/ Shopping, Technology

Will 2012 be the year we bin paper?

Is this the year we toss paper in the bin for good? Where we write everything on a phone or tablet and swap paperbacks for ebooks? Paper might be going out of fashion – but I won’t be turning over a digital leaf.

Can you tear a strip off a tablet and put it in a place where someone can’t miss it? Can you pin a smartphone to a notice board? Can you see the marks on a much-used recipe when you retrieve it from your laptop favourites?

Not only does paper have practical benefits that gadgets will never have, it also has character – even romance.

Paper: RIP?

There’s something very secure about paper. Maybe I feel that because I’ve experienced too many computer crashes. Or perhaps it’s due to the nightmares I’ve had about giving a presentation to a crowded room and finding the computer I’m relying on won’t turn on.

I can’t help but feel that people who keep vital files on their laptop and nowhere else are asking for trouble – whether it gets stolen or it just gives up the ghost. Yes, you can back things up, but lots of people don’t.

While I’ve often given books as presents in the past, there’s something very unsatisfying about buying someone an ebook – what do you actually hand over as a gift? What will we line our shelves with when books fall from favour?

How will you be able to see at a glance when you visit someone whether you share a taste for historical fiction, horses or Iain Banks? No, physical books are a critical part of making a house into a home.

Some people will always want to try the newest device just because it’s new. And while there are of course benefits to going digital, such as saved trees and the ease with which you can share files, there will always be a place for paper. Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.


I agree – I don’t see the demise of paper.

Too many bits of kit go wrong losing the data – I have been a tech nerd from the middle of the 70s – But I use paper daily. Though the amount of paper I use has diminished due to ‘draft’ copies being produced then deleted on computer with just the final copy being printed.

I love the fact that books – and newspapers, magazines, and important documents – come in many shapes, sizes, formats colours and textures, each one recognisable and adding distinction to thearticle. They are easy to find, use, and remember. I have paperless billing for many things and I rarely print them off nowadays but I know that if I want to find one it will take me longer than it used to. I can’t be bothered with constant backing up so I keep copies of all prime documents and vital records so that if anybody has to deal with my affairs the key stuff is all accessible. I wouldn’t be without my books. I have some nice sets of literature classics part of the joy of which is the bindings and illustrations. Most of my books are non-fiction and I think the book is the best format for knowledge. Even reading newspapers on-line is not as enjoyable as having the thing in your hand and seeing a whole layout at a glance [and the adverts don’t flash and jerk about on the printed page]. There is a certain serendipity with reading a newspaper that cannot be replicated on-line.
Since I still don’t have a smart phone, a lap-top or an e-book reader it will be a long time before I ditch paper in favour of electronic media.

The main reason for the retention of paper is a simple one; long-term storage of information. The big problem with digital storage is formats. It’s wonderful idea that things have to be stored in a digital format but the problem is that as technology progresses the digital formats often change and unless we produce old equipment that can retrieve the information it’s about as much use as a chocolate teapot. All we are left with is transferring the data to a newer format, which as the amount of data increases, is going to be a bigger problem than it is today. Also digital media isn’t as robust as we were originally lead to believe. Remember they said that CDs would last for hundreds of years but my kids disproved that and continue to do so almost on a daily basis! Backing-up data is a major concern in the IT world and archiving data is even more of a problem. Maybe we should spend more time developing better paper after all vellum seems to have stood the test of time and we can still read papyrus scrolls that were written 2000 – 3000 years ago. Also don’t forget stone tablets which are still knocking around.

I completely agree.
Not only does electronic storage lack the tactile appeal of paper but old format electronic storage is next to useless.
Anyone still got a computer that can read floppy disks or even less likely the older bigger floppy disks? Even if you have what happens when it dies, try buying (not that anyone would) a replacement? Even the software your old document was written in probably isn’t around anymore.

Of course lots of information will be added to the global digital electronic storage pool but books, and paper will be around for many many years to come.

I like to write things long hand and then type them onto the computer. The typing process is also thinking and editing time, since I’m a two fingered slow-coach and the physical transfer is more than a mechanical exercise. I totally agree with the article and love my paper, books and archives. My written work resides on two computers, a memory stick and two back up drives. It’s a useful format because I can print hard copies and – there it is on paper again neat and tidy. The computer is also useful for shifting paragraphs around and the spell checker picks up the typos. To do lists, shopping lists, memos, meeting minutes, money sums and information scribbled from a computer screen, all need paper and who’d be without the humble calendar? Why wait to turn things on when it’s simpler to grab a pen? Letter writing needs paper. This is something that e. mail, twitter and facebook can not replace. Re-reading my grandparents letters is a revelation, and, I hope that my own correspondence to friends and relatives ( and theirs to me ) will have some fascination, too, long after the electronic mail has evaporated in the ether.

Having had mobile phones, electronic personal organizers, online calendars, cloud computers etc etc etc.I have just bought a Filofax. Somehow it seems more reassuring and I don’t have to pack a charger when I take it on holiday.

However I have also bought a Sony e reader.

I can see newspapers slowly dying a death and I can also see the physical book going the same way eventually.

However who really knows L.P’s are apparently making a comeback.

I’ve been a strong believer for a long time that we should get rid of paper as much as possible, In fact I wrote about it back in September: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/tablets-ebooks/can-a-tablet-replace-paper/
I appreciate that there is some romance about paper and books that makes them nice to handle but that is about the only upside to them.
Firstly safety. It is far safer to have your media in digital form, especially with the advent in the last year or so of all the cloud services that now exist. I use the Amazon Kindle service for all of my books and the Zinio service for my magazines which both allow you to sync all of your purchases to any device you log in to. I also use the Evernote service for keeping notes, bookmarks and files and this again syncs everything to the cloud and all of the devices I own, completely doing away with the worry of a single device failure. They are even available from the web so if your laptop fails you could do your presentation from any other computer in the room.
Even sharing is not a problem as I can easily email people with a link to view or edit my notes online.
As for books on the shelf. Be honest with yourself, how often do you actually get them down again and re-read the ones you have. Most people just have them there for decoration and sentimentality and they quite often end up cluttering rather than being useful. My mother is a voracious reader but has no books in the house, she simply borrows them from the library. The only reason she hasn’t gone digital is the fact that digital lending hasn’t taken off in the UK yet so she’d have to start paying for them.
The only problem I have had with digital documents is when trying to collaborate on them. It is possible and tools like Google docs make it quite easy but both people have to be on-board to make it work and I’ve found that it is often easier to work on paper than try and get the other person “digitised”. Afterwards I take a photo of the paper we’ve used and store it in Evernote for later recall.
A lot of the problems you brought up around ditching paper and going digital have been the possibility of losing files, but that really isn’t an inherent problem of not using paper, as you said yourself “lots of people don’t” backup. That’s a user problem and is so easily fixed. Moving to any new system you have to learn a few new ways, that doesn’t make the new system worse than the old.

Just to add to your post and to mine above. Our Library has recently gone digital and is now lending out e books. Works very well. The only thing I would say is that I stumbled upon the service by chance as it didn’t appear to be advertised anywhere. Worth checking with your Library Web site.

Thanks prentonboy, I’ll have to chase up my local library. What local authority is yours under?

Wirral but I am also aware that Liverpool City do it as well.

LewishamMan says:
3 January 2012

I don’t (yet) have an e-reader. I would love to be more tempted but several things put me off and lead me to cling to paper. I can see that e-readers ‘work’ for straight-through reading (novels, for example) but since a lot of my reading is of non-fiction stuff I doubt that e-readers currently allow me readily to access or enjoyably to see pictures, tables of data, to consult footnotes and appendices, to get back to that point that I know I saw about 5 pages back and it was in the top right-hand corner of a left-hand page etc. Perhaps it’s easier with a large tablet though I cannot believe that the navigation is any easier or the tactile-cognitive relationship any better.
Given that I really WOULD like to be tempted – esp. to readers that allow easy access to free libraries, Gutenberg and the like – perhaps I can yet be persuaded that they cope well with the more (can I say?) scholarly stuff.

Information that you find on a website can be constantly changed without reference unlike the information that you receive printed. Printing off can be important so that you can refer back to the same document. The time lost when there is a glitch on the computer or on the mobile is massive. – including little things like garbled contact numbers.

When the electricity went down in the office it was a revelation. We had to use a mobile phone to alert someone in the building that we wanted to be let in. The door didn’t work, the phone system didn’t work, the computers didn’t work. We had to send handwritten letters/notes by fax and communicate with the outside world by personal mobile. Luckily not everything depends on electricity. Every office should be investigating what does and doesn’t work in this situation. (And also as another thread points out which machines aren’t off when you think they are.)

Simon says:
6 January 2012

I do not think that paper will go completely but it will be reserved for only for situations where it adds a signifcant visual and tactile advantage. With the advent of cloud based services for music, photos, video and, now the printed word why would you keep physical copies of CD’s, photos, films, books etc and clutter up your house. The same applies for most bits of paper. The cloud is more secure than any physical thing in your house (given the risk of flood and fire), you can access your stuff on any device anywhere (its much better for recipies as I for one can never remember which book it was in) and you do not have to worry about keeping the storage devices up-to-date as google, apple etc do that for you. Having said all that I still prefer a physical newspaper or magazine over the ipad edition partly because of the tactile appeal but also because of the way you can scan a page and pick out just what you want to read. However, my children do not feel the same so newspapers days may be numbered.

IMO paper usage has soared with the arrival of PC’s, the only near paperless office I know of is BA ,all the rest pump out paper like a machinegun on the western front so will paper disappear?
no but we may under a mountian of paper

It is important to recognise that most documents do not need to be kept forever, whether as files or on paper. I attend a lot of meetings and take printed copies of those papers I will refer to several times, and look at other documents on a laptop. After the meeting I dispose of the printed documents and keep my handwritten notes and the files for documents relating to the meeting.

Advantages of computer files include the fact that they do not take up space and searching long documents is easy. Making backups is easy and I have not had problems with changes in file format since I started making daily use of computers at home and work around 20 years ago.

Most of my reading is weekly and monthly magazines. Though I still have some copies dating back to the 60s I have a periodic clear out and dispose of weeklies that are more than a year old or monthlies that are over five years old, keeping the odd issue as a reminder. I would be tempted to move to digital subscriptions if I could store back issues on my computer rather than just read them on the screen.

The only reason I use a paper diary is to keep notes of phone conversations, etc. I have used an electronic diary for years. I still use Post-It notes but mainly the electronic equivalent.

In the next couple of weeks I have to arrange 50 copies of an A5 booklet and 15 copies of an important report with well over 100 pages. 2012 will not be the year I give up using paper.