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NYT on a Paperless World

Pushing Paper Out the Door - New York Times

Is it just me, or is the Times tossing softballs for organizational nerds on purpose? Today's story on the ways people are purging paper from their lives gives lots of ink (digital, of course) to our friend, the Fujitsu ScanSnap, and comes with the kind of grand statements that no trend piece should be without:

[M]any families may be closer to entering a paperless world than they realize. Paper-reducing technologies have crept into homes and offices, perhaps more for efficiency than for environmentalism; few people will dispute the convenience of online bill-paying and airline e-tickets.

Not that I disagree. I like the way Brewster Kahle, who knows a thing or two about digital archiving, puts it: "Paper is no longer the master copy; the digital version is." That isn't too far removed from what Merlin wrote back in October:

When we rely on a paper document as the final, unique destination for information, we create physical and cognitive limitations that seem crazy once you’ve spent a chunk of your life living on Google. No one disputes that.

Those statements by themselves may make some of you index card shufflers sweaty, but the value that all of us have found in paper isn't as the permanent storage medium to which the Times is delivering last rites; rather, it's in that Platonic scratchpad we all need sometimes to shake out a good idea. As Merlin said, "As an intermediary medium between thinking and a final draft, I still just love what you can do with a stack of index cards and a little spare time." Even when used as part of a trusted system, paper works best when its data storage duties have a limited life span.

jeffwhitfield's picture


The term "paperless" should really be more like "less paper". You're never going to get rid of paper. There will always be a purpose for using paper in some form.

The problem is that there just a lot of people out there that default to the use of a printed copy of a digital file for fairly insignificant things. I mean, really...do you need to print out a copy of an e-mail you just got so you can show it to your co-workers during a meeting? Or can you simply forward it to them and make a reference to it?

The goal should be to use "less paper", not create "more paper" due to bad habits in a digital world.




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