Papyrus to paper: Get over it


“Hi. I’m paper. Remember me?”

I remember you, paper, all too well, all high and mighty yet ready to crumple at the first sign of pressure. I thought I was all cried out, but when I first read those words of yours — part of a public relations campaign on behalf of a paper company by the name of Domtar Corp. — I just erupted.

I thought I was over all that — the sense of betrayal, of being cast aside in favor of someone younger, thinner and better looking — but what I thought was scar tissue was still very much alive to the pain.

Why oh why did you have to reopen all those memories?

I’m papyrus, you see. That’s right, papyrus. I’m not ashamed of it. I won’t ask if you remember me, of course. Nobody does. And that’s hard to live with when you were used to being lovingly smoothed and inked and rolled by soft-handed scribes in sunny places.


But I’m OK with the change. Really I am.

Oh, who am I kidding? I still nurse the hope, however delusional, that my time will somehow come once again — that the same people who shave with double-edged razors while listening to vinyl records will decide, you know, there really was something about papyrus. He was the real McCoy. He had class.

I’ll admit to a little schadenfreude over your troubles, paper. Just the other day I thrilled at the sight of a newspaper ad from Domtar, part of a series that features the words “paper because.” The answer in this one was “overdependence on technology might be making us less intelligent.” Pathetic! Socrates tried that back in my day, claiming that writing would undermine memory, and it was nonsense 2,400 year ago. In fact, we only know about it because Plato wrote it all down — on me.

That was my heyday. Things have been kind of slow ever since, so it did a heart good when the PC came along, although of course that only produced more paper. But then, finally, we had the smartphone and the tablet and the environmental movement, and people were down on paper. And then that tragic ad campaign, just reeking of desperation. Your sad little confessional essay — on a website! — was far more revealing than you seem to realize.

“I was there when you were born, capturing your height and weight, and even your little footprints … and I beamed with pride when you first wrote your name, with all the letters facing the right way.… On the day of your graduation, we crossed the stage together.... From your first paycheck to your finest presentation, I’ve always been your partner.”

That’s just like you, paper. You don’t mention that you’re just as glad to be an arrest warrant, a ransom note or a death notice. You’ll say anything, won’t you paper? You’ve always had that kind of flimsy moral fiber. And now you’re moaning about being cast aside? Complaining that people think you’re a tree killer? As eager as you were to paper over your sins, they’ve caught up with you at last.

And you know what? I feel for you. We all do — my pals parchment, clay tablet, cave walls, the whole gang. Oh, we were all jealous of one another, of course we were, but when you came to town, it was clear we’d all go down together, so we formed a kind of support group; nothing terribly formal, just a bunch of superannuated codgers with long memories. Not a grudge-holder in the bunch, did you know that? Just a great bunch of guys, who’ve always been there for each other.


But do yourself a favor, paper. Steer a wide berth because, believe me, they’d tear you to pieces.

Daniel Akst, a former columnist for the Times, is a writer in New York’s Hudson Valley.