New York Times: The paperless office at home. In the end, it’s just more stuff.

Hannah Fairfield of the New York Times reports today on the effect of a family going paperless.

“Chris Uhlik’s children can be found in their home computer lab almost every morning. Nicole is writing a story about her two lizards. Tony is playing an interactive spelling game, while Andy is learning multiplication tables. Even 5-year-old Joceline is clicking away at a storybook game.

“Mr. Uhlik, an engineering director at Google, and his family live a practically paper-free life. The children are home-schooled on computers. Other sources of household paper — lists, letters, calendars — have become entirely digital.”

Although going paperless was the Uhliks choice, we see many families going paperless each day.  From online, web-based billing and payment systems, to mortgage statements and even weekly coupons from chain stores, we see more and more of our content coming online. Add to that the scanner we have at home (actually, three of them when you count the ones in the family room, kid’s computer and our home office), we’re finding ways to reduce clutter.

I prefer receiving the offending hard-copy items in electronic form, otherwise I face another problem: finding the time to scan all this paper with the paper-reducing technologies available to us.  I have a stack of stuff collecting to scan, and then you have to manage, back-up and store the digital files (not quite zero footprint). 

The Times article goes on to reports that…

“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.”

That may be so, but add to the plateau of content the proliferation of digital content that has been added.  Just because more bits arrive via the broadband service provider rather than the US Mail doesn’t mean that there is not an impact: see How much does spam weigh- (And what to do about it): as I noted, over the course of two weeks, we collected a little more than the reported national averages:

  • 36 pieces of mail, totaling 2 lb 6oz (or about 63 pounds a year), and
  • 80 pieces of junk mail, totaling 10 lb 6.6oz (a little more than 270 lbs per year)

Now that doesn’t sound like much, but in comparison let’s look what came in just to my personal email address at home: 232 pieces of junk mail. That’s 149 caught by my Outlook spam filter and 83 snagged by my Internet service provider. If that junk email were junk postal mail filling my post box, it would weigh close to 31 pounds. Over the course of a year, we’re looking at more than 6,000 junk emails, at a total weight of about 792 pounds.


“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?”

Au contraire.

You still see so much paper around the office in the form of hard-copy presentations; in contrast, good to see that the majority of white papers and reports I’ve read lately have been made of recycled digital bits rather than bits of recycled paper.  How many times have you heard a coworker lament about the so-called paperless office when faced with a mountain of documentation collected by the end of the work day?  And add to that the number of pages our kids print out when working on a school project, screen captures and artwork (“I love those Pokemon pictures you found on Live Search, CJ… all thirty of them on individual sheets.”).

And am I the only one using Outlook to manage my menagerie of digital statements, reports and documents from outside the home?  Yes, I save web pages and other online documents as XPS files to my computers, and I use Paperport to manage my digital collection of PDF files.  But I have a larger number of archived mails in my Inbox and saved mail storage by a factor of 100.  Companies creating these files make it easier to archive, by sending links to online pages that are archived for as long as I need to hang on to a page for tax purposes, rather than the year or two that many companies seem to support.  I also save digital copies of web files using IE’s Page -> Save As… Web Archive Single File .mht formatAnd heck, I even use my own blog to keep track of what I’ve recently read via my favourite, now-Yahoo!’s (I love Flickr, too ;).

So kudos to the credit card companies, online service providers and banks proving these statements, as well as the newspapers I read regularly more online than I do in print (although there is still an incredible cachet that surrounds the Sunday Paper – capitalized for reverence ;).  And thanks to magazines like Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek (and others I subscribe) for making their current issues and archives available. 

Want tips on how to reduce your junk mail? Visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for info:

Also of interest…

The Paperless Home 

The Paperless Home

Paper Trail 

Paper Trail


Tags: environment, spam, paperless, home, scanners, New York Times.

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