Jan 21, 2009

Save a tree, read a screen.

The amount of paper on my desk at work is astounding. The whole notion of anything being “paperless” is a farce. I actually think that the digital age has created more papers. Documents used to be first dictated, then typed up, proofread, retyped, edited, retyped, copied and distributed. This was quite a lengthy and involved process. Distribution lists were considered with some care since creating and then distributing the document was at least a little bit labor intensive.

What it takes to create a document today is much less cumbersome than it used to be. Everybody types things up themselves and proofreading is done as you go with handy little red and green squigglies underneath your typos. For instance, I now know that squigglies is not spelled correctly according to MS Word but unexplainably squiggly is recognized as correct. Try it… squigglies gets the red squiggly and squiggly does not. Isn’t squiggly a noun? If it’s a noun shouldn’t you be able it make it plural? Is it squigglys? Nope that got the red squiggly too. Well, I’m off on a tangent now. Let me get back to my point. The computer checks my work to some degree which is a time saver. But does it save paper?

No it doesn't save any paper. I ususally e-mail my document to somebody to check it over. What do they do with it? They print it out, mark it up, scan their marked up copy and send it back to me. I print the edited version out to read and put in my files. No paper saving going on here.

Now it's time to distribute my final document so I attach it to an email and with the click of a button send it to interested and uninterested parties alike. Seems like a paper saver but most interested parties will print the document out. (The uninterested ones think to themselves, "Why in the hell did they send this to me?" and then keep it just in case.) Why, if I wanted to I could easily send my document to the thousands of people who work for my company across the globe. Imagine the paper wasted if even just a small portion of them print it out.

Other paper wasters include printer errors which for some mysterious reason turn a 5 page document into a 1,967 page document that you don't discover until you have printed 37 pages of gibberish And countless pages of paper are wasted because somebody forgot to clear the copy quanity on the photocopier and your single copy turns into five.

I believe the biggest paper waster of the electronic age is e-mail. Which is ironic because the whole purpose of e-mail is .... electronic mail.... not paper mail. But what happens is an e-mail is created, everybody and their brother is carbon copied. Then the e-mail gets forwarded and responses fly back and forth and before you know it your e-mail chain is the length of "War and Peace" when you print it out. Oh and make no mistake about it, you'll print a good number of them out. Just to be safe, or to cover your butt or to include in the project file so you can keep your e-mail box manageable.

I think this aversion to the pixelated word is the same reason it's taken so long for electronic books to take off. Great idea, but personally, each good book is like a gem to me. After I finish reading them I put them up on my shelf and then take pleasure in scanning them over to remind myself of all the things I learned and the places I visited by reading them. How am I going to do that with a book reading "device"?

I hope for the sake of all the trees out there this is all just a generational thing. Maybe the younger generations raised completely during the digital age will be more willing to let go of the paper in favor of the screen.


  1. I never realized that so many people are still using paper,when it would be far more 'green' concious to simply save their e-mails to a file on their computers!..I better write that down someplace so I don't forget it..

  2. Hmmm. Interesting. We use "track changes" with our documents instead of doing print/scan thing. I don't think there are even scanners in my office. And I never print emails. Long documents (like proofing a paper manual) I prefer to review on paper. It gives me the chance to not have to be at my desk while I work. When I do need to print something out I also print on both sides of the paper, sometimes 2 pages per side... that saves too. So maybe you are right younger generations will be more in favor of letting paper go...

  3. Sling - I think I'm going to start printing out my blog and keep it in a 3-ring binder for safe keeping.

    Lost - we could do so much better at our office to not waste paper. Guess I could be a trail blazer.

  4. Maybe as in Australia, the Federal Gov (Obama) could give grants to farmers who plant and raise trees. acres, miles of them...that would help for a start...then people taking care not to print out every bit of garbage...that comes their way.

  5. MC - I think the new adminstration will make a lot more things possible than they were just last week.