You can blame a lot on a pretty picture, especially if that picture is worth a thousand words. With the puck about to drop on a shortened NHL hockey season, the gloves already have come off in another icy standoff between newer vs. more established communications media. Now that the pixel and paper dust has settled we have a clearer perspective on what happened in early January, when the latest Google fight broke out.
The online search behemoth may have been the unintentional instigator, but many on the ink-on-paper side responded childishly at first, seemingly proclaiming, “My technology is greener than your technology. Na na na na nah!” Quietly, the “Googlites” observed these knee-jerk reactions from behind the glass, presumably laughing at the retaliators, but not taking the bait.
“Tit-for-tat retorts are silly,” said Don Carli, senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication. “It’s all a lot of posturing.” Some offended bloggers and insulted print twits on Twitter countered with a call to “Go Google-less” and use less Google in 2013. Carli called that idea “wrong-headed” because, like printing (and paper), Google, Bing, and Yahoo keyword searches are not going away. There is no disputing that online resources, available immediately at our fingertips, have made research virtually painless for millions of users, students included, not to mention thousands of professional reporters. (Sure, I’ll go on the record: I love Google. It made weaving this story so much easier!)
PIA president/CEO Michael Makin added: “A lot of people ask, ‘What’s the big deal?’” The big deal is that the US print industry, which the Printing Industry of America represents, has some “one million employees counting on paychecks every week,” said Makin, who vowed to continue to face-off on behalf of his members. Carli went on to say that print and paper are important components of North America’s GDP (gross domestic product), contributing trillions of dollars to the economy. An excerpt from Makin’s January 8 letter, sent to Google CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, reads:
“While we appreciate that it is in your best and self-interest to operate in a digital world, inferring that going digital is better for the environment is not only inaccurate, it is irresponsible,” Makin wrote. “The amount of energy that is used by servers and individual devices far exceeds that used in the production of printed goods, and the amount of energy required for electronic devices is increasing.” (Read the gist of the full letter at www.myprintresource.com/10851033.)
The “Go Paperless in 2013” campaign is not the first passive-aggressive bullying of the print medium, and it surely won’t be the last. Remember Toshiba’s thwarted “National No-Print Day” in 2012? It’s not even Google’s first attack. Last August, the firm placed print ads in Canadian newspapers that questioned the very power of newspaper ads. The irony gets even better: Google’s Creative Lab unit won a 2012 contest encouraging creativity in print advertising; the grand prize is $1 million worth of full-page ad space in USA Today. Five years ago, it was bringing in print advertisers via Google Print Ads, a complement to its AdWords program, which cooperated with more than 250 US newspapers. However, Google pulled the print plug in 2009, saying the program did not generate the level of impact for which it had hoped.
My takeaway from this latest brouhaha is a basic graphics principle: Pictures (and words) cannot be chosen carelessly, whether for use in print or online. That’s why I point the finger for this whole misunderstanding at an innocent or misguided web designer/copywriter. Call her or him a scapegoat, if you must, but somebody has to take the fall before Twitter’s tweetdom explodes. Apparently, people have a lot to say on this topic. In our Social Media Age, Twitter has gone all atwitter with commentaries and links in 140 characters or less. The tweets, both pros and cons, started on Jan. 9—there were more than 450 of them in the first week—and they haven’t stopped, at an average clip of 60+ per day. (Search hash tag #Paperless2013 for the latest.) A weekly #PrintChat tweet up devoted a full hour to the subject on January 16.