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Get your head in the print game

May 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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I have always been an eclectic reader. I would like to attribute this to a noble quest for knowledge or self-improvement. But the truth is, I'm usually reading when I'm supposed to be doing something else.

As a student, I ignored the Dewey Decimal system, preferring instead to dillydally among the library shelves. Rather than researching the Truman Doctrine, one day I browsed through a book that explained how to give a poodle haircut. My family did not own a dog and none of our neighbors owned a poodle. Nonetheless, I was intrigued. I would like to say that this knowledge has come in handy — that I have responded to a distress call at an airport or theatre involving an emergency dog-grooming situation, but so far it hasn't happened.

A digital headache

I relate all this to explain how I came to be reading “Headlines,” a publication affiliated with Loyola University Health System's Dept. of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

I came across the head and neck expert's newsletter on my way to visit a doctor in a different department. I thought things started off promisingly enough. I always like a good pun in a title and “Headlines” certainly fits the bill. Alas, that was the lone bright spot among the six pages. In fairness, there's only so much you can do with articles on balloon sinuplasty and presentations such as, “Osteocutaneous Free Flap Reconstruction Following Segmental Mandibulectomy: Can We Really Predict Perioperative Complications Before They Happen?”

Although I have absolutely no interest in otolaryngology, the lead story was all too familiar. “To streamline operations and increase outreach … this is the final print edition of the ‘Headlines’ newsletter,” declared the opening sentence.

I think you can guess where this story is headed (so to speak): “Going digital will save time,” wrote James A. Stankiewicz, MD, department chairman. “Not to mention a few trees.”

I am not having head and neck surgery (thank goodness) and I have never met Dr. Stankiewicz. (I remain convinced that “Otolaryngology” is actually where they filmed those “Crocodile Dundee” movies.) But I would like to respectfully suggest that Dr. Stankiewicz should have his head examined before he starts spouting off about saving trees again.

As I noted in my April 2009 column, it is increasingly popular to bash the use of paper. “Despite the many environmentally friendly actions taken by the paper, printing and publishing industries, little is known of these efforts due to a self-inflicted inability to publicize them,” says's Charile Corr. “Unlike the auto or fuel industries, we don't spend any money as an industry on effective green promotion.”

Can't see the forest for the coal

Don Carli sized up the digital vs. print green debate in a March 31, 2010, article for PBS Mediashift ( “If you thought you were saving forests and protecting the environment by going paperless, think again,” says Carli. “The real dilemma you face is that you may be doing more to cause environmental degradation and deforestation by going paperless than you think, and making responsible choices requires informed decisions and rational tradeoffs.”

(At this point I have to comment on the irony of a print publication urging readers to go online to read an argument criticizing the environmental impact of digital media. Please turn off all the lights in your house before firing up your computer. Let's strive for some energy credits.)

“Coal-powered digital media is destructive to the environment in many ways beyond deforestation,” Carli notes. “Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions cause acid rain that is destroying red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and killing brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.”

At Print 09, Jerry Waite, a professor at the University of Houston, shared his e-mail signature block during an environmental discussion at the Educational Summit. Waite echoes Carli's point about environmental misconceptions: “The next time you worry about printing out an e-mail, consider that paper is made from easily renewable material while the device you're using to read this is not. Paper is recycled and recyclable. Scrap paper is not toxic waste. However, the device you're using to read this e-mail will be toxic waste when you are finished with it.”

Paging Dr. Stankiewicz!

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