Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | November 21, 2011 -- 06:00 GMT (22:00 PST)

Summary: Everywhere you look, where paper once thrived it now doesn’t, argues Chris Jablonski. Counters Chris Dawson: We're not there, and there's no excuse for it.

Chris Jablonski

Chris Jablonski

Already here

or

Not there yet

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Best Argument: Not there yet

Closing Statements

We have the hardware and software

Chris Jablonski

While society may not be entirely paperless just yet, paper is under attack on multiple fronts and our collective desire to be paperless should eventually get us there. Everyday, we learn about new devices, software and online tools that encourage a paper-free existence.

Do we have the means available to eradicate world hunger? Yes. Will it happen this year or the next? I’d say no. Similarly, we have the hardware and software to greatly minimize or skip the use of paper. It'll take a concerted effort among us to adopt new behaviors that take advantage of these new technologies and make a real difference.

Future generations will look back in amazement by the paper production process and the waste it generates. Like burning fossil fuels for energy, cutting down trees to create books and documents will be frowned upon by society and the practice will fall by the wayside.

Tipping point is a long way off

Christopher Dawson

My colleague, Chris Jablonski, did a great job today pointing out all of the ways that we're moving towards a paperless society, citing a variety of evidence for the reduction of paper in the enterprise and in society as a whole. At the same time, he failed to demonstrate that we had reached that critical point where digital could realistically overtake paper in the content wars.

Unfortunately, that tipping point, though portended by cheap devices like the Kindle fire, is a remarkably long way off. I'm as close to going paperless as society lets me be (try buying a house without paper), but as I explained in the debate, Chris and I, along with most of the readers on ZDNet, are hardly a representative sample. Outside the technorati, the iPad actually isn't as ubiquitous as it seems.

Nope, I'm afraid we are very far indeed from a paperless society.

 

Not there yet

Lawrence Dignan

Both Jablonski and Dawson made interesting points. Jablonski argued that we're closer to paperless than we think. Dawson said we're a long way from being paperless. Based on the debate I'd have to go with Dawson. However, Jablonski made a bevy of interesting points. I think it's fair to say that the pieces are in place to go paperless, but there are cultural hurdles ahead. When the tipping point to going completely paperless comes, the transition may happen very quickly. That day isn't here yet, so Dawson's side wins.

Doc's final thoughtsIN PARTNERSHIP WITH Ricoh

Doc

It seems this week the team of Jablonski and Dawson essentially agree – not so much on when print will fade away, but that it should. In the electronic era we live in, paper is a dinosaur, or should be. It is less efficient, potentially hard on the environment, and a symbol of the past.

Well, Doc has a slightly different perspective, which comes from my unusual upbringing and that water skiing accident at age eleven. When television came out, it didn’t replace radio. Paperback books didn’t replace hard-bound ones, and Starbucks didn’t replace Peet’s. So why should electronic communications necessarily replace printed ones? Sure, in many cases they will, and print will have to find its rightful niche. But as a communication vehicle it’s here to stay and will be for a long time. Paper is just different and one more choice in our myriad of communication methods. Why does everyone always act like it’s an either or situation? It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping. Doc says long live paper – it’s not for everything, but for some things it’s superior.

Talkback

46 comments
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  • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

    [b]CAN[/b] we go paperless?

    Yes. Absolutely. No question about it. We have the technology. We have the ability. I do everything possible to keep everything I do paperless.

    [b]ARE[/b] we paperless?

    No. We're not. I still have to deal with a lot of paper from people and companies that, to this day, refuse to put their stuff online. I still have to deal with printing, scanning, and *shudders* faxing.

    We are the most technologically advanced civilization in the world - why do I still have to deal with stubborn people who demand paper? And why are businesses of any description still using faxes?

    It's 2011, not 1991. Get with the program, people. Let me be paperless if I want X(.

    We [b]should[/b] be a paperless society, but sadly we're not. Not there yet :(.
    CobraA1
    Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
    • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

      @CobraA1 It's called freedom. Quit trying to impose your hatred of paper on the rest of us. I don't want to need a device and power source to read, when all I need is a printed page. PERIOD. Get over it.

      I"m for "Not there yet, and hope we never will be".
      Techboy_z
      Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
      • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

        @techboy_z

        Why not? The fact is that sometimes, people need a kick in the butt to stop being wasteful (ala with the CFL vs. incandescent debate) with energy, resources, etc.

        We need to start realizing that non-hard copies of stuff are usually good enough. Just printing them out or handing them to a judge makes them legally admissible in a court of law, so that throws one common argument against going paperless out the window.
        Lerianis10
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

        @techboy_z It's not hatred, it's efficiency. Paper wastes space and wastes time.
        CobraA1
        Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
      • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

        @Lirianis and Cobra: Efficiency? Doing my reading electronically wastes more energy than reading my paperbacks. I don't have to recharge my books for a reread. And I don't have to mine metals and make plastics for a new computer/tablet/e-reader every couple years. You should be made aware that trees are a renewable resource and printed copies that last decades are much lighter on the environment compared to the materials for your e-reader, the power to build it, ship it, and continually use it.
        Techboy_z
        Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
      • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

        "Doing my reading electronically wastes more energy than reading my paperbacks."<br><br>With a proper eBook reader using electronic ink, a single charge lasts a month or more. You'll likely use less electricity reading a book on a Kindle than producing a book in a printing press.<br><br>And I wasn't talking about efficiency in terms of electrical use anyways, I was talking about it in terms of productivity. I can be far more productive with electronic devices than with paper.<br><br>And I really wasn't talking about ebooks anyways - I don't even own an ebook reader.<br><br>"You should be made aware that trees are a renewable resource and printed copies that last decades"<br><br>99% of what I do on paper doesn't need to last decades. It's mostly just procedure stuff that I wish would go away anyways.<br><br>"are much lighter on the environment compared to the materials for your e-reader, the power to build it, ship it, and continually use it."<br><br>Can you back this up with facts?<br><br>As far as the materials go, I plan on recycling, should I get an ebook reader.<br><br>As far as building it and shipping it goes, those are one time costs. Not to mention books have shipping costs too! You need to ship EVERY BOOK. With an ebook reader, you only need to ship the device. The books are downloaded, not shipped.<br><br>As far as using it goes, a proper ebook reader using electronic ink uses only a tiny bit of electricity.<br><br>Not to mention that I'm not talking about books and e-readers anyways. I'm talking about forms, procedures, checklists, etc. Productivity stuff.
        CobraA1
        Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
    • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

      @CobraA1

      If we have to ask, then we're not
      Fat Albert 1
      Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
  • RE: Great Debate: The paperless society: Are we there yet?

    It's a good thing that it hasn't come to pass.

    Once it happens it will be the "beginning of the end" of our civilization.
    All it would take is one "once-in-a-100,000-years" solar storm and we can kiss our electronic data goodbye.

    Allegedly NASA has reels of magnetic tape, which have data on them, but nobody can retrieve the info because the machines that could read them are all gone.

    Show me a 2000 year old HDD, which still has readable data on it and I might change my mind.
    lehnerus2000
    Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
    • NASA and paperless

      When the Apollo era J2 engines were built, all the data was stored on paper (mostly lost), punch cards and magnetic tape. The new Space Launch System uses a modified J2-X engine. Necessity, ingenuity and panic and do a lot to overcome obstacles. <br>Our government and military as well as many businesses from banks, aerospace firms, newspapers and manufacturers invested heavily in computers back when they took up whole buildings. Even though they have data on old material those entities still operate just fine (except for the government part, but that's a different discussion).<br>Can we go paperless, yes... will we, no.
      Unkk
      Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet
  • Long live PAPER

    Not everyone can afford the technology to go paperless. That's what gives the printed media sources alive. Long live PAPER!
    bonespiel
    Reply Vote I'm for Not there yet