Trying to escape paper’s enormous shadow

“Let’s implement a paperless process”. I heard that sentence several times the last few years. However the tools or medium you are using in your process are really not important, therefore I really don’t know why there is such a run on becoming paperless. Same goes for what seems to be a trend at the moment: predicting the death of the newspaper. However it is not paper /print that is causing the trouble, it is the business model most newspapers still have. It seems to be paper / print did something wrong in the last few centuries such a relief could be detected around the web on its potential disappearance.

Andrew Keen:
The truth is it’s not their newspapers, magazines, and books that are dying, but rather the archaic medium of print. And the good news for both trees and technophiles is that in 2009 paper is finally being replaced by affordable and ergonomically sophisticated digital devices for reading electronic content.

However will ‘the archaic medium of print’ disappear? I tend to differ in opinion and Nick Bilton too has a second thought about it. He believes it can disappear however “..this evolutionary process is going to take time. History tells us so”. He also provides some great examples from the New York Times in the 19th century:

New York Times March 22 1876
… Thus the telephone, by bringing music and ministries into every home, will empty the concert-halls and the churches …

New York Times November 7 1877
… The telephone was justly regarded as an ingenious invention when it was first brought before the public, but it is destined to be entirely eclipsed by the new invention of the phonograph. The former transmitted sound. The latter bottles it up for future use …

I really do think that print media and paper will not be replaced a 100% by technological solutions. Especially since there are still services like PostSecretDawdlr or  Postcrossing (via SitePoint). Paper can add value to your process (or life) do not ignore it because it is an old medium, it can be useful. William Powers wrote in his paper ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal’:


Though paper appears to be a relatively “dumbâ” medium, it too performs tasks that require special abilities. And many of paper’s tricks, the useful purposes it serves, are similarly products of its long relationship with people. There are cognitive, cultural and social dimensions to the human-paper dynamic that come into play every time any kind of paper, from a tiny Post-it note to a groaning Sunday newspaper, is used to convey, retrieve or store information. Paper does these jobs in a way that pleases us, which is why, for centuries, we have liked having it around. It’s also why we will never give it up as a medium, not completely. For some of the roles paper currently fulfills in our media lives, there is no better alternative currently available. And the most promising candidates are technologies that are striving to be more, not less, like paper. Indeed, the pertinent question may be not whether the old medium will survive, but whether the new ones will ever escape paper’s enormous shadow.


The message is quite simple: do not replace paper because it is paper. Replace it because it adds values. You can replace forms with an online variant, however you should still add value to make it a success. Just implement something technical since it can is not a good thing. Combine for example multiple functions; and “mashup applications,â” solutions that are quickly assembled from multiple services, potentially from many different sources inside and outside the organization. That is a way to add value and to have at least an option to escape paper’s enormous shadow.