This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I have always marveled at receiving official-type snail-mail from various companies and government agencies, which contained not only the important, printed page(s) which were the reason for the piece of mail, but also one or more blank, empty, extra (usually white), envelope-filler pages with nothing on them. Even more marvelous, these printed and blank pages were accompanied by one or more pages stating, “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” to be sure I was not confused!

Of course, I was immediately and completely confused, each time I discovered one of these intentionally blank pages, with their ominous warning, which rendered each page on which it was printed, somewhat less-than-blank. But I was also amused and intrigued — I had to understand WHY these not-so-blank warning pages were printed and sent — for what intent or purpose? I began to search for answers…

Anyone who has attempted stealth by mail (innocently or otherwise) knows that plain, blank paper is not effective at masking text to ensure privacy of a message (or check) inside the envelope. Common knowledge, right? Obviously, that’s why “security” envelopes have patterns printed inside. So I asked around, but as I asked around, nobody had an answer for me, even at my bank, the most prolific sender of blank pages. However, I did get a lot of blank stares, which seemed to say,

“Is it not obvious why they exist?”

Nope, not obvious to me. But with this unspoken, zen-like question lingering in my mind, I wrote a haiku about the mysterious pages:

The page today / is left intentionally blank / a negative space.

You can see the haiku blog post with its accompanying photograph of a “blank page” at: http://haikumages.com/2012/05/30/the-page-today-is-left-intentionally-blank-a-negative-space/

The concept of “negative space” comes from art class: it refers to the unused, untouched, unpainted, blank area of the canvas or paper on which you create a work of art. Logically, we can assume the area where you draw or paint can be referred to as the “positive space”, though I never heard anyone call it that. My best art teachers were consistent in telling me to consider the negative space as part of any artwork’s composition, affecting its message, meaning, and the feeling(s) provoked by the artwork. The same approach can be (and is) applied to graphic design, or a well laid-out page of correspondence.

Can we conclude that the senders of blank pages, are sending us messages in the form of negative space? Are there subliminal messages written in invisible ink? Is there some dark purpose to these unseen messages, which is entering our subconsciousness secretly, compelling us to change our behavior?

My best guess is that this blank page mystery has its roots in the printing, numbering and binding of legal and business documents, tracing back to the early days of computers. Maybe it goes further back to book-binding and layout, with chapters always beginning on the odd or even page, or on the right-hand side, leaving a blank page on the left. And, whatever the source of the “blank pages” may be, I guess the warning message “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” was spawned by the automation of printing and mailing of multi-page documents, which resulted in one or more blanks per mailing, requiring an official explanation…

So, over the years, I have watched these strange, inexplicably, partially and/or intentionally empty pages go by, and placed them in the recycling bin with a sigh…as a few more trees were killed unnecessarily, to prevent (unsuccessfully) my confusion.

Update:

I originally wrote and blog posted a while back about the “blank pages” without searching online for answers — just asking around. However, as I prepared to publish this silly, updated diatribe about them, I decided to hit the search engines with phrases like, “why the blank page” and “this page intentionally left blank” to see what is out there. I was promptly rewarded, and deeply gratified to find that I was not alone in wondering why they exist!

Here are links to some of what I found — just my three favorites — which are odd and/or amusing! I offer these links here for your enjoyment, and education, if reading this post has not already sucked up what little free time you had available today:

Wikipedia: naturally they had an article about blank pages, and it seems my best guesses were pretty much on target (there were several, similar Ask, Yahoo, and other FAQ site posts on the topic)…

Writer: this post was from an author’s perspective — a guy like me, contemplating the “blank page” and why it might be left “intentionally blank” sometimes — from writer’s block, Zen ideation, or just waste…

Organization — offering a quiet place on the web? This one had me truly laughing out loud, especially with their home page as a BLANK PAGE with the message, “This Page Intentionally Left Blank”…

I guess my quest for answers about blank pages, especially those with warnings about blankness printed on them, is somewhat of a waste-of-time, and a fool’s errand. Well, I’m apparently not the only fool who has been on this errand, with many other fools like me having written about it as well! And — admit it — you have probably wondered why blank pages exist, perhaps smirked in disbelief, or shaken your head incredulously at receiving a page with the “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” message printed on it. I guess we are not so different; we are all human, and we wonder about the strange things around us, like blank pages…

— Russ Murray

P.S. Hit me up online: Twitter | Tumblr | Haiku | Photography | Email

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