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Thinking inside the box

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The Paperless Society

Hardly a day goes by when we do not receive a message from some organisation, a financial institution or utility company proclaiming with great self-satisfaction that it is shifting to “paperless” communications. The message is often accompanied by a smug comment that the organisation is doing its part not only to reduce the use of paper, but also to conserve energy and save other expenditures associated with providing information on paper.

We acknowledge that electronic communications have some obvious benefits such as ubiquitous access for anyone with a computer and virtually instantaneous delivery. Electronic communications typically work well for short messages that we can read quickly and remember if necessary. If the message is especially significant, we may save and print it. But increasingly, we are finding that large quantities of information are sent as email attachments with the expectation that we will digest these paperless documents without the benefit of paper.

Tom Ehrlich, is 80 years old, and he finds it quite impossible to read an article or memorandum of more than a few pages without printing a copy. Ernestine Fu is much younger and able to absorb online text with much greater ease than Tom. But even she finds it difficult to read long pieces of prose unless they are on paper, particularly if she is called on not only to pay close attention to what is written, but also to write thoughtful comments in response.


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