Can we ever be truly paperless?

August 12, 2018 2:12 PM

Each time I elect to go paperless I pat myself on the back and smile at the trees. More often than not, my mailbox is full of advertisements and little of personal significance. The important stuff is in my email inbox.

Newspapers are scrapping their presses and going online. More new authors and books are found on ebook platforms than in bookstores. In 2014, the Yellow Page’s revenue for their online directory exceeded their paper directories. The increasingly paperless world is a boon for the environment–but what will we stack on chairs so our toddlers can reach the table if our phone books stop showing up?

Who will tell my elderly landlord if my bank discontinues checkbooks? I hope dear Mr. Clarkson passes on to his great reward before the day comes that he must cough up pension to purchase a computer.

When will we be truly paperless?

What a loaded question.

In the health field, going paperless is more difficult than it seems, and more important. The American Academy of Family Physicians conducted a survey in 2014 showing that eighty percent of doctors have switched to electronic record-keeping but ten percent of surgical specialists refuse. This is a huge problem.

Especially in healthcare, everyone must take the paperless route or no one truly can. If a patient moves from one doctor with electronic records to a doctor with paper records, the electronic doctor’s office must print their medical file to send to the paper-preferring doctor’s office. And electronic-preferring doctors are recording more due to limitless digital space, so more paper is printed per patient.

Some states require healthcare facilities to keep paper records along with digital records–they are constrained by law to hit “print”.

What good am I doing by “going paperless”?

Besides the environmental considerations, electronic records are more secure and accurate, available to more people (like business partners or my spouse), and often offer helpful advice and growth-driving automation, not to mention saving a pretty penny. While cloud software is widely recognized for helping the transition to paperless, even more traditional desktop software like Quickbooks 2019 for desktop can connect businesses with customers’ and employees’ PayPal or bank accounts without a single scrap of paper being used. Even between peers, the I.O.U. is becoming a thing of the past.

Can we ever be truly paperless?

Will the day come that children give up Crayola and sheets of copy paper for a tablet? Will college students give up composition notebooks for a Chromebook? Science has shown that writing on paper activates the brain differently than typing, so, should they?

We can’t yet predict when the last tree will be cut down for a ream of paper, but we can identify things which must first transpire:

  1. The generation of “check-writers only” must drop their checkbook (sorry, Mr. Clarkson).
  2. Access to the internet must be free so that everyone can access their critical information always.
  3. The cost of owning electronics must be reduced or subsidized so that everyone, regardless of income, can have access to their information.

Until everyone in the developed world can cope with a purely digital world, paper will be our reality.


Jaren Nichols

Author profile

Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks, free accounting software for small businesses. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.