We are all going paperless! Didn’t you get the note? Yes, it’s an old joke that started off in the 1970s as a very serious prophecy. That within the next 10 years the use of paper in any environment would be over. We would move to a paperless office where paper files would be replaced by digital files and digital documents, searchable, easy to index and find again.
That newspapers, books and magazines would have electronic versions – and each customised perfectly to what you want. That communication would be by email and we wouldn’t have paper trails and reams of paper wasted in correspondence. That the use of word processors, spreadsheets, pdf files, HTML and other digital technologies would ensure that paper would be completely redundant. That printing anything on paper to have a ‘hard copy’ would be referred to as what our grandfathers did. And here we are 40 years later – printing about 150 billion sheets of paper every year.
It’s actually a pretty weird and bizarre situation as conventional wisdom says going paperless should have happened by now. Paper and printing has had a good run but the beginning of the end should have started. The first are the very obvious staggering savings and convenience of going digital. The cost of paper, ink and printing hardware plus the de-cluttering of space and storage for filing every single document, the effort and frustration of finding something again and of course the fact that paper and the print on it can fade and wither away.
Paper on Paper
Then comes the other big gun. The whole ‘save the world’ element and I have to admit that some of the statistics associated with paper production are mind-boggling. For instance it takes about 325 litres of water to produce 1 kg of paper; paper production accounts for about 35 per cent of all felled trees across the world and a ton of paper uses up 17 trees, 2 barrels of oil and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity (enough to power a typical Indian home for an entire year).
Tech fails too
Technology has also given us every reason to abandon the whole idea of ever putting things on paper. The coming of laptops, mobile phones and now tablets ensures that we can carry around all the documents, notes, emails and notes that we need. Scanners and digital filing systems ensure that we can make everything from the prehistoric ‘only paper’ era go virtual and disappear from the bulky dusty files we have. Large screens and excellent search software make sure that whatever we need can be recalled and displayed instantly. The Internet now allows us to store all of this on the ‘cloud’, thus making it accessible wherever in the world we are. Digital information is almost impossible to lose, misplace or damage. Yet, as I said, it’s 150 billion sheets of printed paper and growing.
The reasons to go paperless are compelling from every direction. So why don’t most of us move to the paperless world? There’s just one thing stopping us and that is – us!
The True Villains
The problem lies with the way we are wired. We are a tactile species, we like to feel things, have them in our hands. We don’t feel it’s real or exists otherwise. We get an email and print it and put it into a folder and file that in a drawer (and yet never look at either the digital or hard copy ever again). We scan a document but still hold on to the ‘original’ paper copy (just in case). We get a 20-page spreadsheet and print it (so that it’s always ‘close at hand’). We confuse our minds by thinking that digitising documents is an unneeded extra layer of technology and that ‘keeping it on paper’ is simple.
But as with everything else, this is going to change with a vengeance – a paperless world awaits us. It’s again the psychological part of us human beings that will betray us. Each new generation moves on to new things, even as the previous generation refuses to let go of the old. Today’s generation uses SMS, instant chat and social networking as its primary form of communication – 15 years back they never existed. Twenty years back most offices refused to even think of email – and see where we are today. Most of us spent the first half of our lives without a mobile phone – today’s kids think of it as a toy as they’ve been exposed to it from day one. Most people over 50 can’t wrap their heads around touch-screens – most teens can’t think of a device without one. It’s inevitable and meant to be. The next generation brings in new things.
So enjoy your last few sessions with paper. See it whir out of the printer. Draw and sketch on it to your heart’s content. Paper may be well-entrenched ‘technology’ but its time has gone! We are all going paperless! Didn’t you get the digitised note?
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3 Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni