It’s amazing how the world has changed in a lifetime. My lifetime. Phones, TV, the Internet, electronic funds transfers, payment by waving a plastic card.
My parents were paid by their employers in cash and they paid for everything in cash. Most people didn’t have cars and relied on public transport and paid in cash for their tickets. Today cash is endangered.
A little later, people started to acquire bank accounts, usually in conjunction with a mortgage. Their pay was paid into their bank accounts and the mortgage payments were extracted from the bank account directly. The thing was, the bank account came a lot of paperwork. There were statements and cheque books. To whip out a cheque book and offer to pay for something was a real show of status. Today cheques are almost unused, being almost completely replaced by credit cards, debit cards and charge cards. Some younger people have never seen a cheque and most shops will not accept one. Many banks will supply statements over the Internet these days.
Most people got their news through newspapers. Paper newspapers, from the rarefied air of the Times to the slightly more foetid air of the tabloids. The network of distribution of news via started from the printing presses and initially was distributed by vans, trains, and more vans. Bundles of papers were dropped off at strategic points, and newsagents picked them up, sorted them and gave them to young boys and girls to distribute, dropping them into letter boxes, countrywide.
A similar distribution network was used for the evening papers. These however were distributed mostly to the streets around business places and railway stations and similar places where people would pick them up on their way home from work. The main headlines would be prominently displayed as teasers to persuade people to buy them.
Newsagents existed to distribute the paper that the news was printed on. As a sideline, they would sell other things, like magazines, tobacco, and confectionery. As newsprint volumes have fallen, the old time newsagents had to specialise in something else, like the confectionery that they used to sell as a sideline, or in some cases groceries, particularly the staples such as canned foods and milk. Some might sell books or glossy magazines, but even these versions of print material are under threat.
My letter box is still full of paper. Much of it is the ubiquitous junk mail, of course, the flyers and offers which advertisers hope will entice us into buying. It appears that the expense of creating and sending junk mail is still worthwhile, or so the advertisers believe. Some of the paper is comprised of what can loosely be called “community newspapers”. These papers, largely funded by advertising, and run on the cheap, are distributed free, and contain local news only, mainly sports and local politics.
“Letter boxes” in the UK are slots in the front door of a house, not actual boxes on poles as in many other countries.)
What my letter box rarely contains is an actual letter, written by someone, stamped and posted by someone, sorted and delivered to my letter box by a real postman. There are a few firms that still insist on paper invoices and local tradesmen tend to still prefer papers invoices but apart from that and a few real letters from older relatives, I receive little real mail these days. No wonder that postal services world-wide are having issues.
It is easy to see the reason for the decline of the print industries world-wide. In a word, the Internet. When it is simple and cheap to sit at a computer and type an email, or finger tap a message into a tablet or phone, and have a response in minutes, why would anyone manually write a letter, find an envelope, find or purchase a stamp, and find a post box to drop the letter in? Although the vast majority of letters get through safely, there are exceptions, while email is almost certainly going to be delivered and you will get a message if your email doesn’t go through.
Similarly in banking. Once every transaction had a paper trail. All transfers and payments were neatly written in books, all ledgers were balanced by hand and banks shifted huge numbers of notes, cheques, coins and other forms of paper money. These days I rarely carry cash, and I haven’t seen or used a cheque in years.
I do all my banking on the Internet, using my computer or phone. I pay for things, even small things like a cup of coffee (actually I drink tea), with a debit card, with a credit card as backup for emergencies. Gas stations, grocery stores, tradesmen, and every other kind of store takes the plastic.
More and more our transactions with government departments, like car licensing or tax matters, are conducted online. Even if you have to go in to a government agency for some matter or other, they will scan your documents rather than copy them. If you fill in a paper form, they will transfer the data to their computer systems while you wait.
In all fields, except possibly the field of junk mail, paper is being used less and less. Even magazines are headed online, with smartphone apps for New Scientist magazine allowing you to read it anywhere that you may be. An added advantage of on-line magazines is that the electronic copy is, in general, cheaper than the paper version.
I have forgotten, until now, that I was going to mention books. Books are nice objects to hold, and they make a nice addition to one’s decor. I enjoy reading a book and have several shelves full. Maybe 200 books? But on my electronic devices I have maybe 10 times that number. OK, most are old classics, which are out of copyright, but a number I have bought specifically to read on-line. An on-line reader keeps your place, let’s you bookmark passages and allows you to quickly search for something that you read somewhere in your on-line collection.
Books are not yet redundant, but they are slowly heading on-line. While it may not be soon, and while not every book will disappear on-line, printed books may become rare and expensive.
Print is dying everywhere and the amazing thing is that it has happened in a short period of time. The spread of computers first caused volumes of paper generated to increase, but the Internet and the way that it has allowed sharing of documents, plus the smaller and faster computers and hugely capacious hard drives, culminating is the ubiquitous smart phones has saved millions of trees from destruction.