I fucking hate paperwork. I apologize for the profanity, but there is nothing in my life that more strongly elicits that visceral reaction: “It’s 2013 – why do I still have to do this?”. In this first of a two part post, I will deal with the physical sin of paperwork – the paper itself.
Why is any information still being sent to me in the form of scratchings on flattened plant fibre? I watched this ad about the future of paper this week, it’s a comedic ad and does well to point out a couple of niche areas where paper is unlikely to be replaced any time soon. Nonetheless, the ad has spurned me to think more critically about the role of paper in our society, and I have come to the following scientific conclusion: fuck paper.
Paper has been a key tool, and a convenient technology for the transmission of information, but it’s time has come and gone. Let’s enumerate the advantages of electronic documents over physical ones:
- Electronic documents are searchable – In 2013 if I have something that is not indexed and searchable, then it doesn’t exist. The amount of time I need to spend performing the nightmarish task of sifting through documents in meatspace is rapidly heading to 0. Yes, I am spending more time combing my email history for documents I need, but in this context 30 seconds spent searching my email feels like an arduous task. There is simply no comparison between electronic and physical documentation in this respect.
- No physical clutter – It’s ridiculous to think about how much physical space is filled with documents that nobody will ever read. Even the modest amount of paper which I am obliged to keep on file feels like a lead anchor on my clean modern existence.
- Less (wasted) human labour - So you are saying that they used to pay people just to fold paper and put it into envelopes?
- Vanishingly small likelihood of losing an electronic document - If you are taking appropriate steps to back up your documents online, there is really next to no chance of losing your files. To the less technologically savvy (of which I am sure, few read this blog) this is really as easy as emailing a document to yourself. Doom-sayers might worry about what will happen if electronic communication breaks down, but if the modern world were to experience such a catastrophe I am confident we would have much more important things to worry about then where we put our latest phone bill.
- Document security – Ok, this one might be arguable, but again, if you take appropriate measures to protect your electronic repositories then they should be less accessible to nefarious sorts then a physical document. You realize of course, that there is no inherent security built into a piece of paper; we must take steps to prevent people from accessing our physical documents. Doing so electronically, can be equally as effective.
Given all this, why does my electrical company insist on taking an electronic document, turning it into a physical one, then paying someone to deliver it across space and time to me? In my case, this is promptly followed by turning it back into an electronic document and destroying the physical one! What mode of insanity is this? I will admit that most billers are rapidly moving to a paperless system, but in my opinion, this can’t happen fast enough. The sin of physical paperwork gets more egregious with every passing day.
And even though billing might thankfully be going the way of the dinosaur, what is with the scraps of paper that get handed to me every time I buy a coffee? Why has no company figured this out yet? Yes, we would like to track our purchases, but paper is so utterly useless in this regard. Why do I have a wallet full of receipts for things that I might like to return?
Let me spell this out: why hasn’t an enterprising banking or credit card company created a means to automatically email electronic receipts? This could be relegated to a specialized account so as not to clog up your normal inbox. This solves both the problem of tracking expenses as well as keeping a proof of purchase on file. This is such an easy win for everyone: retailers use less paper, customers are happier, and we waste less paper. I am dumbfounded why it hasn’t happened yet.
But, but, what about my books!? Well, you can have your books. The use of paper for books really represents a minuscule amount of paper in the grand scheme. I am comfortable with my e-reader at this point, and the convenience of being able to download books outweighs any cons in my opinion. But, there is no need to rush to a complete eradication of all uses of paper, let’s just concentrate on the pointless and wasteful uses of paper.
Paper is an inefficient and archaic means of delivering information. The efficiency gap between paper and electronic documents is at least as wide as the gap between stone tablets and paper. Even disregarding the environmental cost of paper, the efficiency cost is enough to get upset about. So next time you receive some stupid document printed on stupid paper, let yourself feel the anger; after all, it is 2013.