the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria… the MGM version…
This morning we had a meeting with the head of one of the largest newspaper groups in the world, based in the UK.
We were early…(which I think is a good thing for meetings like this).
And so to kill time we lingered in the lobby, which was filled with, needless to say, newspapers.
Newspapers are remarkable things. Later in our meeting, the CEO would comment on how newspapers are the original non-linear delivery system. You can move from item to item with great ease..then come back to something you find interesting.
While that is true, I was struck by something else: the piles of paper. Great mountains of it. And free (at least for those visiting the office). Outside, great mountains of newspaper filled with content were on sale for £.35 (or about 70 cents). A real deal, if you think about it.
We live in a sea of paper.
It is so cheap that we buy a Sunday Times, read a few articles and throw the rest away.
It is so cheap that we cover the walls of our homes with it, throw it out without thought, and in this country use it to serve fish and chips.
It was not always so.
In antiquity, paper was so expensive and difficult and complex to make that one might rarely see a piece of it in a lifetime.
Think for a moment of a world without paper.
What would it be like?
No books, no magazines, no newspapers, no billboards, no menus, no paper towels, no post notes.. not nothing. Cheap paper, often unheralded, is in many ways the backbone of our culture. Were paper expensive, we would treat it very differently.
In ancient Rome, paper was made from papyrus in a long and difficult process. The word paper itself is derived from papyrus. Books or scrolls existed, but they were expensive and fragile and guarded with great care.
For almost two millenia, paper has been the platform both for the creation of content, its distribution and the storage of intellectual property. The destruction of the Library at Alexandria (some say by Caesar, some say by Christians and some say by Muslims) was a shattering tragedy because of the rarity and irreplaceable nature of what was lost.
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel postulated that in the not too distant future computing power would be as inexpensive and ubiquitious as paper is today. That is, we would be able to cover the walls of our houses with computer processors and throw away computers after one minor use (like the Sunday paper).
There is no doubt that this is going to happen. Moore’s Law continues to remain a constant, and a recent study by IBM indicated that soon the greatest expense in computing will not be the cost of the computer, but rather the power to run it – a bit like lightbulbs.
As processing power and delivery platforms become the analogue of paper, will our own ability to create content in video and other processor-driven media keep up with the almost free nature of creativity that will become available to us?