Among the many promises of the digital revolution of the 2000s, the death of paper was a recurring argument. The digitalization of our professional life would make us better, more connected, better informed and more productive than ever. The death of physical musical media such as the CD would already augur that of paper books, replaced by reading lights and other tablets…
However, paper is resisting and digital also raises the question of the protection of personal data. Are we ready to entrust our professional and personal lives to the American internet giants? Between reality and utopia, between practical life and militant approach, travel in a reality not so clear cut than that. Are you ready to live “paperless”?
In an article by Businessweek published in 1975, and recently taken up by Bloomberg, it already mentioned the changes to come and it anticipated the end of the use of paper in the face of future technological advances. The 90s and 2000s then resonated as a future where computers would be at the center of everything and where paper would definitively lose its place as a working tool.
And it must be recognized that paper is used less and less. Minutes or meeting notes are typed live on a laptop. Ideas, notes or sketches are assembled on our tablets or smartphones using dedicated applications like Asana, Evernote or Paper. Outlook reminders and automatic tasks have replaced the good old sticky notes, which even have a virtual app. Image professionals work on graphics tablets … and we could continue this list for a long time. Seriously, when do we still use a pen and paper in the corporate world today?
And the movement is not about to stop: in the United States, we are already starting to abandon cursive writing in favor of the keyboard, which is undoubtedly not without raising some educational, ethical and cultural questions. The new generation is thus preparing to live in step with the times, in the heart of a paperless world where even keyboards will soon become useless with the emergence of artificial intelligence and electronic personal assistants like Siri or Google Now.
So has paper really lived? Can we really talk about a paperless world today? It’s obviously not all that simple.
No matter what people say, paper remains by far the most reliable tool and often tends to supplement or accompany our digital tools, whether in the office or on the go. It seems basic to say, but nevertheless, the paper never runs out of battery, it does not break, does not fear (too much) piracy, does not need to make regular updates, and above all costs well cheaper to use.
Even if the paper is losing momentum, not everyone has yet converted to 100% digital. Whether for administrative (tax, social security) or professional purposes, digital systems are created by digital experts who tend to have a single vision in mind. Yet despite progress, financial, structural or cultural barriers remain important to transform 100% of a society. Not everyone has access to high-speed internet, not everyone is equipped with the latest iPad, and those excluded from digital technology do exist, as this article in Rue 89 shows. Clearly, your strategy will depend of your target. If it is one of the ultra-connected, the question does not arise. Otherwise, the paper and digital duality still makes sense, even if the question of transferring investments from one medium to another always arises when budgeting.
We often tend to want to oppose paper and digital, but things are not so simple and this tendency to Manichaeism is against the current of good practices. It’s never all one or the other. It’s never good or bad. Experience tends to prove that the organizations that will be the most innovative in this area are those that will find new uses on both media. In this sense, transmedia strategies bring enormous wealth to new uses. We enrich our offer through stories and narrations written on different supports, which complement, enrich and enrich each other. In this respect too, the democratization of augmented reality is an example of digital materialization on a traditional use of paper.
The latest example to demonstrate the absurdity of a completely digital system: American Airlines planes grounded due to a bug in the Ipad application that replaces the traditional paper. In fact, since 2012, the American airline has given up on paper and only uses iPads at all stages of a flight. However, when a bug crashes the program used by pilots to determine the flight plan, an entire organization coughs. In the end, they will have to use good old pdf on their tablet, the time that the problem is resolved. Not sure the passengers liked the joke.
The question of privacy
While 100% digital seemed to be the answer to all problems, fears have surfaced for several years. Fears about the use of social networks at work, fears about the alleged or potential coping of an employer, fears about the confidentiality of data since the big spy revelations, regular hacks of big sites or even fears on the respect of his private life in front of the ogres of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon).
The example of Google is very well summarized on this infographic. The American giant knows everything about you: what you do online, where you go and when, who you talk to and what, how you spend your money online, etc. When we think about it, we trust – consciously or not – our entire digital life to these companies. If you have a Google Account and have allowed tracking of your trips on your phone, you might be surprised to go to Google Location History, which can track all of your trips over any period of time.
So when we talk about “paperless”, it’s important to be aware of what it entails. If your productivity and personal efficiency take precedence over your private life, then this paradigm shift should not be so difficult to assume.
And that’s where the rub is, because all these tools that we use every day are still practical, ergonomic, well thought out and generally very suitable for the professional world.
The paper strikes back
It was said to be outdated, obsolete, useless … and yet it is coming back in force! Not only has paper not said its last word, but above all it is poised to achieve a spectacular change by integrating new uses of digital technology.
Let’s start with the smart paper that is preparing its big return. Thanks to him, the packaging of our food products will be able to communicate a lot of information such as weight, price or other characteristics. Thanks to temperature sensors, the test paper is sensitive to temperature variations and can tell if a product is cold or hot. It can also detect variations in composition in food products, and alert if a product is expired or if it has detected the presence of bacteria. The potential is immense.
Finally, we must also talk about electronic paper which is experiencing an increasing popularity. Hybrid between tablet and sheet of paper, electronic paper offers a unique rendering and quality of reading and writing, while keeping the possibility of bending. Interactive and connected, here is perhaps the paper of the future.
We always keep a particular affect on physical support. We liked CDs for the objects they represented, for booklets, artistic work, its ease of storage … We like books to manipulate the work, turn the pages, carry it around and live a story. These physical objects are both content and container. By killing the container to favor content, digital forces us to change our habits and rethink the rules of the game.
Obviously, it is not a question of going back to the Stone Age and bringing out typewriters and faxes from the archives, but of rethinking the “paperless” strategy within the framework of your organization, without forgetting that must remain true to your values and stick to the expectations of your market.