The New York Times had an article yesterday on our glorious paperless future -- which may already be here! It's a reasonably balanced piece, aside from some hyperbole from the experts they quote. Most of this stuff makes sense, like using scanners to keep documents. In fact that's mostly what the article is about (scanning documents), whereas the graphic that accompanies it shows such wonders as the electronic bartender with built-in drink recipes and a perennial futurist favorite: the smart refrigerator with digital display. (Mark Kuniavsky recently posted a nice gallery of these: Evolution of the Fridge Computer.)
An excerpt from the NYT article:
“Paper is no longer the master copy; the digital version is,” says Brewster Kahle, the founder and director of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library. “Paper has been dealt a complete deathblow. When was the last time you saw a telephone book?”
Some homes may no longer have phone books, but many have scanners — and, increasingly, more than one. Flatbed scanners, which most people use for photographs, offer high resolution but are cumbersome for scanning large volumes of paper. New, cheap document-feed scanners that can digitize a stack of papers, receipts or business cards in seconds are becoming popular. Add multiple computers, digital cameras and maybe an electronic book reader, and suddenly paper seems to be on the endangered-species list.
After rising steadily in the 1980s and ’90s, worldwide paper consumption per capita has plateaued in recent years. In the richest countries, consumption fell 6 percent from 2000 to 2005, from 531 to 502 pounds a person. The data bolsters the view of experts like Mr. Kahle who say paper is becoming passé. [...]
A paperless world isn’t automatically a boon for the environment, though. While these digital toys reduce dependence on one resource, they increase it on another: energy. Some devices are always plugged in, eating electricity even when not in use, and gobbling huge amounts of power when they are. Others, like digital cameras and laptop computers, use electricity while they are recharging.
And the shift might not happen as fast as some technology gurus predict. The paperless office, which some experts had said would be the norm by the 1990s, has so far failed to materialize. Employees are reckless about printing long e-mail messages, reports and memos, largely because the company picks up the bill for the laser printers, photocopiers, ink and paper.
Link: Pushing paper out the door.
One thing that's not often mentioned in stories like these is that you can make paper from things other than trees, which can be more eco-friendly, and also that it's important to promote sustainable forestry and recycling. Removing paper completely from our lives shouldn't necessarily be our goal.