Wk15: Rip It Up – Time to become paperless

Books are pretty, but aren't the only paper...

Most people I know are generally caring for the environment. They don’t litter, they make some effort to recycle, they care about the planet (Liberal voters aside). But we are nibbling away at the edges when we should have swallowed the problem whole in some areas. The biggest one is paper – and what is stopping us from becoming a paperless society.

I love the term paperless. And I love the idea of it. God knows how many trees die for printing every day.

Digital ink should be the perfect solution to the paper problem. The computing tablets and e-book readers makes that solution even perfect-er. There will always be those who long for a physical book. But many wont care.

For my mind, e-book readers now are ready for the mainstream. They are mostly pretty good. Simple and powerful enough for prime time. A lot of people have them, of course, but they are far from ubiquitous. And even though the technology is there, there are many things still lacking in the e-books world.

Worst of all is the lack of actual e-books. Apple’s revolutionary iPad is great, except for the almost non existence of books on their store. And then there is the pricing. Physical books have been bargain basement fodder for years. But now they are back at full price in the digital world. When a book is not on an e-store, or it’s more expensive than the physical, then we are moving away from our goal of the paperless society.

When people get their backs up about e-books, and missing a physical copy, they think of well loved stories in beautiful editions. But not all books are beautifully bound volumes of Hamlet.

Magazines. Comic books. Instruction manuals. ANYTHING. Like I said, e-books are ready for all this content, but for many reasons, print companies of all sorts are slow to get their act together.

But they face a growing piracy scene. Magazines, comics, and even computing manuals are all online if you can dig around illegal download sites. Which shows people are using them. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s tough to put him back in.

It’s the same old red tape that has crippled music – royalties, contracts, pricing, rights. And if they don’t get their act together, piracy will.

Books, magazines et al are well and good. But at least there is some thought and some movement towards going paperless there. But Look around at your life and see how much paper is around you. And ask why that needed to be printed out.

The worse for me is receipts. And it is yet another area that Apple is innovating. Go into an Apple store and they can email you your receipt. No need to print it out and stick it in your wallet for easy losing later. And no trees lost. Some people claim we need physical receipts or else they are not valid. But again, I get my iTunes receipts by email and don’t print them out.

It brings up the people problem in the paperless mission. Some people still want paper because they think it’s more ‘real’. This of course, makes no sense. If I was going to doctor a receipt, I could doctor it then print it out anyway. Some perceive paper as something that is solid and forever, when I think the opposite is true. Files are backed up so many times now. And you can’t destroy a word doc in the washing machine.

Then there are people who still need to get faxes. FAXES! It’s 2011! The main reason being the need for a signature. Digital signatures are slowly becoming accepted. But even then, you need to scan in your own signature and attach it to badly set-up word docs (something I’ve done a lot of). I always try to email when I can. In fact, I made a hard line in my old department to not send faxes and not do business with people who need faxes.

One UK venue were particularly insistent on a fax, and we did not pay them for six months, with full support of my old management. I understand some people still use faxes, and that you have to cater to the stupid. But if fax is the ONLY way you do business, you don’t deserve to do business. Frankly, fuck you.

Receipts might seem like a small thing, but similar issues arise with business cards, train tickets and other small bits of paper.

Business cards are utterly redundant these days. They are used once, to enter contacts into an email for the first time. Once that email is set and the connection is made, the card is never needed again. Yet, we still make them. Because it is easier to hand someone a card.

How do we get around it? Sure, I can text my details but that’s cumbersome also. But at the end of the day, I just want to get people’s details into my smartphone’s contact list. Perhaps there is a bluetooth solution. At the end of a meeting, you can scan for what digital “cards” are available nearby (i.e. Everyone in the board room), and select the ones you want.

Maybe there can we a web solution. The way bands could, for a while, say, check out our MySpace. We are called Some Band. And you would know to go to MySpace.com/SomeBand to find them. That might be too much effort for the receiver, and maybe the card-giver wants more privacy. But those issues could be worked out. If we tried.

What is clear is there is a need to transfer “Small Documents” between people. Perhaps email is not even the way to go. I am really leaning towards a net work solution.

“I am going to send your my reciept/my card to the cloud. What is your Small Docs pin so I can send it to you”. I use an app on my phone that finds it in a click or two and downloads it for later use.

That technology all exists today.

The one that really bugs me is train and bus tickets. I have, in only a few short months in Sydney, clocked up hundreds of these. Some cities in the world have excellent scanner card systems instead, and that’s what we want.

But the ticket system brings up the most important hurdle of paperless. The initial cost. How much would it be to get rid of all those paper machines at train stations in favour of a scanner card system? Millions if not billions I assume.

But what is the cost to not do that? I think of the rolls and rolls of ticket machine cards delivered a day, and how that seems hopelessly outdated, even today.

Big companies do not care about making their services paperless (Apple is an exception). Because there is no reason to.

Do even people really care about Paperless?

Maybe not, but they should. We are really being too careless about paper. And with a bit of thinking, we can solve it. What do those bits of paper do anyway? Sure, keep Hamlet on the shelf, but everything else? It’s the everything else that is the problem.

I think there are really simple ways to start. For me, when I see people printing out a large receipt – say at an electronics store – I ask for them to email me instead. Of course they will usually say no. But I ask anyway. Second, I don’t accept business cards anymore. I actually find myself sometimes telling people to find me on twitter. But I usually take people’s numbers and give them a missed call.

The environment and technology sometimes seem naturally at odds. But with a bit of thought and a change in thinking, we can walk towards a world where we enjoy the benefits of both. And those steps can be very, very small.

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