This I Believe

Jim - Spokane, Washington
Entered on February 3, 2008

I believe in the power of print.

I believe that books, magazines and newspapers are not outmoded technologies, but are the best ways ever invented to turn thought into matter, into objects that matter.

This belief formed at an early age, around the time my parents read me “The Plump Pig” at bedtime. I loved the pictures, but the words – about a plump pig who didn’t fit in with his skinny pig family – filled my brain. This mystical combination of letters somehow became a story – something funny, something sad, something true. It was a story I could flip through again and again – a story that became mine because I could hold it in my hands.

As I got older, the stories became richer: The Hardy Boys, The Little House on the Prairie, Huck Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Rings. I read them in bed, I read them in lazy summer hammocks, I read them on cross-country car trips. Books were little worlds I could take anywhere.

Also, I grew up in a household of a kind that no longer exists in most of America: The two-newspaper household. Here was a true miracle: The entire world delivered to our front porch, morning and afternoon. Section after section, filled with comics and horoscopes and movie reviews and sports scores and, yeah, plenty of news as well. The columnists were my favorites: Mike Royko, Art Buchwald, Calvin Trillin. Week after week, they deflated the pompous and ridiculed the ignorant. A sheet of processed tree pulp, spread in front of me on the breakfast counter, gave me the power to laugh at an insane world.

Lately, print is under attack. Some people believe it will be buried forever under a mountain of podcasts, blogs and YouTube videos. Why would anyone want a book or a newspaper when you can just Google everything?

Well, for the same reason that God engraved those tablets on stone back on Mt. Sinai: Print is permanent.

Electronic media is well-suited to, let’s say, reading a short radio essay. The Internet is the best way ever invented for finding out something fast, for distributing vast mountains of information. But electronic media will always be, essentially, ether.

I simply can’t imagine the day when we no longer need to hold thought in our hands. We’ll always want ideas – sometimes incredibly complex ideas — covering the walls of our living rooms, displayed on our coffee tables, spread across our breakfast counters and filling the racks at the dentist’s office.

So I believe that print will be around for a long, long time – unless engraving on stone makes a surprise comeback.