The Psychology of Paper

What is it about paper that gives us a warm fuzzy feeling inside? For me, it’s the the quality of paper used — the texture, too. For others, it may be the smell of a brand new notebook or even the cover or page design. Let’s face it; print media does something to us. It’s like grown up school shopping. It just feels right. Yet, this phenomenon is proving to be a global trend.

A few months ago, the London Telegraph published a story about the mystery of paper’s greatness and why people still care about it. In the article titled “Why grown women really fetishise stunning stationary,” writer Cathy Bussy explicates the resurgence of print media as we know it. Even in the 21st century, “there are hoards of us stationery fanatics out there” because paper simply can’t be properly replaced.

According to psychologist Emma Kenny, also referenced in Bussy’s article, paper allows its users to experience a level of freedom and control. “As children we have few options for controlling our environment or expressing our individuality. Stationery is a way of doing this,“ Kenny says. “As young people we often long for the seriousness of stationery and feel that it represents us being considered independent.”

Bussy’s article, aimed specifically at women, speaks to the value females place on paper in particular. “The modern woman has so many roles, expectations and at times unrealistic aspirations of how she should manage her time that having a physical representation of organisation can feel comforting and reinforcing,” Kenny says.

But let’s face it — we live in a digital age — a time when snail mail is considered old fashioned and hand written cards are thought of as going above and beyond — a gift even. There’s a certain greatness attached to the idea of paper. “…Stationery isn’t just about indulging our inner child. There’s something genuine and authentic about writing by hand that’s often missing in digital communications,” says Bussy.

Bussy also notes the authenticity of print media. It lasts longer. It has an almost eternal feel to it. “Handwritten invitations and cards also seem to signify absolutes whereas digital substitutes can be ambivalent,” Bussy says. For instance, take Facebook invites. When one receives a Facebook invitation to an event, they notice it, click on it and click off shortly thereafter. In the end, he/she probably doesn’t think much of it and may or may not attend the event. However, when given a hand written card to the same event, the dynamics change. The card holds a level of earnestness that resonates with the receiver, making them feel special, encouraging them to respond to the invite.

Yet paper has value on an intrapersonal level, too. According to Bussy, paper is about trusting yourself. “When it comes to notebooks and journals however we’re often attaching deep meaning to the literal blank sheet of paper,” she says. We may find ourselves connecting to the newness and freshness with each blank page and every new notebook. As the page begins anew, we, too, hope for a new beginning.

Paper seems to be the receiver of our innermost thoughts. According to Kenny, recording things on paper is a process of intrapersonal communication. We process things and then bleed onto the paper. With each word, we become more connected with the thing that stores our hopes, fears, and dreams. And that is what keeps us coming back for more.