As noted previously, my interest in this revolves around making printers spit out sheets of paper with interesting things to look at and read on them. This all stems from Aaron Cope’s 2007 talk on the Papernet, and Schulze & Webb’s 2006 "social letterbox."
It occurs to me that the social letterbox isn’t a device, not in the first instance. Because there isn’t a social letterbox device and software bundle, and wishing ain’t going to make it so. In the first instance, the social letterbox is a dedicated email address and a printer you never uncouple from the computer (because you’ve got a USB hub, or, like me, you’re too lazy).
The social letterbox may just be as simple, in the first instance, as a dedicated Gmail account, where I can just press Print without opening the attached document. In kicking this around within a Secret Society, my friend Alasdair Watson knocked together a proof-of-concept in an hour — email comes in, paper comes out. Automagically, like a podcast that spits out paper.
I wouldn’t want the word "papercast" to get out in the wild, you understand. It’s horrible, and it would hang around my neck like a burning tyre until I die. Alasdair notes:
I love the idea of being able to get up in the morning and have the overnight reading ready for me to hop on the bus with. Hell, even if I don’t ever make the mailbox public, all I have to do is lash it to some RSS-to-email functionality, and presto – a custom POD newspaper every morning.
How is that a bad idea? It’s not like a fax machine, where some bastard buys your number and there’s a sheaf of junk hanging out of the thing in the morning. It’s roll-your-own one-sheet POD. And it’s also subscription-based POD, if you know someone who semi-regularly does interesting things with a sheet of paper and decides to share. They’re either sending directly to your letterbox-email, or you’re on an announcement-only mailing list (or Google Group). Or, as I say, as simple as me pressing Print so they’re spat out for me to take to the pub, or on a train journey. And if they’re not especially personal, I can just leave the buggers on the table or the seat when I’m done with them, too.
I remember, years ago, the artist Laurenn McCubbin saying to me, "I can design the shit out of a piece of paper. But designing websites and stuff? Forget it." And you know she’s not going to be the only one. But this papernet thing can in fact be about designing the shit out of a piece of paper.
This is getting tl;dr, but this is starting to tie up in my head with the emerging notion that this might be the Year Of POD, that not everyone wants nothing but plaintext in their lives, not everyone has a mobile device that does everything they want, and that, sometimes, paper is better.
I shut up now.