Paper and the WorldKnowing there is no legal record of ownership, someone with force enough to do so would simply come and take possession of your house.
Paper is amazing. It is thin and relatively fragile, yet most of the world’s wealth and much of the world’s fate are committed to it.
Do a little considering.
Consider your lot/land. If you own land, you probably don’t have it surrounded by armed soldiers to maintain your ownership, keeping people from tramping all over it or squatting on it. Instead, you have a piece of paper somewhere that says you own the land. So you don’t need the army. Consider your house. If you own the house you live in, you do not keep a band of off-duty police around the lot lines to help you keep possession. You rely solely on a specific piece of paper somewhere.
Consider stocks and bonds. If all your wealth consists of investments in stocks and Government and other bonds, your wealth is simply a batch of pieces of paper somewhere.
Consider the car dealer in a car purchase. If a $20,00 dollar car is purchased by check, the car dealer gives away a huge batch of chrome, engine, glass, speakers, radio, tape and CD player, tires, plush seats, and more. What he gets in return, is a small piece of paper.
Consider your marriage. If you are married, people accept that fact -- not because they were at your wedding and saw it occur, but because you have a piece of paper somewhere that states you are married. In a manner of speaking, all marriages are paper-based.
Consider crossing a Country’s border. If you try to cross a border between two countries, border officials will not necessarily believe you when you say you are you, but they will believe a piece of paper (visa/passport).
Consider driving a car. You can drive a car if you have a certain piece of paper. If you are stopped and don’t have that piece of paper, an officer writes on and gives you another piece of paper, and you are in court.
Consider a large insurance company. Huge insurance companies worth billions of dollars have no factories, merchandise, trucks, etc.. Their entire business is paper. All you have in return for the dollars you keep sending them regularly, is a few sheets of paper.
Consider nations. Nations act toward each other according to what is said somewhere on a piece of paper. When there are differences, a piece of paper, a treaty, is the arbiter to determine what is right and what is wrong.
Consider your personal identity. Your whole legal identity is not what you might say it is or claim it to be in a particular instance. Rather, it is what one or more pieces of paper in one or more places say it is.
Looked at totally, everything from your personal identity, to your wealth, to relationships between entire nations, is on, and depends upon, paper.
To have so much of our world, identities and possessions, liberties and fate committed to paper, is somewhat frightening.
Paper is simply several layers of almost microscopic natural fibers held together by a natural bond. Should the standard Evil Genius of science fiction indeed discover a force that would universally destroy that bond, every piece of paper in the world would disintegrate into what would look like batches of dust. A breath would scatter the individual fibers in all directions. There would go personal identities, proof of ownership of wealth, agreements between nations, all insurance policies, etc. Chaos would be immeasurable. Anarchy would sprout like fertilized dandelions. Undoubtedly, probably sooner than later, spoils would go to the strongest, and/or slyest.
An immediate and massive re-disposition of the world’s goods would occur.
The individual pieces of the re-disposition would be a mosaic of comedy and tragedy. Uncomfortable scenarios scrolling across your personal screen would undoubtedly include the following:
If you owned a fine piece of beautiful land, you would find people coming and erecting tents, shacks, or even houses on it -- squatters! Moats and piranhas would be at a premium.
Your cabin by the lake a couple hundred miles away, would almost certainly be lost to you.
If your color TV set were being repaired, you might not be able to get it back because no record would exist that you had ever brought a TV set into the repair shop? If you got it back, would you pay the repairman in coins, firewood, or what?
Great pieces of art would instantly disperse into a dusting of pigmented fibers.
Between neighbors, squabbles at lot lines would erupt, filling the air with vitriol and verbal mayhem from Maine to California. A thousand motorists looking at road maps along highways would be permanently lost.
Stopped by a police officer, you would be in trouble. The officer would still have a badge, but you wouldn’t have a driver’s license. On the other hand, the officer wouldn’t have a piece of paper on which to write a ticket.
Unless the address of your favorite aunt in a far away city had been memorized, you would probably lose all touch with her. There would be no phone book to help you call.
You could change your age at will.
A million babies would be instantly un-diapered.
You would reach into your pocket for the roll of hundred-dollar bills and come up with -- nothing.
If all of this gave you a king-sized double migraine attack, you would have no prescription for a pain-killer.
With an instant disintegration of all paper, the whole world would be violently re-arranged. Princes might become paupers, and strong paupers might become princes.
Undoubtedly, the world’s most feared potential weapon is development of a scientific formula that could instantly and universally destroy the natural bond that holds cellulose fibers together as paper.
Whether or not paper will continue in its ascendancy, and for how long, can be answered only by time. Paper itself knocked out the milleniums-long reigning papyrus. The people, land, papyrus plant, Egyptian economic and cultural power, related to papyrus’ supremacy in recording and communicating, were all viciously and totally affected. What environmental changes occurred because of the total absence of a single papyrus plant where previously huge plantations had flourished, can only be guessed.
Similarly today, the demise of paper would cause huge adjustments and massive re-jiggering of industry and people, not just along a Nile River, but globally. Paper is global. It has massive effects worldwide on forests (not only their use, but also their propagation), rivers and lakes. Paper is a capital-intensive industry. Billions of people’s and Governments’ dollars are fated with the paper industry. If the market for paper suddenly, or even less precipitously over several years, dried up, the "capital intensive" financial structure would self-destruct. People in whole regions such as Wisconsin’s Fox Cities, and all those globally engaged in the production of raw materials and chemicals, manufacture, distribution, and sales, centered on paper, would have lives convulsively disrupted.
Undoubtedly, paper is the core product of the universe.
Will paper be replaced? Not easily. The rule of "most suitable and most readily available" (which caused papyrus’ demise when paper came) still determines the global choice of a recording/communicating material. In recent decades, plastic as film in many different versions (dubbed by some as "plaper"), mounted a challenge. It has seriously ebbed if not totally waned. Currently observers are titillated totally by the sparring of paper and electronics, represented by computers. Will recording and communication ever be done totally by electrons arranged on hard drives, discs, and tapes?
Personally, as I stand here watching reams of paper being spewed out by printers attached to computers, I doubt it. But seeing the outcome (or whether paper ever suffers papyrus’ fate) is really worth staying alive for.
Stay healthy -- see your doctor (man or woman) once a year.
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