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access_time October 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM in Features by Andrew Kent

The Digital Dump: Paper Is Not Irrelevant And Never Will Be

I saw an interesting article on Lifehacker the other day. The title: “Go Paperless This Weekend”. Immediately I face palmed and knew what this was about. The author starts off by saying that “paper is becoming more and more irrelevant”. I’d happily disagree…but I’ll get to that soon dear readers. So being me, I got all up in arms about the article, even tweeting “Lifehacker: Go paperless this weekend Me: Buy me a cintiq so I can do my math hw”.

Let’s get down to what I think about going paperless. Paper has been around for who knows how long since the Egyptians starting using papyrus to write things down. Today, it is still widely used despite the fact that a lot of book retailers are shutting down physical stores. However just because it is widely used is not a good reason to keep using paper. I happen to like being progressive, I like change and hope that things continue to change. Yet we have to take a step back and think of what the outcome would be if we went paperless.

Say it’s ten years from now and everyone owns the newest tablet or e-reader, everything is published on the internet from news to books and old Newspapers have turned into websites that may or may not charge you a fee to read their website.  Transactions with NFC are commonplace and receipts can be stored in the cloud to be accessed by you at any time. All forms of paper use that can be replaced with technology are gone. Apple is even working on the iToilet, I’m betting you can guess what that is.

Anyways, so in this utopian world without the burdens of irrelevant paper, what happens when something crashes? Say server company ABC where your most precious documents are stored loses power, suffers from espionage, or some employee has a breakdown all over the server farm. Then you come to find out that your data is irretrievable. What do you do now? Nothing, there is nothing that you can do. ABC had all of those tax records, receipts, or love letters that you were so attached to and you don’t have them anymore. Now of course that’s the extreme case, and ABC would surely have a backup server somewhere, but then again what’s wrong with having a paper backup?

Let me ask you something? Can a hacker get into your closet and steal your physical personal documents? He could if he knew your address and broke into your house, but I would hope you would meet him/her with fists or a shotgun. Point being, paper backups will never suffer from data degradation, they can never be accessed by some random stranger on the internet, and they definitely will not be irretrievable except in case of fire or water damage. That last scenario is where it is GOOD to have a digital back up on the cloud and your computer.

We cannot just give up on paper, going completely digital will be a serious mistake in my opinion. People like to hack accounts, data isn’t forever, and technology these days doesn’t seem as durable as it used to be. I used to have a flip phone, very fat and very old school. Back when smartphones were just a twinkle in Steve Jobs eye and the first touch screen phone hadn’t even come out yet. That thing could take some serious damage, albeit I tend to treat my electronics very well. Now take a look at phones today. You so much as blink at the thing and the screen breaks. I have seen so many cracked smartphone screens it’s not even funny.

Speaking of smartphones, you do know that there’s a new iteration of them each year right? So how are we going to keep data from degrading or being unable to get transferred from one device to another? What if JPG becomes non-existent and I can’t open up all of those adorable cat photos I downloaded from the internet in 2008? That’s a ridiculous assumption but my point is that the technology world is rapidly changing and some changes may just not support certain data types anymore. My Galaxy Nexus, with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean does not have flash because Adobe is not supporting flash for devices past Ice Cream Sandwich level.

I want to touch on one last thing that the Lifehacker article mentioned: moving digital saves trees. While the statement is true, it’s not like trees are a non-renewable resource like coal. Trees are a renewable resource; they grow back if we only let them. Who knows, we may even find a synthetic substitute for trees to make paper with.

So for those of you who think going digital is trendy and the “right thing to do”, think twice about that and ponder what will happen if your system crashes or your iPhone gets dropped from the 11th story balcony.


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