper. Maybe it's time to reevaluate paper's importance in the creative process.

Categories: Harvest Creative News Industry News