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by Richard Austin Speaking of Success

If you were to ask an engineer what was the most important invention of all time, he may very well say, “the wheel.” If you put the same question to a scientist, she may say, “the microscope,” while an astronomer might name “the telescope,” and a physician undoubtedly would point to “antibiotics.” If I were asked this question, I would reply, “paper.”

For tens of thousands of years, mankind relied on oral tradition to pass on knowledge, stories and ideas. The difficulty with oral tradition is that each subsequent generation may introduce subtle modifications and nuances as a result of societal changes.

The invention of paper changed all of that by providing a means of recording unalterable testimony. Musical compositions could be written, artists’ drawings could be studied by future generations, astronomers recorded observations of the heavens, and the Magna Carta was put down on paper to serve as the foundation of democratic aspirations for the modern world. Cartography was created to record trade routes, political and national boundaries, and to establish treaties between rival nations. Prior to GPS, every traveler carried maps to help them find their way.

I haven’t even mentioned the most obvious use of paper: books. Important works such as Moby Dick, Great Expectations, Heart of Darkness, Anna Karenina, Don Quixote, Ulysses, Hamlet and literally countless others have been recorded for generations to enjoy.

It is amazing that something as simple and fragile as paper has served as the bedrock of the advance- ment of mankind.

As Gilbert Highet, Scottish-born American critic and classical scholar said, “These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.”

8 | Rhode Island Creative Magazine Layout Design by Panhia Lee Vol. 3 Issue 6 | 5

One of the more intriguing things about paper, is that it can be a creative art form in and of itself. Since it was first invented in China around 105 AD, it has continued to evolve and transform as a creative expression. Artisans today create handmade, exotic and beautiful paper. Origami is an entire art form that uses only paper. Lithography wouldn’t be pos- sible without paper.

What I like most about paper is that what is written or drawn on it can preserve memories, such as lovers note, war-time letters or children’s drawings. Did you know that there is a children’s museum in Chicago where all the artwork is hung on dozens of refrigerator doors secured to the walls? Every American home with children has their own art gallery in the kitchen.

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