Fossil records and paper trails

Trilobites at the HMNS

We took the kids to the Houston Museum of Natural Science this weekend, and afterwards, I tweeted this thread:

The more I’ve gone over it in my mind, the more absurd and funnier it gets. Here is an institution dedicated to what we can learn from seeing physical objects in the fossil record in person… and they’ve gone “paperless” — no paper trail! (I should note, however, that they do print admission tickets so you can prove that you’ve paid to get in.)

Petrified wood at the HMNS

I have also been meditating on my own absurdities concerning my life in paper. For example, my diaries are an attempt to make my own paper trail in an increasingly paperless world. My own “paper of the past.” My own fossil record.

But these archives are mostly for the short term, the short past: they’re to trace my own patterns, remember what I did last week, last month, last year, last decade. I am under no delusions that they will last, although they’ll probably last a lot longer than the hard drive I bought last month.

Meanwhile, I’ve stopped carrying a pocket notebook because I am in love with Apple Notes — the simple “notebook” on my phone that syncs across all my devices. I have files going for the newsletter, new books, shopping lists, etc. I am aware that these artifacts will mostly be lost, probably in the close future. They are the equivalent of “scratch” paper that will be tossed in the recycling later.

One final reach: The big news yesterday was that the FBI had searched the former president’s house to retrieve records he’d illegally removed from The White House. (Previously, he’d flushed paper down the toilet.) To a paper junkie like me, it is thrilling that paper can still, potentially, bring you down.

Like a good American, I have my pet conspiracy theories, and I wonder if the move to “paperless” is an attempt to rob us of our paper trails, the proof that things really happened the way we remember them happening.

So, I keep my paper trails going.

(Paper is a wonderful technology.)

Austin Kleon

09 Aug 2022 at 14:59

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