Another Victim of the Internet: Paper

This time for real


Wed, Mar 21st, 2012 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

According to Forbes' Venkatesh Rao, that mythical creature called The Paperless Office is actually arriving. Our addiction to paper as an information culture is fading as we're all moving straight into Big Data.

Turns out the stuff isn't as ineffable as we thought. It's just that paper isn't so much a single technology as a foundation for all of modern economic and cultural life. It is simply taking time to swap the stuff out. In the process, we are realizing that there isn't just one replacement for paper. There are many. The Kindle and other e-ink readers for books, tablets for general reading and tablets with styluses for sketching, handwritten note-taking and doodling (I have fallen in love with my stylus; it has increased my use of my iPad tenfold). On the more bureaucratic end, we have APIs for structured data transfer, systems like ACH and modern electronic invoicing for finance. Even the dragon of electronic medical records seems like it will be slayed soon. Signage may be doomed once technologies like OLED wallpaper go mainstream. Smartphones and QR codes are slowly killing ticketing.

To use Sellen/Harper language, not all affordances matter in all situations, and paper is being killed in different domains by partial substitutes that replicate the key affordances for that domain, and add enough value on top that the switch is a no-brainer. Sure, you cannot scribble on paperless bank statements, but that's not an affordance you actually want in that situation. Sure, you cannot (yet) fold a tablet into a post-card sized object and shove it into your pocket, but for quick scribbling or coupons, the smartphone isalready pocket sized.

There are a few straggling applications that are yet to be conquered (paper receipts, the bane of business book-keeping is a big one, as is the ever-elusive digital-signature world), but they will succumb within the decade as the electronic payments problem is finally solved.

According to the Los Angeles Times business cards may be the first victims of the end of paper:

Ubiquitous as pinstripes, the 2-by-3.5-inch pieces of card stock have long been a staple in executive briefcases. Exchanging cards helps to break the ice and provides a quick reference for forgotten names.

But to many young and Web-savvy people who are accustomed to connecting digitally, the cards are irrelevant, wasteful -- and just plain lame.

However, not everyone agrees, especially considering that most of the world is populated by individuals who are not technologically savvy:

Business cards have served as an important contact artifact for decades. The exchange of a business card establishes a contact beyond momentary business. Back in the days, business cards were extremely popular and important. There was a whole industry based on the printing of business cards. Even today, companies like Google and Facebook bring out offers to create vanity cards from a Google search of your name and from your Facebook profile respectively. The leading companies in the Internet space would definitely not do something that is out of line with the current times.

I just hope that paper books don't completely disappear: there is something to be said about a device that requires no battery power and functions even after you drop it several times.



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