Paper in the modern electronic world

From the ancient Egyptians’ papyrus to modern scrapbookers’ detailed pages, paper has been an immensely important tool for people. There have been a multitude of ways to create paper, with the most common being the mass destruction of forested land. The advent of handheld devices like the Kindle promises to leave paper by the wayside, resulting in a more environmentally conscious world.

In the early 2000’s, the paperless office was an often discussed idea.  A lot of jobs required paper, but people imagined that trees and time could be saved by digital alternatives. It’s only recently, however, that the paperless office is moving towards realization. With Kindles and iPads and Android Phones and other devices that are mobile enough to replace paper, the paperless office is inching closer and closer to reality.

It’s not just mobile devices that lead to lower use of paper. Technology in other areas is also helping reduce the usage of paper. Many hydro-electric, telephone, and utility companies now offer a paperless billing feature, allowing customers to check their balance online. Banks are using online bill payments and other similar measures to cut down paper usage. Recently, restaurants have started using smartphones and iPods and similar devices to take orders and alert the kitchen – lowering the use of paper in yet another area.

Perhaps most interesting is how traditionally paper-dependent businesses, such as book and magazine publishers, are adapting to the new world and moving towards much lower use of paper. Devices such as the Kindle have hugely impacted the popularity of reading among all age groups. Publishers have begun to respond to these changes – providing Kindle and Tablet versions of their publications, providing ebooks, and even moving to more modern publishing paradigms.

The use of paper is slowly and very steadily being reduced.

While there are ups and downs to recent technological advancements, the environmental benefits of a paperless world are numerous. Less paper means more trees which means more oxygen and also bigger habitats for wild animals. The idea of a paperless world and all the talk of things like global warming has inspired many industries to review and re-imagine their environmental impact. From solar energy to low-flow toilets, the world might actually be changing for the better.

Paper itself has hardly been taken out of the world completely and there is some debate as to whether or not it should be. Regardless, in the short-term, improvements to the environment can be seen. There simply are more trees being left to grow. As more and more people shift to ebooks from dead-tree books and to mobile devices from thick bundles of printouts – it is making our Earth a healthier and happier place to live.

Here are a few other blogs discussing paper in our electronic world (with an emphasis on the impact of ebooks and Kindle):

On The Environmental Blog and Eco-Libris, the benefits of paper books versus eBooks are discussed.

The New York Times talks about how the paperless world created by Kindle has affected universities.

11 Responses

  1. I’m all for less use and waste of paper but I’m all for not getting rid of paper. I still love to send real letters and people love to get them. I love handmade paper and the beauty it brings to the people who use it and receive it in some form. If trees are grown and replanted responsibly, we can have both more trees and beautiful paper.

  2. “The use of paper is slowly and very steadily being reduced.”

    My mailbox begs to differ. I get your larger point: when it comes to stuff that we read, many of us are making the transition from paper to digital media. But, apart from electronic billing, it hasn’t really reduced the volume of mail I receive.

    I suspect that, in some instances, the opposite may be true. Given the ease with which email can be discarded without first being read, some folks who really want your attention will resort to paper in the hopes that we will at least open the envelope before throwing it in the trash.

  3. My only question is will using drastically reducing quantities of paper
    put many thousands of people, and printers out of work.
    It seems that when everything is digitalized,( witness electronic
    checkouts in many thousands of stores). Every electronic checkout station eliminates a job. I suspect nobody has the slightest idea
    how advances in electronic processing and mechanization
    impacts the working force, particularly since we are becoming
    seriously over-populated and living longer
    to boot. Today’s world scares the H–L out of me. We are in the middle of a very serious worldwide crisis and seemingly are helpless to do anything about it or even stopping to evaluate what we’re doing. Freddy P.S. I doubt that anyone could question my thesis. I doubt
    there are any answers, and i doubt that anyone can do anything about coming to grips and even if anything can be done, it’s too late and too complex to correct our downward slide into la la land!

    • Fred, this is a really big issue which no one seems to realize. What you’ve pointed out – we’re in the middle of a veru serious worldwide crisis because technology is eating up jobs.

    • I agree that going digital is doing people out of jobs, but hasn’t that always happened?

      The Pony Express only lasted for 18 months. When the transcontinental railroad was completed there was no need for Pony Express. The invention of automobiles made the livery stables go out of business as they had no customers.

      I think that the biggest difference now is that people who lose their job have a much harder time finding another one.

      • What Irish says is true, but we’re talking about maybe 2,000 pony express riders, to cite an example, but magnify the numbers of jobs
        compared to modern times and we’re now talking of job losses
        many thousand times the numbers of unemployed in today’s demographics, then throw in the equations of people living longer
        and finding jobs for our troops coming home as well as supporting
        untold numbers of immigrants, illegal or otherwise, all voraciously
        consuming the American pie. We are seriously up the creek without
        a paddle and without guidance from our “ruling classes”. Freddy

    • While I definitely agree that technology has taken over jobs and that this can have a hugely negative effect (I have been unemployed–a lot), I also agree with Irish’s comment. Technology has always taken away jobs. What I find, and a point I am trying to get across through my articles, is that advancements have hundreds of positives and negatives. Which list do you think is longer?

  4. This is my first time commenting on this blog. Really benefited from the free books listing and thoughts on ereaders :-)

    I don’t have a reference to back this up, but I’ve seen on TV that there are tree “farms” near paper producing factories that are harvested to make paper. They don’t chop down trees from forests to make papers (Just like how we don’t hunt chickens in the woods for meat).

    While the carbon footprint of each book is huge compared to a Kindle or other ereaders, it is reusable without any additional use of energy. One must realize that electronic devices needs energy to display and IMHO, the energy used by LCD screens cannot be discounted. Not to mention the energy used by servers hosting the ebooks 24/7 and downloads by users.

    This is where books has the advantage. The more people reading the same book, the less energy consumed per person (Carbon footprint / person). So may I suggest that libraries are eco-friendly?

  5. At work, we haven’t produced printed manuals in years — it’s all PDF (and I’m looking into eBook formats at least for shorter things). I still end up with a bunch of paper on my desk, though. Maybe I should look at it and see where it came from. :-P

    • Before I became disabled, I worked in the Trust Division of a large bank. In 1982, the division converted to a main frame computer where we had access to all of the records. Instead of decreasing the amount of paper used, it actually increased it. Often without warning, the computer would crash. All of the work we had input in the previous eight hours would be lost. Without paper back up, we wouldn’t have what we needed to input it again.

      I felt bad for the data entry people as they were the ones who had to keep typing in the information over and over.

    • p.s. At the time that I became disabled in 1985, PCs were just starting to come out. They were mostly used for word processing and accounting functions. The computer revolution had not yet begun.

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