Hockney Moment: Proof that the reign of paper is over

Posted on by Mike Evans

Writing in The Times this morning, Richard Morrison recounts his encounter with David Hockney in the courtyard of the Royal Academy. Hockney, he says, suddenly whipped out his iPad and showed him one of his “gloriously colourful new landscapes of East Yorkshire.” But the iPad added some extra magic: it built up the picture just as Hockney painted it on the screen. Several hours of work was fast-motioned into 20 seconds. Morrison continues:

It occurs to me that in this chilly courtyard and quite by chance I am getting the equivalent of a tour round the newly-painted Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo. But I’m also struck by a feeling that this is a hugely symbolic moment in my life. For more than 50 years I’ve expressed all my most profound, trivial, passing and lasting thoughts via the mashed-up vegetation that we call paper. I did my infant doodles and school exams on it. I wrote my feeble musical compositions on it, and my even feebler love letters. I have scribbled shopping lists and signed mortgage deeds. And for 35 years, the filling of paper with words has provided me with an income and a way of life.

Yet it seems to me that this encounter with Hockney and his iPad is the final, clinching proof that, during my lifetime, paper will die. I don’t mean that it will cease to exist as a substance. But like horse-drawn carriages, oil lamps and snuff, it will stop having any meaning for the vast majority of people, certainly in the developed world.

A mountain of evidence is already there. Bookshops and libraries are in decline; the iPad, the Kindle and their competitors are massive successes….. Six centuries and one decade after Gutenberg invented it, the printing-press is also history. And it has happened so fast. Back in 2000 I discussed in this column Bill Gates’s prediction that by 2018 newspapers would cease printing on paper, and that by 2020 dictionaries would have changed their primary definition of ‘book’ to refer to an image on a screen. Scores of readers were kind enough to let me know that, in their view, Gates (and I) were bonkers. Now the only thing that seems wrong about that prediction is that it overestimates by at least three years how long the printed media will hang on.

Should we be concerned, alarmed or terrified by the speed of change? Some of the implications are frankly not positive for many people, particularly of my generation. But looking at how deftly Hockney created beautiful art on that iPad, three things became crystal-clear to me. Progress can’t be stopped. Telented people quickly adapt. And the unknown future could be fantastically exciting.

Great stuff. My only regret is that The Times does not allow me to link to the article. The Thunderer sits smugly behind its paywall and, frankly, misses out on the benefits of being quoted around the world.

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