Cherishing the Feel and Smell of Paper 1


My New Old Self recently expanded from cyberspace into the world of hard copy. After launching a blog about getting older, I accepted an invitation to write a fortnightly column in a local newspaper. It was like coming home, to wake up and find the paper waiting on my doorstep, then to open it and see my column in print. On paper. In black and white. These are the kinds of tangible rewards you just don’t get from blogging.

On the other hand, I don’t have to wash newsprint off my hands after reading my blog. My posts are never put under the pet’s bowl. There is no guilt about sacrificing trees online and I never have to worry about disposing or recycling my blog. Yet the internet can’t offer the same crossword puzzle experience as the newspaper. Neither can you rip articles and pictures from a blog and stick them on the fridge.

I like my newspaper but I know I’ll eventually move to its online version. One of the great things about getting older is having a foot in – and getting the best of – both worlds. We’re exhorted to embrace our age and we need to be embracing the digital age as well. But that doesn’t mean renouncing our pre-digital roots.

I’m grateful to be aging at a time when digital and print still co-exist. I like being able to choose what devices to work and play on. I can multi-task between PC, laptop, tablet and cellphone, then return to my comfort zone of newspapers, books and magazines. I know such media are on their way out but I still cherish them. And probably will for the rest of my life. Which young people can’t say with the same confidence.


Perfumer sniffing the bouquet of paper

Perfumer sniffing the bouquet of paper

However, I’d advise my age-mates not to share these wistful yearnings for paper. If you want to appear hip and youthful, do not fondle a book’s pages in public. Definitely do not drink in its smell – if you love it so much you want to bottle it up for future sniffing, please note that it’s already been done.

Yep, there’s a perfume on the market that smells like books. Which will set you back nearly $100 from a German perfumer. Or, in a pungent show of irony, Amazon offers it for a bit less (before handling fees). Touting the product as “an homage to the luxurious sensuality of books”, the online retailing corporation sums up the scent as “the silent smell of paper”.

This is the same Amazon charged with “destroying bookshops” by French culture minister Aurelie Filippetti, who recently declared:

Everyone has had enough of Amazon which, through dumping practices, smashes prices to penetrate markets only to then raise prices again once they are in a situation of quasi-monopoly.

Amazon’s shameless exploitation of booksmell-lovers continues with its Fragrance Library Home Atmosphere Room Spray and a roll-on perfume with a specifically paperback smell, presumably for the lower end of the market that can’t afford Eau de Hardcover. Now that Amazon kingpin Jeff Bezos has expanded out of digital territory and bought himself a famous newspaper, will he be selling Scent of Washington Post?

I’d wager that fondling and smelling paper is a pastime mainly of older people, so this is us Amazon is targeting. Herein lies a salutary lesson in building up resistance to manipulative marketing aimed at the vulnerabilities of those over 50. Since one of the many advantages of aging is that we’ve seen it all before, we should be able to ignore the sales pitch and focus on what we really need. Books on screens may not feel and smell like books on paper, but they have other advantages. Reading weighty tomes in bed can be hard on backs and shoulders, so older book-lovers may ultimately be converted to lightweight e-readers for health and safety reasons.

This doesn’t mean abandoning our passion for paper as we age. But perhaps we should consider a focus on the younger generation, who just don’t see the point of dead tree products. Babies are touching screens long before they get near books, learning to turn pages by poking a finger. An intuitive relationship with digital technology is being formed from infancy – with no similar affinity for paper.

Newly born Digital Natives seem to see paper as laughable. First there was the internet meme, Laughing Baby, of babies chortling cutely.

Then came Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper. Watched by more than 64-million YouTube viewers, it shows an 8-month-old erupting into peals of laughter when a parent rips a piece of paper.

Psychologists have analysed what’s so funny to infants about ripping paper – something to do with incongruity and the unusual sound. I’m wondering when these babies will learn what paper is and what it’s for. Fellow paper-lovers, we must show them!




One comment on “Cherishing the Feel and Smell of Paper

  1. Reply Sue Krige Nov 27,2013 11:54 am

    AS usual, a piece full of humour and insight.

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