Paper is not going anywhere

(This post is a response to this Cyprus Blog Network Together!)

Eight years ago or so I had a major argument with my wife about the future of paper. I was an extremely excited Computer Science student back than, and my visions were very polarized. I saw only black and white. And when I looked at printed media and digital media I saw them as mutually exclusive. Of course, I was on the side of digital media. One of my most far taken statements was that all paper will disappear in the nearest future. And by nearest I meant next 10-15 years.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, at that time I was rarely seen far away from a computer. Real world meant little to me. And I didn’t have any understanding of office work outside of IT industry. I still don’t, by the way.

Needless to say, my wife was laughing at me. She still does, by the way.

But all these years weren’t in vein. I looked around, I talked to people, I learned. And here is what I came to realize: I was wrong. Paper isn’t going anywhere. At least not in the near future. And by near future I mean 20-30 years.

There are, of course, applications of paper that are being and will be migrated to digital media. Storage of vast amounts of data, with indexing and searching comes to mind (databases). Billing and invoicing (accounting). Reporting (management). Lots of communications (emails, blogs, forums, chats).

And there are also other applications of paper which paper suits perfectly well. Many people prefer paper books to any digital format. Quick note taking and sketching works best of all on paper. Photography is yet another area – no matter how good the image looks in digital, some people would still prefer it printed out, framed, and hanged in the living room (yes, I know about digital photo frames).

Coming back to my statement, as I said, I was wrong. I should have phrased it differently. Paper won’t disappear. And digital media will continue to evolve and improve too. But the two will co-exist for a long time. And they will be helping each other to improve too. Many applications have already been tried with both paper and digital – some were converted instantly, others remained and secured their positions. There is some healthy competition, but there is enough partnership for the whole thing to move into the right direction.

So, I was wrong. And I’m glad I was.

10 thoughts on “Paper is not going anywhere”

  1. ….(sitting….trying to imagine the world without TOILET PAPER…)….
    Any digital solutions? :)

  2. What I would really love to see is all the official paper mail replaced with e-mail. Well maybe not completely replaced but running in parallel. It looks like the only reason that prevents e-mail from wider adoption is the lack of centralised database of digital signatures.

  3. Uncle Vova,

    Good point. The WC is one of the lesser digitized areas. Tight spaces and high humidity have a lot to do with that. But that’s changing. More and more eyes are looking in that direction. I’ve read about some interesting breakthrough solutions for WC recently.

    The alternative for toilet paper has been invented and somewhat successfully implemented years ago – bidet.

    Another few I’ve read about but haven’t seen with my own eyes involved loads of electronics, and some robot arms with non-paper tissues.

    So, there is some progress towards that direction. :)

  4. Alexey,

    Slowly slowly we are getting there. European and American governments are pushing digital communications. They all started with simple web sites. Most of them moved to powerful online applications for tax reports, and all sorts of other form submissions. Web + email is a powerful combination that more and more people realize.

    It’s not happening as fast as we want it, but it is happening. :)

  5. Some artifacts, such as sketches by our kids or ourselves, would never keep all their features in digitial form. The beauty of perishable things that they are … perishable. Like we all are. After all, I don’t feel comfortable with a copy of something. I would prefer to have the real thing. With fingerprints, corrections, decoloured ink and all the blemishes wich make that piece of paper a direct link to your memory. Sometimes a symbolic link is not enought :)

  6. DimonF,

    Well, digital copies are perishable too. In a different sense though. It’s still possible to accidentally delete the copy, or get it destroyed by a hard disk crash or something like that. Point taken though.

    My personal experience is different though. For example, a few years ago I digitized (scanned, cropped, and processed) almost all paper photographs that Olga and I have in those numerous photo albums all around our place. It was just an experiment on will at that time, but it turned out to be way more useful.

    I rarely watch or show paper photographs which are in the photo albums. Either I forget that they are there, or don’t bother with digging through. Those images that were digitize are used much more. I often browse through those images, review them, remember, share them with other people online, talk about them, etc. These digitized images are an “active” memory, while those paper ones are a “passive” memory.

    Maybe that’s just me though…

  7. I mostly agree with you on printed photos. What I meant were mostly other things: drawings, notes e.t.c One day my daughter asked me to make a story tail in pictures. She was ill then. My skills in drawing are beyound any tolerance. So, I’ve put first few ideas on the paper, she laughted, corrected the lines.
    Later this paper was scanned by me and put in computer. Of course, it is much better than nothing. But nothing match the original, you know. Here is an expamle (don’t show it to anybody):

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