16 January 2008

The Paperless Society: A dream or a necessity?

There is a lot of talk about the paperless society, but as I look at the office today I can see we still have a long way to go. We have made impressive strides in that direction however with the use of e-mail, word processing, document management systems and the ability to scan documents.

E-magazines, blogs and feeds are now readily available to pass on information, and I have seen the early stages of on-line books that you can take along with you just as we do with paper books today.

Many of us have already become paper free when it comes to having our paycheques automatically deposited, doing our banking and making bill payments online. We are getting there, but the problem may not be with the technology, but in our willingness to share in the solution.

When did paper become a bad word?

I remember as a young secretary in the late 70’s being concerned about the paper waste I saw in my office and even then having a conscience about it and wondering if there was some way that we could re-use it. It wasn’t something people talked about back then. We have come a long way as a society in understanding the need to manage waste.

I think my generation’s answer was recycling. When it was first introduced it was inconvenient as we had to remove the paper from the cans, wash them and then sort our garbage in their respective bins of glass, paper and tin. We had a long list of what could and could not be put in the recycle bin. There were only certain types of paper and glass that would be accepted and if your cans were not completely cleaned they were not picked up. Today we are able to recycle just about anything.

Today’s generation wants more than just recycling however. They want to be good stewards of our earth in all areas of waste and after so many years of mismanagement, they have a valid reason for wanting to do so.

Public pressure has made governments move to set new targets and goals for the environment, and they have made advances in going paperless with the acceptance of e-filing of documents and setting standards for waste management. They need to go even further however if we are going to realize the possibility of a paperless society.

What kind of global footprint are you leaving?

The new buzz words when it comes to the environment are environmental sustainability and on a more personal level our ability to leave minimal carbon footprints.

Environmental sustainability is the vision that what we do today must not affect the quality of life for tomorrow. This involves governments, corporations and ordinary citizens who care about what we will leave to future generations.

A carbon footprint is a measurement of the amount of green house gases that I produce in my own little space by the choices I make in what products and services I use or the form of transportation I take and many other areas. The ability to reduce my footprint makes it even more personal for me to be a better steward.

New Rules

As more and more people jump on the paperless bandwagon they are insisting on eliminating the need for paper and we are beginning to listen. Materials that used to be handed out at conferences and in schools are now made available on CDs or posted on websites for easy access. In a paperless world the need to have a computer or have access to one will be a must.

As e-mail becomes the preferred choice in business correspondence, e-mail management will become even more important and necessary. There is software already available to save e-mails directly into our document management systems and to put them in the correct file. E-mail etiquette rules will also be essential to follow, and will become the new standard for business writing.

New Problems

In a paperless society there will be a need for greater security to increase people’s comfort levels in using the technology and therefore eliminating the need for paper. Financial institutions are already encouraging customers to access their bank statements on-line and reassuring us that their sites are secure. All these advances will however come with a cost that will undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer.

With the increased use of electronic devices, proper ergonomics will become a factor with the need for better workstations and decreased glare on computer screens. Office workers and young people especially will be affected by this. In schools the computer has become the new notebook. Children are on some sort of electronic device a good part of the day with the use of cell phones and laptops. We will need to learn the proper way to use our technology to avoid injuries.

With all our technological advances and knowledge however we will not go paperless until people learn to not press print, and they will not do that until governments, courts and technology come together and make it possible for electronic use only.

It will be interesting to see how this next generation meets the challenges that have been given it as we march on to the goal of becoming a truly paperless society.

Click here for a link that gives good information on what a carbon footprint is and how to measure it.


Lola said...

this is a great article. K

Lola said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.