I just finished an email to my mother explaining how she could copy and print a blog from her grandson (she prefers to read it on paper) and I got to thinking about the paperless society.
A paperless society is one in which communication via paper—newspapers, letters, business messaging, books—is replaced by electronic communication and storage.
I think I first heard the phrase “a paperless society” when I got my first computer, an Apple IIe. With it came the implied promise that I could digitally store so many documents and files I would be able to save trees and eliminate entire filing cabinets.
Poll Position, in a national scientific telephone survey, found that 56 percent of Americans said they don’t think the country would ever be a paperless society, while 20 percent said, “Yes, one day we’ll all go paperless.” Twenty-four percent of Americans were undecided or had no opinion.
Last month my household, like millions of others, acquired a Kindle. The iPhone has dozens of vCard apps. And E-writers like the Boogie Board writing tablet that debuted last week at CES theoretically could put an end to notebooks, legal pads, sketchbooks, memo pads, sticky notes, and scratch paper. The proliferation of electronic devices and cloud computing may make it seem like paper is on the way out.
But I doubt it.
It’s unlikely that we will ever fully rid ourselves of our dependence on paper. If you need convincing, when was the last time you lost files due to a system failure?
Certainly information can be easier to access electronically. But the tactile feel of a piece of paper in your (or my mom’s) hand, the consistency of colors from one unit to the next (as opposed to what you see on poorly adjusted monitors) and the ability to access information without reliance on batteries, cables or wireless connectivity still makes paper a compelling choice, both for business and personal applications.
A paperless society would mean no more paper to buy, transport and store, or the people to sell, ship and warehouse it. And certainly no presses and the people to run them. You don’t have to be a printer or a paper salesperson to be affected by a paperless society. Graphic designers, even—ahem—web-to-print bloggers have a vested interest in paper.
Paper comes with environmental concerns, but so does the manufacturing of electronic devices and e-waste. Those so inclined can minimalize the environmental impact in a variety of ways, choosing paper with recycled content, or paper harvested from sustainable forests, or paper produced with fewer harmful chemicals.
So forget about that mythical paperless society where everything is digital. Until the day comes when you can hold in your hands a sheet of 15pt thick, high-res, four-color interactive e-paper, there’s something about paper that “just feels right.”
Maybe mom has a point.