There it is, without fail. “This page intentionally left blank.” Sometimes this startling sentence comes at the end of a book as though the author and publisher were paid by page count and wanted to pad the check. Standardized tests include them which sounds like a logic or intelligence assessment in itself. Often it comes tucked in among hefty government and technical documents with dry words and incomprehensible graphs like a pulp-based moment of silence giving the tired eyes and weary brain a momentary respite. Of course, that idea is self-defeating because now the brain cells have shifted focus to an even more puzzling question: why such a superfluous page was even included. No rest for the confused.
Obviously, the page isn’t actually blank, a fact proven by the very existence of words printed upon it. Then if it is not blank and it is not printed with any information justifying its inclusion, what purpose does the page serve other than to stoke philosophical office chatter about inane contradictions?
Perhaps the page is for notes. Maybe it’s for random doodles, protecting the margins of the actually important pages from impromptu artistry. Maybe it is a really dumb and space-using way to divide content. Possibly the user is expected to add his or her own two cents before passing on the tome.
The reality is grounded more in printing methods to allow an even number of pages to be printed on a single sheet before folding, cutting and binding. The declaration is meant to keep readers from thinking the page is actually blank due to error or oversight. Imagine the calls to Amazon customer service and the potential lawsuits over those perceived mistakes. Instead, though, the readers are both comforted to know they’re not missing out and allowed to think that the page is included due to idiocy.
In digital documents, the infamous blank page is inserted so that doubled-sided printers don’t have new chapters begin on the backs of pages. In timed tests, the blank page acts like a barrier between the section being taken and the next.
Yawn. The idea of a doodle page is so much more entertaining.
And double-printing aside because who actually does that, the blank-but-not-so-blank page concept is in need of fixing. At first blush, the logical approach is just omitting the page completely rather than wasting it to declare that there is nothing really to see there. Or, at the very least, the book and document preparers should actually leave the page blank. Literally blank, as in empty, as in no words or images at all.
At least then after printing, the eco-friendly recipient can reuse that sheet. Wasting the clean side of already recycled printer paper on one unnecessary sentence put the entire sheet out of commission. So much for saving trees. Those with the “please consider the environment before printing this email” signature must have an anxiety attack every time they encounter these purposely blank pages.
Then again, half the time I consider the environment while hitting the print button, the email message comes out on one page and the green lecture tagline on a separate sheet. Maybe the pseudo-blank page is in good company.
Undoubtedly there are worse paper waste offenders than the intentional page. Likewise, there are most definitely things that make less sense. In fact, I’d be happy to share some of them, that is if I wasn’t intentionally drawing a blank.
Michelle Durand's column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.