I'd like to put forth a thesis that a key aspect of the OLPC ideology, namely universal personal machine possession, potentiates a REVOLUTIONARY change in how we SHOULD look at printing.
Even in a nation like Uruguay, where all elementary school students now have XO laptops, it does not mean every person does. But it certainly anticipates such a world in much less than a generation.
What "information culture" is "appropriate" for a nation where everyone DOES have a laptop PC or similar device at hand ALL the time? I submit it is one which ACTIVELY DISCOURAGES the use of printing in MOST circumstances.
Writing, and later also printing, USED to be the best way to reliably record, store and retrieve information - and for MANY centuries, too. But with the emergence of universal digital appliances, and their "miraculous" plummet in cost, it is one of the best ways to LOSE or DEPRECATE information and BURDEN individuals and institutions with WASTEFUL infrastructure support issues.
If EVERYONE has a digital appliance with a screen, then one should ask this question when one is tempted to print - Isn't it better to publish a Web page or some other digital archive document than print? I hope many people reading this ALREADY nderstand that digital records take up less space and can be searched, copied and telecommunicated with enormously greater efficiency than physical pieces of "dead trees." And that a digital record makes it cheap and simple to automatically create audio versions which can reach the pre-literate, illiterate and visually-impaired.
Does that mean printing is just no damn good? Certainly not!
Obviously, in the transition to the "paperless society" printing is a BRIDGE that we bear as a cross, because of its utility for evangelism and education.
Printing is also a means to create LABELS for physical objects, fixed and portable. Perhaps one day, transponders (e.g. RFID tags), augmented by global, 3D, high-precision location-tracking (e.g. high-end GPS) and associated attached databases, will replace traditional visual labeling. But that will be a while. In the mean time, labels are of great utility. In fact, this utility can be enormously enhanced by the use of digital cameras which can read them to reference databases which are carried or telecommunicated. (e.g. QR codes).
And printing has one truly ENDURING utility. A digital printer is a VERY (the most?) inexpensive NUMERICALLY-CONTROLLED MACHINE TOOL. Yes, it only fabricates in two dimensions, and in a limited way as well, without subsequent additional chemical or mechanical processing. But, what wonderful things one can do with a "mold," even if it is merely a humble two-dimensional pattern, and is only used to guide hand labor!
THE PRINTER AS NUMERICALLY-CONTROLLED VIRTUAL MACHINE-TOOL . One example of this was an activity I fostered a couple Halloweens ago in my community. Our elementary school children were introduced to CAM (computer-aided-manufacturing) by helping them use digital images to create posterized (three-level) cutting patterns for carving jack-o-lanterns with the images of past USA presidents. Examine the results here. Aside: Which computing environment did the kids use in school and/or at home to carry out this work with their teachers and/or parents? Was it based on Linux? OS X? Windows? Theoretically, at least a little of all of them and maybe even others, too. I NEVER asked and DIDN'T care. Do you know why? . This was an EDUCATION project, not a DIGITAL PLATFORM project!
- Docdtv 04:26, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
 APPENDIX: Paper-based communications start to decline in the US
The first signs of the extinction of printing are already emerging in nations, like the United States, which intensively use electronic information technology compared to others. One metric is the annual volume of (paper-based) postal mail in the US, which peaked in 2006, as shown below. I find the national decline rather dramatic when I reflect that my rustic US county of residence, population about 30,000, has a government which doesn't even publish a Web site, after toying with one for a year or two circa 2000.
- Docdtv 20:21, 14 December 2011 (UTC)