It has been one of the most defining inventions in our history. The ability to transport information has relied upon paper for millennia. However, paper is quickly becoming obsolete and the sooner businesses recognize this and the implications of it, the better the strategies for transition can be made.
Why is paper obsolete?
This isn’t to say that there will be no paper books in the future, or that notepads will cease to be printed. There will be continued use of paper, particularly around the home. Obsolescence means that the technology has been superseded but another which is superior for the purpose. This is true, as the use of digital formats will increase in popularity as the devices that we use to interact with these new digital forms improves.
Until now, the digital file has been confined to the computer or laptop. These are not devices which are particularly comfortable to work with. They are good at replacing certain features that paper is used for. Namely bunk information storage. However, the viewing of this information has often required paper as an intermediary – and the information gets printed out. There has also been a historic distrust with digital formats which is being overcome. It used to be that hard copies were considered the most robust form of storage, this is also changing.
Paper is no longer the most transferable format
Once upon a time, paper was the most easily transferable format for information. It was cheap and simple to produce, and the technology required adding information to paper was cheap and available. Skills were required in order to transfer the information and decode it, and those who could read were able to unlock the information that was held on the paper. This made the spread of paper and reading an important part of our intellectual history.
However, today paper is incredibly slow. The transfer of information to and from paper requires a large amount of transaction cost than the digital format. In other words, it takes more time and money to use paper, as compared to its digital equivalent. Paper is much heavier than digital storage and takes up much more space.
For example, the text contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica can fit on a consumer standard memory card the size of a fingernail, while the same text in paper format is very heavy and cannot be lifted by one person alone. Shipping this information electronically from New York to Shanghai would take seconds over telecommunications infrastructure, at an insignificant cost. However, sent in paper format it would take longer than a day, at considerable expense.
The medium also is of limited supply, so the use of paper is at the detriment of our forests, which are important for the fight against climate change. While recycling paper can limit this harm, this process also includes transaction costs which are not associated with digital formats.
Paper is losing the battle for security of information
Paper is no longer considered the most robust form of storage. In fact, it has been shown to be a considerable risk. One of the lesser remembered images from the Twin Towers falling on 9/11 were the vast amount of paper in the air which was falling from the buildings. This included an extraordinary amount of sensitive information. Companies where this kind of risk is present often have paper file locking areas that are safeguarded like bank vaults and employ security processes to ensure paper is kept under close scrutiny.
This isn’t to say that digital files are more secure, their recent history shows that there are considerable risks to the storage of digital information. However, with the assistance of the growing science of encryption, it is becoming possible to overcome these obstacles. The way that companies handle digital formats is also improving with their reliance on them.
These are two important reasons why paper is being superseded by electronic formats and will soon be obsolete. Businesses using paper should consider the implications of this change in technology and understand the advantages of an early transition to a paperless future.