Long Live Paper: Op-Ed Piece!!

Dear Commons Community,

Justin Hollander, an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University and the author of Sunburnt Cities: The Great Recession, Depopulation and Urban Planning in the American Sunbelt, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, questioning the move in education away from paper to digital content.  Entitled Long Live Paper, he makes the case in response to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speech last week that:

“…declared a war on paper textbooks. “Over the next few years,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club, “textbooks should be obsolete.” In their place would come a variety of digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites.”

In addition to referencing reading specialists and their concerns about all-digital content, Hollander  states:

“As both a teacher who uses paper textbooks and a student of urban history, I can’t help but wonder what parallels exist between my own field and this sudden, wholesale abandonment of the technology of paper.

For example, when cars began to fill America’s driveways, and new highways were laid across the land, the first thing cities did was encourage the dismantling of our train systems. Streetcar lines were torn up. A result, for many cities, was to rip apart the urban core and run highways through it, which only accelerated the flow of residents, commerce and investment to the suburbs.

But in recent years, new streetcar lines have been built or old systems extended in places like Pittsburgh, Jersey City and Phoenix. They are casting aside a newer technology in favor of an older one.

In other words, we shouldn’t jump at a new technology simply because it has advantages; only time and study will reveal its disadvantages and show the value of what we’ve left behind…”

His conclusion:

“The digitization of information offers important benefits, including instant transmission, easy searchability and broad distribution. But before we shred the last of the paper textbooks, let us pause and remember those old streetcars, and how great it would be if we still had them around.”

Those of us who have lived in New York City,  remember well how the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway in the 1950s forced people to move out of their homes and destroyed the neighborhoods where they had lived for several generations. It was built in the name of progress so that cars could move from Long Island to New Jersey and vice versa and  to hell with the residents of the Bronx. Hollander’s comparison provides food for thought.


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