Journalists are always moaning about the ever-accelerating disappearance of printed newspapers and magazines, as this seems likely in many cases to take away their livelihoods. Many of you out there, however, probably care not a snap of your fingers for the welfare of idle (and often dissolute) scribblers who think the world owes them a living. You think you're safe and that the march of the digital economy can have only positive consequences for you.
Well, you're wrong. Humanity's heedless rush towards digital technology has quite literally fundamental implications for us all, and promises to hit each and every one of you reading this where it hurts.
The reason? Quite simply, that the disappearance of newsprint and magazines, the replacement of letters by e-mail and other forms of digital comms, the continual shift of records off paper and into databases - all these mean that there is less and less high-quality paper available for recycling every year.
What that means to you personally is a bleak future of scratchy, abrasive, fiercely painful lavatory paper - probably strictly rationed, to boot.
A dire warning is sounded this week in Chemical and Engineering News, house journal of the American Chemical Society, which takes stock of the imminent bumwad apocalypse facing Western society. We pampered consumers of the wealthy nations have grown accustomed in recent decades to unparalleled levels of comfort and indulgence during our restroom interludes; and thus far this has been achievable even within quite severe treehugging strictures, because of the continual bonanza of office and newsprint paper offered for recycling.
But now at long last the paperless (or anyway the less-paper) office - driven by that hell-spawned industry of misery and destruction, IT - is beginning to be the norm. The march of the e-Reader, and perhaps worse yet the devilish iPad, can only add to the deadly effects of packet-switched networking and the web upon the world's printing presses.
C&EN quotes bumwad tech supremo Martin Wolf, whose firm manufactures ecologically sound cleftwipe products, as saying:
"We want a recycled paper that has certain quality. We look for the longest fiber possible for strength and absorbency, and as flexible a fiber as possible so toilet tissue is soft."
Some 80 per cent of Wolf's paper is derived from recycled white office paper, apparently, but according to the chem-eng journal "used white office paper is also getting increasingly hard to find—and much more costly—thanks to growth in electronic communications".
Lovely luxurious paper can of course be made by pulping trees, but sustainably managed forests can produce only limited supplies. And recycling can only be carried out a limited number of times: every time paper is reprocessed the crucial long fibres are shortened and the end result gets rougher and scratchier. Once the stuff reaches the loo-roll holder it will subsequently disappear besmirched into the waste-water stream, forever beyond the reach of even the keenest recycler.
Meanwhile, in a deadly double-whammy aimed at the bottoms of the
aeffluent West, many of the world's billions of poor and downtrodden are now becoming somewhat wealthier and demanding some of the good life enjoyed by the rich nations. The hapless, luxury-loving Western consumer is caught as it were in a cleft stick.
"Growth in emerging markets is one of our top priorities," says paper kingpin Mike O'Byrne.
"Looking at the size of China and its population, the amount of available fiber per capita is astonishingly low," adds wipage-industry R&D boss Scott Rosencrance, also quoted by C&EN.
Not only will the rising dragons of Asia be competing with us Westerners for oil: they will also be seeking snap up our crucial supplies of loo-roll.
"The trend has created a growing niche," reports C&EN, unarguably.
"There is only a certain amount of softness you can achieve with recycled fibers," adds Wolf, dolefully.
This means that the only hope for the Western lifestyle is increasingly advanced bumwad chemicals technology, enabling paper to be recycled more and more times. But achieving this is by no means certain. It may well be that the Western lavatory paper of today represents a pinnacle of human achievement that will never be seen again: future generations, nether regions rendered tough and horny by brutally coarse hygiene products or implements yet unknown, will look back on the early 21st century as a long-lost golden age of restroom comfort.
And much of this, let it not be forgotten, is the direct result of the IT industry - in particular, the iPad, whose name now seems even more a mocking joke than ever. ®