In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus has an op-ed piece bemoaning the public release of the federal budget documents exclusively in electronic form, rather than in the form of a 2,200-page printed document. "It isn't the same," she writes, "as having the volume -- volumes, actually -- in hand, being able to flip through the tables, to see the columns neatly arrayed without having to scroll up or down to decipher the details."
It's "more than simple nostalgia" for the experience of paper, she doth protest:
"There is a clarifying immediacy to holding the document itself, not settling for its online representation . . . To read a document online is to face constant temptations to stray from the text. . . . [To] my school-age children, [who]are being taught to compose at the keyboard, writing in longhand seems as antiquated as dipping quill in ink. But there is something lost in intellectual rigor by abandoning -- indeed, never really learning -- the laborious discipline of writing out a first draft."Hmmm . . . can't say I get the point about the "intellectual rigor" of writing longhand. Sure, releasing the information in electronic form is different than having the Government Printing Office produce a couple of thousand copies -- different as in "better." It makes the information "less accessible"? You've got to be joking -- it's "less accessible" when anyone in the world who wants a copy can get one than when you have to stand in line at the GPO and lug away your copy? Harder to ferret out information? How so? I find searching through 2200 page documents a whole lot easier when they're in electronic form -- and if you don't, if you really "crave the comforting certainty of ink on paper" or are desperate to underline or make notes on a page or read in bed, you might find it useful to buy a "printer," a fabulous little device that can take electronic documents and, quite successfully, transfer them onto paper; your local Kinko's would be more than happy to prepare as many 2200-page versions of the budget as you would like.
"Online is much harder to use. It makes the information less accessible and harder to ferret out. Frankly, it is no fun staring for hours at a computer screen to find obscure spend-out rates. You can't underline, can't make a note on a page, and who wants to read a computer in bed?"
What Ms Marcus is really asking for, I suspect,is a taxpayer subsidy for her craving -- the good old days, when reporters could get nice free copies at the GPO at taxpayer expense. If the federal government wants to print up a few thousand copies to give away, I don't have a big problem that -- but couching it as some sort of plea for information purity is a bunch of nonsense.