Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

The Rise of Technology / The Fall of Trees? 397

cetan asks "Why is it that the further we get into this technological revolution, these incredible advances in communication, and begin to unfold the power of the internet that people (in general) insist on printing EVERYTHING out?? Everyday, I see more and more junk being sent to the print queues. Web pages, PDF files, auto-responder emails, the list goes on and on. And, this trend seems to have no end in sight. The further we advance, the more people seem to want to print. Why is this? What is driving this phenomenon? I, of course have my own hypotheses on this matter, but I'm curious as to what others think about it." Interesting thought. I have some thoughts on this matter. Click below to read them.

Although I agree that, technology has come far, we haven't come far enough to replace the simplicity found in holding information on paper. PDAs just don't have the display area to handle the density of information one can scratch out on a nearby notebook pad. Fact is, paper is still the primary medium of information transfer, although the internet is catching up. I think advances in wearable technology (display googles) plastics and LCD displays (think: roll up monitors) will be the things that may reverse this trend and make paper a thing of the past. What do you all think?

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Rise of Technology / The Fall of Trees?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have colleagues that don't even read their email until they print it out. Pretty ridiculous if you ask me...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Actually, about 60% is farmed. The rest is periodically clear cut scrub pine. My family has been in Texas since it was Mexico and we own a lot of basically worthless pine scrub land in East Texas. Oil and gas on all side, but not under our property. Damn it. I could have used a Ferrari in high school. Anyway, about every 25 years, them pine scrub is dense enough to get Temple EastTex or someone (I actually think that they are some one else now) to come out and clear cut. They hydromulch the hills and do this before it rains. It annoys the deer, but a year later the whole place is over grown and there are lots and lots of critters all over. No, you certainly don't have an ecosystem like an old growth pine forest, but the animals are hardly wiped out. AFAIK, a lot of US timber off of private lots is used that way.
  • But I don't want to live in a time when the environment is trashed.

    Looks like I have not choice, though. Thanks mom and dad for polluting the air. Thanks management for printing everything that goes through your computer.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "I have colleagues that don't even read their email until they print it out"

    My boss does the same thing. The other day I actually heard this quote come from his mouth: "Why do people e-mail this junk to me? Don't they realize what a waste of paper it is?"

    When I pointed out that e-mail can be read without printing it, the response I received was, of course, a blank stare.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You've touched on one of the best uses for paper, one area wheere computers could never possibly be superior...rolling.
  • People print stuff because printing is seen as providing a permanent copy. Computer copies are seen as impermanent.

    Windows has made people believe that computers regularly self-destruct and irretrivably lose huge amounts of data. They would not believe that computers (with real OSes, even if the hardware is low-end) are normally limited only be a ready supply of power, even if an uptime stat jumped out from behind a bush and bit them on the ass.

    The "PC revolution" has put huge amounts of data in the hands of people who would not recognize a tape drive if one jumped out from behind the same bush and bit them on the ass. Naturally, these people aren't familiar with fire safes, off site storage, backup procedures, or proper physical procedures (like mirroring disks).

    People, thanks to two generations of pinko-weirdness with public education, would not recognize mathematical reality if it jumped out from behind that increasinly crowded bush and bit them, yet again, on their welt-covered ass.

    Concepts like data integrity, scalability, and so on are completely unfamiliar to most people. Distributed Windows systems has merely distributed the fear.

    I trust computer records to be around for years because I have spent most of my life on VAXen, mainframes, and UNIX. I regularly work with COBOL older than me (I am 29). I work with databases full of data that was on tape before I was born. As far as I understand, data is not supposed to ever go away. As far as people who have only worked with Windows understand, it goes away all the time.

    This paranoia (justified with Windows) makes people who don't understand that math at all well very leery of getting digital signatures the same status as real ones or even photocopies. It is this lack of confidence that makes that job harder.

    This is just another example of what damage Microsoft has done.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    When the subject is still vague in your mind, there is no UI that works better than pencil and eraser.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    1. It weighs less than a computer and is easier to carry around.
    2. You can read it without having to go to the computer, turn it on, and wait for it to boot.
    3. You can show it to other people easily.
    4. Since paper is cheap, multiple paper copies of a document can be passed out and read by a number of people at the same time, e.g. for a meeting.
    5. Paper holds more lines per page than a screen, which makes it easier to read source code.
    6. Paper lasts for hundreds of years, as opposed to magnetic media, which have lifetimes measured in decades, CD-ROMs, which may last 50 years or so, and web sites, which frequently vanish without warning. This is an especially important property for legal documents.
    7. Paper has no proprietary format to get in the way of its usefulness; anyone can read it.
    8. Paper can handle any arbitrary two-dimensional image; you're not limited to certain specific fonts, line styles, geometric shapes, etc. This is not true of word processors or browsers, where moving a document from one program to another can result in fonts, columnation, etc. being messed up.
    9. Printed documents will not become obsolete and therefore unreadable as technology advances. This is not true of disks, CD-ROMs, or other computer storage media. How many computers today can read 8" disks, or even 5.25" disks?
    10. It is easy for some group of bozos to eliminate a web site that they don't like by bringing legal pressure to bear. It is not so easy for them to find and eliminate several hundred thousand printed copies of the pages from that site.

    --- Brian
  • by Anonymous Coward
    People who obsessively print things out do so in large part because they don't understand file systems and can organize and find things better on paper. This is not their failing; typical hierarchical file systems are fairly counterintuitive for new computer users. That is, from a user interface perspective, they suck, and there's lots of room for improvement. (look at all the half-hearted attempts products like Office make to keep track of your files for you so you won't have to navigate the file system). How many times have you had to help someone who told you "Word lost my files again!"?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why not?

    Seriously, I superglued my resignation (when I was leaving the country!) to my boss's door -- I used a lot of glue, then spray lacquer. They had to sand it off.

    No, I couldn't have done that with a 21" Trinitron. At least, not easily and quickly.
  • Ok, since it has become pretty clear from the discussion so far that paper is here to stay, how about changing the way printed page is generated by a computer?

    Currently we place blank sheets of paper bought from elsewhere into a printer, printo them, and when done with the printed sheets either take them to a recycling center or a land fill. Instead, what if there was a printer that could take printed sheets, process them somehow, and the result would be freshly printed sheets? The technology to do this is not real clear or feasible at the moment, but since when has that stopped mankind before? :)

    This reminds me a bit of Babylon 5 where they had small plastic sheets they used as paper (which appeared to be clear and difficult to read against anything but a solid, contrasting background). Something like that would be easy to recycle directly for re-use.

    Anyway, just an idea.
    ------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------

  • I think Guggenheim invented the museum [].

  • _
    It did remove the need for paper.

    The problem is that it did not remove the desire for paper.

  • A display the size and thickness of a Sony Vaio
    cover, running on battery for about 5 hours straight, with a pen interface like the pilot, and an infrared or shortrange radio connect to a base station, providing a resolution of 150 dpi or better.

    If I had such a thing, I would never grep paper again. ht://dig rules. This would be just so Star Trek!
  • THis is not entirely true. You've seen your friendly neighboorhood "National Forest" before I'm sure. Well, you might be suprised to learn what those forests are for. The actual purpose of National Forests is to sell those trees to people who need wood. I'm assuming that part of "people who need wood" is the paper companies. So while trees ARE a renewable resource, they're not renewed.

    On another note however, I read just last week that the National Forest people are the only group in the country (private sectors included) that cut down more trees than they plant every year. So they're the biggest offenders anyway.

  • Hey, that's easy, you've already got buy-in from upper management. Get him to mandate printing quotas, reduce the number of available printers, and place the available printers in locations where people have to walk as far as possible to get to them. Also, keep paper and toner supplies under lock and key, with very few people having the key. Then place only a minimum of extra paper near the printers, no toner.

    People are afraid of technology, but they are also lazy. I am inclined to thing that laziness will win out, but it is worth an experimental try anyway.

    Heck, you probably only need management buy-in to institute quotas, the rest you can do on your own.

  • Heh, I understand the bit about the internet account...Took me about a year to get him to have one. Now he uses it a lot, but kept saying back before he had it..."I will probably never use anything like that."

    Oh well..Eventualy he'll get it all right :)
    Maby before he retires (he's like 58)
  • That is of the reasons I run in console on my notebook (other than the fact that X is slow with 8 megs of ram). But, It's still not as good, as being able to just look. Having both documents open at the same time, and just being able to glance over, and right back. Luckely wyse terminals are cheap...I think I paid like $25 for most of mine...a couple where just free.

    Too bad they are all back, and green...I would kina like color sometimes...mostly for BitchX...crackrock, ya know?
  • Ok, first off, I like to read in the bathroom. Mostly while taking a nice hot bath. Read many a fine novel in there. Not to mention various users manuals..But, oddly enough, I use my PalmPilot for this. I've got 4 megs of ram on it. So I can store quite a bit of information. And, the nice thing, is I can use it even if the light is not goodenough for paper. Thank the gods for backlighting. I fear droping it a bit, but not too much. I keep a backup, and water won't fry it too bad...probably just make me restore a backup, and take it apart, and clean it. Done that enough times already.

    So, in general, I *NEVER* print anything off...heck, I don't even own a printer...I have 6 computers...monitors stacked/side by side...2/3. This works very well for comparing odds, and ends. I am still a bit dumbfounded how people can get by with just one monitor. Have slashdot up on one, icq on another, irc on the next, emacs the next, and one for mp3's...(note, most of these are dumb terms(Wyse baby!)).

    Now, on the other hand, my father (who will remain anonymous), has a computer I put togehter for him (quite nice), and with it, a digital camera, scanner, and a nice printer. He prints off everything you can imagine. Gets email...prints it off, and deletes it (he doesn't want to fill the 12gig HD:). Same thing with pictures he scans in, or photos he takes with the camera. It's pretty cheesy in my opinion, but, he is so set in his ways. I don't know how to fix the probelm. Oh, the other thing he does, is when he saves a file, he saves to disk(yes, floppy). He has stacks of disks laying around bigger than I did when I was a kid (I only had a floppy drive on my first computer).

    As much as I hope for a paperless office, I don't expect to see it at this rate...except in my own home...
  • This problem will finally go the way of the Dodo when the internet is available in the bathroom. Now, no more need to print that Howto before I go for a sit. Just look it up in the john. Btw, I think the ibook and airport will be the beginning of this. Sure I can take a laptop to the bathroom now, but who wants to drag an ethernet/phone cable in?
  • The ``abundance of paper'' phenomenon may be successfully "analyzed" via the economic perspectives of supply, demand, cost, and value.


    • Paper has gotten very cheap.

      This means that the cost of wasting some paper is low.

    • Enhancements in computing technologies have made it easier and cheaper to generate more and more (possibly more attractive) output.
    • The proliferation of larger and larger quantities of information means that there's more data that could be printed...
    • A 48 inch monitor is too expensive to consider buying, whilst a ream of paper costs a couple of dollars.

    The net result is that it's cheap to generate piles of paper, and computers have made it easier and increasingly efficient to do so.

  • What if rolling-papers were made of hemp?

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • not neccessarily,
    what we need is something the size of like, a car key, that has "enough" storage, and can holographically project a screen about the size of a sheet of paper.

    Also probably should have wireless networking, etc.

    hey, build one of those things, and I'll buy one! guaranteed!

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • God, I know so many non-computer people who are like that.

    My mother in law insisted that I set up Word on her PC to save to A: by default. Never mind that it crashes on startup if there's no disk in A:. Everything to floppies. She doesn't trust the HD, and won't pay for an internet acct.

    The only way I could keep her daughter from printing, was I didn't buy a printer for the first two years we had a computer. She learned how to deal with stuff electronically, and not rely on a printer, despite my schenanigans (dinking with the machine, OS reinstalls, etc.) having occasionally set her work back. Luckily, I've always had tape backup. Yup, that's right, I bought a tape drive before I considered buying a printer.

    "The number of suckers born each minute doubles every 18 months."
  • I agree. I was only suggesting using the monitor's controls because that's the only way I can think of doing that right now.

    Some monitors with more digital controls can "save" profiles, yes? Do those profiles ever include brightness/contrast settings?
  • I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "color range". The main thing to account for from an ergonomics standpoint is a) eyestrain due to the differing brightnesses of a monitor as compared to ambient room lighting; and b) different definitions of "white". Your brain tends to "adapt" to different lighting conditions, changing its own internal definition of "white" to match it as close as it can to the room's lighting. Having your monitor's "white" be a bluish color relative to your room light causes your eyes and brain to have to do a bit more work keeping colors sorted out. Plus, for those of us that do screen -> print work, color matching becomes a necessity.

    I'm not sure how this affects the "color range" per se. It should affect color *correction*, sure. If you're worried about dropping your brightness/contrast too low for good gaming (where a bright color is meant to be seen as an "uncomfortably" bright light source), adjust your monitor. The brightness/contrast controls are meant to be easy to get at. *shrug*. Many games also have an internal "gamma" setting that could be used to compensate a for a monitor's conservative settings in this fashion.
  • You're making this more complicated than it needs to be.

    1. Set your brightness to maximum (100%) and contrast to a minimum (0%).

    2. Slowly bring your brightness setting down until the color "black" on your screen is as black as it's going to get (in a well-lit room, this can easily mean leaving the brightness setting at 100%).

    3. Starting with contrast at a minimum, slowly bright it up until the color "white" on your screen matches the brightness of things lit by ambient light in your room.

    4. If you want to go a bit further (after you've installed new lighting or moved your PC to another place, for example) and want to do color correction, now would be a good time to do that as well by adjusting your monitor's "color temperature" until the color "white" on your monitor closely matches other "white" items in your room.

    In most cases, all I ever adjust is the contrast control depending on the lighting. "Brightness" only really matters if you're in low light conditions (where "black" might actually appear "gray", sorta like your TV when you have the lights out), and color correction is a pretty constant thing.
  • by Fastolfe ( 1470 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @09:03AM (#1656064)
    Most people don't realize what the "color temperature" and brightness/contrast controls are really for. Most people have these adjusted at their highest (or default) values and never think to change them.

    The general idea is to adjust the brightness and contrast controls so that the whitest white on your screen is no brighter than a piece of paper held up beside it, and the darkest black is the lightest black that appears "black" (i.e. as low as it'll go to the point where you can't tell the difference anymore). That gives you a full, rich contrast of brightness on par with everything else in the room.

    In addition, most people will discover that the color "white" on their monitor is quite a lot bluer than a "white" piece of paper. This is due to lighting in the room and SHOULD be compensated for by taking advantage of the monitor's color temperature setting or through the use of software such as Adobe's gamma/color correction utility.

    So basically, the white on your screen should match the color and brightness of a white piece of paper held up beside it.

    If you change the lighting near your PC, at the very least adjust the brightness/contrast to match (that's why these controls are so accessible).

    You'll find it's a LOT easier to stare at a monitor all day if it's properly configured.
  • Hemp is an even more renewable resource!
  • by Matts ( 1628 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:13AM (#1656066) Homepage
    You can read it in the bath, in bed, on the train, upside down, on the loo, anywhere there's enough light and a comfy seat. (While you can read a palm pilot in the bath and all those other places, a chunk of paper is easier to replace if you drop it in)

    You can write on it. Don't underestimate the value of scratching notes onto things - the number of notes I've made on my printouts of important RFC's is uncountable (well, I'm not going to count them :)). While electronic annotations are available, they're not nearly as good as being able to just draw an arrow up to another part of the text.

    It's quicker to write on paper than fire up some application - even on a palm pilot. (NB: This requires the availability of pens - something most households and offices seem to have a vast shortage of - in fact I'm convinced of the existance of a pen demon somewhere that hordes pens).

    You can bend paper. Paper aeroplanes are very theraputic - especially when made of some of the RFC's :)

    You can eat paper. OK - it's not exactly a Whopper - but it's a "fun snack between meals" (TM).

    It's healthier to read than a CRT. (and probably healthier to eat...)

    It makes you look important and busy. Try looking busy with a cluttered WindowMaker. Now try it with a cluttered desk - much better :)

    It keeps the office alive - think what a boring place it would be if no-one had to bash the printer or swear at the NT box doing print serving.

    Paper is here for good. Let's hear it for paper!

    perl -e 'print scalar reverse q(\)-: ,hacker Perl another Just)'
  • Heh. PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation?

    Interestingly enough, the PADD is getting close to a reality. If someone could combine wireless networking and the Sun Ray 1 into a convenient hand held package with decent handwriting recognition input (no small trick), we'd be there.
  • There are more acres of forested land in the United States now than there were at the founding of this country.
  • One of the reasons for paper's popularity is that you can put is somewhere other than at your monitor and leave it there.

    Just last night I got a list of events around our state from the web, printed it, and posted it on our kitchen bulletin board. Why? So it would be a reminder whenever we're thinking of things to do. Likewise, class notes can go in my briefcase, spreadsheets can go in my financial files, etc., etc.

    It's much faster to have what I want where I want than to have to go to the computer for it.

    In the wider view (taking in books, magazines, advertising flyers, etc.), there are fewer places to look if they're in the real world. My programming texts go near the computer, but mysteries are in the bookshelves in the spare bedroom, impressive tomes are in the bookshelves in the living room, cookbooks are in the kitchen, and I know where to find them. There are just too many places to hide them on a hard drive.

    Finally, I can move them so they're near each other but not overlapping, so I have instant access. (Don't kid yourself, two-keystroke access is not instant.)

    Some of these problems can be solved by faster CPUs and graphics systems, some by better organizing methods, some by lighter computers. But, it's going to take a long time for all those to come to fruition, and in the meantime computing has made it easier to find information we would like to keep handy---thus, more printing for the forseeable future.

  • Most inter-office communication is by e-mail (which actually improves tracking compared to photocopies).
    I take all my quick notes with a "cat > " or notepad.exe depending on environment.
    More and more general resources are on our intranet.
    The rest are usually dumped on a network drive.

    The only thing I printed all week was my timesheet, and that's because that still has to be signed off on by a supervisor.
  • ...balancing a 17" under your bum whilst hovering over the toilet would just be plain messy.

  • Ultimately, I find that I use paper on a few occasions.

    First, for documentation. Bluntly, this is just because it is much easier to have the book to the left of the keyboard, the mouse to the right and the screen in the middle. Maybe if I got two monitors...

    Second, for things that I want to study (and understand) deeply. For example, when I study religious matters (e.g. the bible) I almost always use paper copies, even though a lot of the materials I use are quite expensive on paper and cheap or free online. For whatever reason, I have a more solid connection to a paper document than to an electronic one.

    This really isn't about paper, but I'll throw it out. Another reason I use paper for religious studies is because I find that I am tired of computers at the end of the day. I want at least one area of my life that is not computer oriented.

    I guess that's the same reason I play a piano instead of a keyboard.
  • That's why you have to be careful. Even a forest is renewable, if you do it right. The tricks are as follows:

    1) Plant one tree for every one you cut down. Better, in fact, to plant several in case some don't make it.
    2) Cut a forest in sections, and do not touch the sections which are not currently being cut at all.
    3) Make each section small enough that by the time the forest is finished, the trees that had been planted first will be at about the same size as the originals were (though probably not the same age). Furthermore, the flora and fauna, which were not disturbed in any section of the forest that was not being cut at any given time, are given a chance to repopulate the area.

    The problem with this method is an economic one: it would take many forests to maintain current volumes. Nonetheless, I see no other way of doing this. I will say that some logging companies cut a forest in strips, such that the forest on either side of the strip is not touched; this seems to be a relatively sensible way of sectioning a forest to be cut.

    You are right about one thing: humans have no more right to the planet than any other form of life. But keep in mind, we have no less right either.
  • Actually, that is what I use (thats who I work for), its still not enough though. Anything that isn't about twice the effective height of a letter in a typical text book looks thin and spindly. It's alright for the occasional bit of text, but prolonged reading is painful.
  • The problem is the lack of resolution. IEEE has a comendable online presense, I can download the last N years of articles for any periodicals I subscribe to. I do this frequently, they're Adobe PDF files which are pretty portable. The only problem is that they're fairly illegible even on the 21" monitor before me, so I end up printing them out.

    You could zoom in and read that way but the charts are typically scattered and you end up zooming in and out for cross referencing and is generally just a pain.

    There's just not enough dpi to legibly display a full page of text at the font sizes periodicals are published in.

    For schematics and stuff I never print them out unless I'm going to go over something with somebody, it's nice to be able to mark things up on the fly.
  • According to the EPA faq [], paper represents 36% of waste. It may not seem like it, but most of that is actually in the form of cardboard boxes, not printer paper.

    I too print stuff out on rare occasions, like pdf or ps docs. With postscript, the problem is the blurry fonts, and with both pdf and ps my 17" screen is too small to display the whole page which is frustrating. You also can't mark up a pdf doc with highlighter.

    And for goodness sakes, how long do Slashdotters take to shit? If it's more than five minutes, then eat more dietary fiber or just concentrate harder.

  • by nadador ( 3747 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:39AM (#1656077)
    The real problem is faster printers, and cheaper printers too. Before, when the printer were slow, you carefully considered what to print out. Now that there's no penalty, you can just print it out.
    Andrew Gardner
  • by named ( 3909 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:27AM (#1656078)
    I honestly doubt that even close to 'all' of the paper used in the US is from tree farms. I know that the pulp & paper industry in canada (especially on the west coast, where i'm from) does, indeed, cut down large swaths of untouched forest to make newsprint (and other fine products). At least they did when I was still watching.

    as many other people have commented, hemp would make wonderful paper. You get (i think) 4x as much product out of an acre of hemp as out of an acre of forest. And for some reason, hemp grows like a weed :)
  • This is an interesting contrast (which, by the way, paper does better, but I digress). Computers are better for things interactive - participatory activities like tutorials, surfing, email, and so forth. They are limited by environmental conditions (you can't use them in the damp outdoors, extreme heat or cold, bright sunlight) and battery life (paper gets much better battery life). Random access is generally faster on paper - the "indexing" technology is more sophisticated for books and newspapers, and is, in fact, an index (and/or table of contents).

    Plus, paper is ideally suited to passive absorption of information - it's cheaper, more pervasive, and less sensitive to most conditions (neither most paper nor most computers work well underwater...). Society has built a massive infrastructure that is incredibly well-suited to the cheap manufacture and distribution of paper. Not to mention, paper producers that depend on advertising dollars make actual profits (newspapers and magazines), unlike those who use the computer screen as an advertising medium. Then again, the electronic folks have more valuable stock... (hello, Andover.Net!)

    Many years back, I wrote a humor piece for a user group newsletter comparing the "first" PDA, the Newton MessagePad, to a similar device. The link is here, on my homenet server []. Was I ahead of my time, or what?

    - -Josh Turiel
  • Yes, yes, many posts have commented on the ease of reading paper over a monitor, and the portability, durability, disposability of paper over electronic media. If it is the case that people are printing things out to read on the bus/toilet/beach/etc., why do they not pickup their printouts? Every day when I go home I throw 10-100 pages of printouts into the recycle bin next to the printer. If I thought my computing budget would actually see any of the money, I would start lpd accounting.
  • I had no printer at home for a very long time, and finally bought one, which I used to print two time sheets. At work I print nothing, unless it is for a client to look at, and I always offer it in electronic format first unless the client is coming onsite.

    If a book is available at Gutenberg's site, I read it online, or have my speech synth read it to me.

    Now, the downside is we are still depleting resources, because of the electricity that allows you to be online anyway. Wasting trees to produce papers that will be referred to only once, however, seems so WRONG that I just can't bring myself to do it.
  • Well, it could be argued that one algorithm should not take more than one page. 24 lines isn't usually enough to see even a whole function but on a vertically maximized xterm you should be alright even on a 14"

    I am paying something like $10.00 for telnet access only...
  • I know that my reams of printing is due to the fact that I sit at a computer many to many hours and that I like to get in my recliner and read technical stuff. I do have many binders full of useful information. Why not keep it pure digital.. I tire of a monitor. I look for comfort and quiet to do my reading. Paper people need to switch to hemp, bastards need to stop using such a limited resource.. That or get more genetic wacky on them.
  • My thinking is that, while information technology has advanced greatly, so has printer technology. Almost everyone has access to a laser printer or high-quality inkjet, and even low-end printers output at 6 ppm now. Remember when a 2 ppm laser printer cost $5000? Not too long ago. So now people have more information to deal with, and an easy, quick, high-quality way to "transform" that information into a medium they are comfortable with.

    It doesn't matter how quickly electronic paper and PDAs advance - until such technology is in the schools, and kindergarten students are learning to write the alphabet on it, people will still choose paper. It's the earliest "information technology" we are exposed to, so it's the one we're most comfortable with. Couple that with the general unreliability most folks think is inherent in computers (thanks to the abundance of crappy PC software), and they're far more likely to trust a pen and a daytimer than a Palm XVXIII.

    Anyhow, that's my hypothesis, and I'm sticking with it.

  • Well, I have yet to see any computer that's as portable as a couple of pieces of paper. You can call it a "notebook" computer, but it still weighs three to five pounds, only runs a couple of hours on a charge and is a bitch to read in harsh sunlight. You can fold up a piece of paper and stuff it in your pocket. There's no waiting for the OS to boot when you want to read it, or fiddling with scrollbars. You can more or less instantly flip back and forth between bookmarks. You can read a piece of paper sitting at a desk, or in your easy chair, or at the beach, or sitting up in a tree.

    Also, computer screens are still really low resolution compared to even a poor printout. Compare a 28 pitch monitor with a 300DPI printout, and it's no wonder hackers have such problems with their eyes...

  • I currently have several issues with electronic documents that cannot be addressed with paper yet.

    1) Electronic documents are far too easily modified and destroyed. I think this is the biggest issue I have with electronic data so far. I personally have accidentally blown away important docs by accident, and I think of myself as a pretty computer-savvy user.

    Think about the FDA and thier regulation of bio-med companies. They still require all document control systems to be paper-based, since electronic document control systems have yet to prove themselves and viable alternatives.

    2) Its not as convienent to use as paper... As listed in a previous post, you cannot scribble on an electronic doc like you can on paper. You cant take it with you in a convienent manner. PDAs are still not as simple and fast as a book or paper documents.

    3) Believe it or not, electronic devices (such as computers) are not ubiquitous enough for handling electronic docs efficiently. There is nothing about a Windows PC, or any PC for that matter that makes it as easy to store and transfer documents like paper. I can tear off a piece of paper and stick it in my pocket if I need to write down some directions to get somewhere. I don't have a internet terminal in my car when Im driving places (yet).

    To make it easy for me to get rid of paper documents, this is what I would need:

    1. A ROCK-SOLID extremely easy-to-use document control system. Making it difficult to accidentlly blow away files...
    2. an easy to use sort of PDA that allows quick access, editing, mark up and viewing of documents.
    3. Access to my docs from anywhere.. I should be able to click a button at work and grab some documents off my computer at home securely. I realize that it is not possible to do this with paper, but it would be more incentive to rid ourseleves of it if we had these obvious atvantages of electronic documents. A secure NFS share from my computer at home (connected to the internet via always on high-bandwidth connection) and internet terminals at every corner, every store, every car would make this possible.

    Gary Franczyk
  • I hate to nitpick but wouldn't it be
  • by sinator ( 7980 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:55AM (#1656088)
    It's interesting to see the desire to have a hardcopy of otherwise electronic documents. I posit that it is because of an innate human desire to have tactile input.

    Tactile input is very important in our lives. It's no coincidence that, differences among languages aside, all of them refer to emotional contact in primarily tactile terms. ("He has a thick skin, I feel a certain way, she rubs me the wrong way," etc.) Studies show that babies who don't receive enough tactile input literally wither away.

    This is why point-and-click-and-drag-and-drop is such a powerful concept in computing. When Alan Kaye (I hope I got that name right) at PARC designed Smalltalk, he was on to something. Language can be three things: kinesthetic (literal, seeing, doing, action), iconic (the sound "kat" means this meowy purry thing here), and symbolic (abstract concepts; icons of icons). Most higher language is symbolic, this includes computer languages 2GL and higher. The Drag and Drop computing paradigm made what I like to call 'symbolic kinesthetism' -- the little icons and menus were symbols, but they were accessed in a very 'touchy feely' sort of way, and that's why a Mac (for instance) can appeal to all ages.

    Granted, it may not be as powerful, and granted, confusing the simplicity with inconsistency (a Start Menu to shut down??) can offset it, but on the whole, the desire for tactile -- or pseudo-tactile input -- makes such computing paradigms advance. Hence, the Apple and NeXT user interfaces.

    But back to paper. The fact is, the human desire to FEEL the paper is very strong. Electronic pads, although just as portable as a notepad, just don't have the same feel. We, as animals, have lived our lives with the notion that to see the rest of something, we either move it or move our eyes or move ourselves. With a computer, scrolling, you don't move; the screen doesn't move; yet somehow the image changes. That's downright unsettling if you let your gut instincts think about it.

    Here's a demonstration. Please don't hurt yourself doing it, and I take no responsibility for any injuries caused by this. Put your finger to the corner of your eye and VERY VERY GENTLY nudge the eye. You'll see a very weird thing happen. You haven't moved, the world hasn't moved, and your brain didn't TELL your eyes to move -- but because your eye has unwillingly been pushed out of the way, the image skews. Now you know what the reptile within you thinks when its sees words scroll but the monitor -- and you -- stay still.

    In many ways, such desire to move things around as if we were kids or apes or whatever is a limitation, but it's also part of what makes us human. Call it a charming quirk, if you will. And although I can always sit and read at a terminal, the "Paperless Society" is not kinesthetically comfortable enough for me. ;-)

  • I would have to say that I agree with your hypothesis. I too used to be one of those print-it-out; hand-edit-it people, because I found my comprehension was higher on the printed page. That is until about 4 years ago when I gave my old 486 and printer to my brother. Without the printer I trained myself to read my code in the editor, and now, when I do print code out to review while in the john, on the plane, or in my bed, I find I cannot really read-and-comprehend without a lot more effort than before.

    Kudos to your insight into the situation!
  • The way I see it, there are several possible reasons for the paper flood:
    • Handling 1: You simply can't take your electronic notes to a meeting - at least not that easily
    • Handling 2: Nothing is as portable as a sheet of paper - you can read through it everywhere, whereas for electronic texts, you need to sit down in front of a screen or at least own a laptop or similar (which is not as nice to handle)
    • Handling 3: Ever tried to mark an important text passage in a PDF file you didn't write yourself and to which you only have read access?
    • Distrust: Most people still have a very deep distrust when it comes to computers. The fear to loose informations in case of a crash is always there. Unfortunately, over the past years, this fear has been nourished by the shoddy quality of most consumer computer products (H/W and S/W), like e.g. by a certain company in Redmond... (SCNR).
    • Ergonomy: Even with very good monitors, many people (including me) find text on paper easier on the eyes than text on screens.

    I wonder how these obtacles could be overcome - something like "electronic paper", maybe. It would have to be extremely easy to use, however, otherwise it won't catch on.

    My 2 Eurocent,

  • Plus... if it is on the web, who cares if it gets trashed because you can always retrieve it later.

    Which is *the* reason to get a copy. Who knows what kind of an idiot is running that webserver... It won't be the first time that I've made the mistake of relying on some website to stay up when it didn't. Webmasters can be just as likely to trash something, or rm -rf it if they don't think it's important.

    If it's something important: Make a copy. Either hard or preferably backed up softcopy, but I *will* make a copy.

  • Maybe you shouldn't read manuals in the bathroom. In Illuminatus we were all reminded of the Zen proverb "Never whistle while you're pissing"!
  • With all the folks here extolling the virtues of paper, I'd like to take a moment to extoll the virtues of electronic media.

    - Linking. I hate doing code reviews where everyone has piles of paper and can't find a definition, or even which file corresponds to which dog-eared clump. If we all were looking at checked out images in a development environment we could find things so much faster.

    - History. Many document reading systems have some form of backtracking, which makes grouping the three pages you want to look at almost automatic. To look at three related pages in three different bound documents can be quite a chore.

    - Color. Most folks do not have color printers. and if they do, they usually don't use them to generate listings or memos. Color cues in a well-designed GUI greatly enhance readability and navigation.

    - Compactness. I can carry a huge amount of information on my Powerbook and it will never weight more than 8 lbs.

    - Timeliness. I read Apple's documentation on line (I do Mac development for a living). I always know I have the latest docs just by virtue of them being read from Apple's developer site. If I print them out, they, may go out of date and I would never know.

    Many of these virtues are the flip side of the Subject: line - paper just sits there, but electronic media can have arbitrary levels of functionality, from hyperlinks to odd things like built-in calculators in an electronic tax form.

    I find paper so irritating to use that I am constantly puzzled by folks who print things out all the time. Unless I need driving directions or copies of my tax forms for a bank (this week's hard-copy) I almost never do.

    As for the claims that paper is easier on the eyes, I think about half the problem is that everyone uses such terrible monitors. 17" pieces of crap with awful tubes seem to be standard just about everywhere. One of the advantages of owning my own business is that we have beautiful 21" monitors at a good ergonomic height with decent lighting. Makes all the difference in the world.
  • Throw it away, the paper easily decomposes

    Actually it doesn't. Go check out the garbage project [].
  • by SamHill ( 9044 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @11:14AM (#1656095)
    Lately I've been working as an editor rather than as a Unix sysadmin
    (editing books on LaTeX, as it happens), and I can tell you that it is
    infinitely easier to edit textual material using paper and pen than on


    1. Screen resolution is still very low.

    Macs have 72 dpi; Windows 96 dpi. X seems to use either 75 or
    100 dpi, depending on what fonts you have installed. None of
    these are very high quality for long-term reading, especially if
    you consider flicker, sunlight (or room lights) bouncing off the
    screen, and other related factors. Compare that with the output
    of a modern laser printer. Mine does 1200 dpi, and it's fast.
    Most printers these days produce output with at least 600 dpi
    resolution. Even 300 dpi (from the bad old days) is better on
    your eyes than staring at a screen.

    2. Word processors and text editors encourage sloppy writing.

    It's very easy to copy and paste, and equally easy to fail to
    adjust the pasted text properly. Verbs and articles don't match
    (``these objects was''), words are repeated (``the the''), words
    are left out (``when Charlie he wanted''). Because you can't
    see the whole text (see #3), it's also easy to repeat yourself,
    or leave something important out.

    Spell checkers don't catch most of these errors (some will catch
    the repeated words). They also won't stop you from using a
    properly spelled word in the wrong way (``It's over their!'').

    3. You can never see the whole text at once.

    When you're trying to remember what you wrote five pages back,
    it's far easier to flip back five pages and compare them side by
    side than to search out the phrase in an editor. Sure you can
    open a new window and compare them, but you're still looking at
    them on screen, and how much screen real estate do you really

    4. It's easier to reorganize physical objects than virtual ones.

    While reading through a text, it's easy to spot how two things
    in different sections relate, and recombine them, even using
    scissors and tape, glue, or staples (the original cut and

    5. Reading material on paper encourages rewriting and rethinking,
    which are almost always a good thing.

    Sentences and phrases that seemed great when you wrote them
    often pale when you read them again. Because a paper copy is
    detached from the electronic version, you're forced to look at
    the rewrite holistically, rather than concentrating on one or
    two words.

    Not only that, but reviewing what you've written may give you
    some new insights into the material, allowing you to see how
    some ideas fit together or complement one another.

    6a. Printed material is cleaner than electronic material.

    Assuming you're not using a WYSIWYG editor, it's much easier to
    concentrate on the *content* of your writing when you don't have
    all the markup instructions cluttering your view. This goes for
    LaTeX, HTML, XML, SGML, and any other similar system.

    6b. Printed material lets you see how things really look.

    Even if you're using a tool that allows you to concentrate on
    the content rather than the appearance of your document, you
    often can't really see (WYSIWYG or no) what your document looks
    like until you have it in front of you in its final form. This
    comment doesn't really apply to HTML, of course, since you can
    never really know what a page will look like on every user's

    As for code, today's editors certainly make it easier to see what
    various parts of your code are (through keyword coloring, changes in
    typeface, etc.). Ultimately, however, extremely subtle problems can
    often only be found after a detailed code review -- away from the
    machine where you can be distracted by an endless number of tiny
    changes you could try, where your code has to stand on its own. Such
    code review encourages clear writing and the extensive use of comments
    to explain what's going on. A really clever trick that saves you a
    few milliseconds may, after examination, turn out to be completely
    incomprehensible, even to you, and a nightmare to maintain. Having
    your code spread out in front of you is also apt to give you more
    insight into ways in which you can combine functions to reduce the
    overall complexity of your program.

    I have serious doubts that computers (in whatever form, even as
    paper-sized screens with incredible resolution) will ever truly
    replace pen and paper as the ultimate writing tool. Computers are
    useful tools, especially for keeping track of citations and
    references, and for producing high-quality (i.e., typeset) output, but
    high-quality output depends on high-quality input, and in some very
    important ways the strengths of the computer interfere with the
    production of that high-quality input. (To sum up the last paragraph,

  • If you've read about the stuff, e-ink (I'm probably wrong about the exact name), when it is readily and cheaply available, I'll stop printing things on paper. E-ink media gives you the freedom, flexibility, and ease of viewing to the eyes that paper does, without the CRT or LCD hassle. Simply put CRT/LCD technology just doesn't stack up to all the advantages that plain-old-paper has. Try folding up the web version of the NY Times when viewing it on your 19" monitor.

  • I can't believe that there are so many paper apologists among slashdotters! Personally I could probably count the documents I've committed to paper in the last five years on one hand. Paper is just too slow, documents (source code especially) just too big, and you can't do searches or hit hyperlinks. With modern graphics cards and 500MHz processors, even the "flipping pages" argument doesn't hold water: the computer can keep up with my visual cortex now.
  • By far, the printing technology alone has a lot do with the increasing trend to print out the document. I've managed to observe this simply at work.

    I actually bothered to take these statistics down from my workplace. In each case, these stats were taken over three normal work weeks.

    When our best printer at the workplace could do barely 3 pages per minute, the average amount of jobs sent to the company's printers (a company of 20 employees and 3 printers) showed an average of 47 print jobs per day with an average print job size of 4.3 pages.

    When we replaced one of the printers with a machine that could run nearly 15 pages per minute, the stats jumped to an average of 62.8 print jobs per day with an average print job size of 7.2 pages. The single faster printer accounted for about 250 pages of printing more per day alone. Most of this increase was being attributed to larger documents taking less time to print and thus requiring less wait for a user to ready a hard copy than consult an electronic version.

    But what is more staggering is that the fast printer was in heavy use during bigger projects with tighter deadlines. The fast printer could easily spit out 750-1000 pages per day.
  • When you hold a book, magazine or report in your hands, you have a lot of information about the object you'll never get from the same information presented on a screen. Whether you realize it or not, the mind makes associations as to WHERE past information was located on a page, how much further to the end of the article, the relationship of information in a work such as by chapters, etc., etc.

    I think we underestimate the physical and visual indicators we get from physically handling media. I believe that if these types of cues can be reproduced in an electronic format that then -- and only then -- will we begin to see the decline in paper. Electronic bookmarking and highlighting and just too primitive at this point to replace these physical manifestations that indicate that "reading" is much more than just processing the information with the eye.
  • As a technical writer, I of course face this problem a lot :)

    There are quite a few reasons, some technology-related, some emotional/philosophical.

    In general, you expect that things that are going to be read in-depth are going to be printed in my business. Why? Because people often want to read material such as this away from the computer, or want to be able to refer to it easily while they are doing something at the computer. It's still easier to look at a book you have open on your desk then to swap windows around so you can see a help window.

    Also consider that the print-density of paper is such that we can pack more information into it. Online, you usually just have a single column of text. Any large diagrams will usually take up the entire reader window. On paper, we can have a single column of text, along with notes on the side. There is plenty of room for a diagram. Enough room, in fact (especially if you think of a book format, where there are two pages side-by-side) that we can actually *comment on it* along with just presenting it.

    There's also the fact that reading paper is simply more comfortable for people. If my eyesight isn;t all that great (which it isn't, actually) I can bring the page closer so I can see it better, and still be able to read in a comfortable fashion. If I'm reading a screen, I have to lean in and crane my neck. Very unfomcortable.

    Another factor is that it's easy to mark up a document when it's printed. I've yet to see an online system that does comments the right way. It would actually be easy to develop a system that would totally blow away the old-fashioned print it out and mark it with a red pen system... but no one has bothered to.

    Of course, there are technological fixes that can take care of all these things. I won't go into them here.

    The psychological reasons are harder to overcome. Some ./'ers, rather predicably, called people who prefer paper to online "stupid" and "backwards." Question to you: of all the written correspondence that you have recieved in paper form, how much of it has been inadvertently lost or destroyed? Now, how much of your e-mail has suffered the same fate? As a simple practical matter, paper is more durable than electrons. If the network is down, I can still get at my paper printouts. If the hard drive crashes, I can still get at my paper copies of my documents. We're still not living in a totally fail-safe world computer-wise. And, especially consider many people don't know all that much about computers, and they have to rely on the guys systems to make backups and stuff like that. People who aren't geeks don't feel secure that they have control over their information unless it is printed.

    Listen... we've been using print for archiving information for centuries (over a millenium, if you count the monks scribbling away in their scriptoriums). I think it's a wee bit premature to expect all of that to suddenly vanish with a poof overnight. And it has just been overnight. It's been barely 20 years since the desktop computer started to make inroads into the business and home. Without the long-term, large capacity storage options of CD-R, much of that history has seen the average computer simply unable to store the amounts of information that even a small business can generate.

    And, with the move from print to online, we're not just going to see a revolution in the media, we're going to see a revolution in the way we all use and store information itself. If it was just a dead-tree to online edition transfer, we'd have no problems. No major uphevils in the fabric of many institutions. But, in this new era, we've got a load of questions to resolve.

    In the past, we paid for "stuff." When I bought a CD, I had a physical object. You all, of course, have been hearing the dilemma of the music indistry and recording artists of late with MP3. Without "stuff" that actually has to change hands in order for their content to change hands, how do we make sure people can benefit from their labor? Should we just scrap the idea of selling information, be it a novel, a song, or your medical history, since that information can so easily be copied?

    What about saving e-mail? Do companies have a requirement to store e-mail the same way they store other documents?

    And, every few years, organizations switch from one platform to another: mainframe to mainframe, mainframe to PC, PC to PC, software program to software program. If a document you suddenly need wasn't converted from the system a few steps back, you're in trouble. Paper is always cross-platform.

    Simply put: people know paper works. For sure.

    And, there is the societal resistance to change. It's not really rooted in individuals, but in institutions.

    Let me draw an analogy to the type of changes information technology can bring. Before Gutenburg invented the printing press, Europe had a single, fairly centralized religion: Catholocism. The word of God went from the Pope, down through the church hierarchy, and out finally to the unwashed masses. Why? Because that at the time was the best way to distribute the information. The masses couldn't read, since they had no need to. What they did from day-to-day could be accomplished without writing. God's word was in the bible, and bibles were rather scarce, as they took years, literally, to copy by hand.

    Now, along came Gutenburg, and all of a sudden you could pop out hundreds of bibles in just days. People began asking why they needed the church hierarchy when they could read what God had to say for themsleves. "Wait," said the church, "you still need our guidence!" "Bull," said Martin Luther. And the Reformation began.

    So... the changes that we have in our underlying information infrastructure can cause more than people to get anxious... they can cause wars. Institutions, government especially, will take time to catch up. I think it's actually a marvel that my bank, for example, lets me do my checking online through the Internet, when just 10 years ago that would have been science fiction. Human society and insitutions are simply not meant to work on Internet time. Nor should they.
  • "The paperless office will come soon after the paperless toilet."

    Now if only I can remember who said that...
  • by Iesu ( 12161 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:25AM (#1656111) Homepage
    A year ago I took a course in web design - mostly Shockwave and Flash development, but it started with a basic HTML primer. One of the first things the prof said was that we needed to learn to read text online. My initial reaction was, "God, what is he talking about?" But then during the course labs and while helping classmates, I noticed that when people looked up anything online, be it a taglist or Koch's syllabus, they printed it out. When people were working with their HTML docs they'd print a copy, edit it with a pen, type the changes, print it again, edit it with a pen again...

    Just yesterday I had a similar experience. Once again I'm in a Java course for newbies. When we got together to work on an assignment in groups, everybody but me printed out our example code, edited it with a pen...

    My hypothesis is that people who are not geeks print things because they learned to read on paper, and paper is the only environment within which they are used to reading - not checking to see if their friend emailed them that mp3 site, but in-depth, immersively reading.

    I think this is one of the cultural differences between geeks and nongeeks that causes confusion about UI frequently. People who have the nongeek only-reads-on-paper mindset and have only seen computers with "illiterate" - graphic, metaphoric - interfaces do not grok CLIs like *NIX in the sense that they can't even understand why you would want a computer that you have to read to use.

    Teach reading with a hypertext of Dick and Jane and see what happens.

  • I just finished printing a 74,000 page document that will probably never be read by ANYONE. It's just 9 boxes to collect dust in Penn State's basement :)

  • It's pretty hard to beat the convenience of paper. It's not only that it's lightweight, high contrast, and durable. Paper is also cheap to produce, cheap to print on, and easy to dispose of. It works without batteries, and it works everywhere. It can't break, and it works in a huge range of temperatures and environmental conditions (much wider than most portable electronics). There is very little cost associated with giving a piece of paper to someone else. And it's easy to understand how to destroy the human readable information on paper (fingerprints, digital watermarks, DNA, etc., of course, is much more difficult to destroy).

    Even if you met the convenience and durability of paper with an electronic product, you still have to face the problem that the electronic product is expensive. Would you take a $1000 rollup electronic newspaper with you everywhere?

    Paper can be produced more cheaply and more environmentally friendly from renewable resources. One of the primary ones would be (drug free) hemp.

  • In the book "When Things Start to Think", one of the things the author, a proffesor in MIT's media lab, discusses Electronic Paper. His idea, and I think it is a good one, is that that paper technology, although old, still good. It is very portable, can be read from any angle and in various lighting conditions. Instead of getting rid of paper, he says, we should improve it. They are developing Electronic Paper. A sheet of paper will be covered in "toner", that is really a tiny capsule that contains two even smaller particles, a white one and a black one. When exposed to a magnetic field, the paricles flip, displaying either back or white. When something like this comes out, I think it could really change the way we use paper.
  • While I agree with the above statement, I also would point out that many people see paper as proof... or perhaps something to hold on to.

    Perhaps some just feel that having a stack of paper on your desk *shows* that you are working, and have produced. If everything was confined to the digital insides of their machines, no one would see how much they have done/are doing. It is a silly notion, but I would bet there is a great deal of truth to it.

  • Back in the days of the dinosaurs, when I was learning to program on Unix Vaxen, a single print page cost 1 cent from my account, which was still cheaper than staying logged on for hours wading through the code. So I always printed everything out, logged off, and spent those hours of wading in the student lounge.

    I am trying to get out of this habit but it's hard. One thing that helps is a larger monitor, multiple windows, and a decent class browser. However, it's still nice to take the stack of dead trees and a red pen and go over them in the park under a live tree with the sun shining.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @11:18AM (#1656150)
    All of the economic analysis of hemp as a paper substitute that I have seen assume that the political problems associated with industrial hemp agriculture are solved. In fact, N. Dakota recently passed a law legalizing this, and I believe Wisconson may also do so soon.

    The problem is that most of the fiber is low quality. Hemp contains two types of fiber, bast and hurd. The bast is good, and can be made into high quality paper. The problem is that the hurd is crap, and accounts for 75% of the plant. For hemp to be competitive must be seperated from the bast. This both costs big bucks in the processing, but also generates a humungous waste stream. By comparison, groundwood softwood process fiber has an efficiency of 90+%. This means if you try to use hemp you are going to be stuck with a waste stream 7x larger than if you use softwoods.

    People often think that because you are not cutting down trees hemp makes a better choice for papermaking ecologically. Well, the fact of the matter is that there are other ecological costs in the papermaking process that are at least as important - paper is a very energy, water and waste intensive business. The use of hemp instead of softwood in this picture would be an ecological disaster because of the overall life cycle efficiency.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:42AM (#1656151)
    Speaking as a paper scientist who has kept up with the research on alternative fibers, the sad fact of the matter is that hemp makes a LOUSY sheet of paper for the buck! It is very difficult to beat softwood tree fiber for phyical properties, especially fiber strength, economical processing and overall life cycle cost for papermaking. If it were an economically attractive fiber source you can bet your bottom dollar the paper industry would be using it; they are EXTREMELY cost sensitive.

    If you are interested in this topic I would suggest the misc.industry.pulp-and-paper newsgroup.
  • You have a point, even though I'm sure we will be moderated into flame bait hell. All the paper that us used in the US comes from tree farms that are grown. The paper industry doesn't go around cutting down acres of undesturbes forest (that territory is for the shopping malls to go). Personally from what I've read though, its the disposal of paper that is the problem. Throw it away, the paper easily decomposes, but the ink doesn't. Recycle, the process or cleaning the ink from the old paper is as dangerous to the environment as any other option. I just sounds a lot better :)
  • AAAAAAARGHH! I'm blind!

  • There are definitely times that paper is the bes way to go, such as reading a book by the lake. However, there is NO reason to justify the huge quantities of paper that is being consumed.

    As a case in point, there is at least one or two people in our office that just live in the print room. They print thick stacks of paper that I know they never really look at. Then why do they do it? Because paper is tactile. For people who grew up with paper rather than keyboards having paper the feel of paper is important - it makes them feel like they are accomplishing something.

    The reason there is more of it now is simple, technology has given us more information and the ability to process it faster. More information means more paper.

    And not just to copy the same old information like it use to be, now they can print and generate NEW information. It's heaven for those addicted to the substance.

    Paper, like the post office, will slowly disappear. Give it a couple of generations.
  • I would like to expound on your point that paper is easier on the eyes. Many in this discussion have pointed out paper has much better resolution than a monitor, and this is very true.

    Just as important is that looking at a monitor all day is like looking straight into a light bulb all day.

    It's only natural to not want to look straight at things that produce light. Our bodies aren't designed for it, and it's psychologically against our nature. That is, our evolutionary ancestors that enjoyed looking into the sun didn't hang around long enough to reproduce.
  • We need something with an LCD screen about the size of a sheet of paper, that could display plain text, PDF's, and maybe html. For static content a passive LCD would work fine. A PCMCIA port would allow for swapping out documents, connecting to a network or computer.

    Trying to make such a device do everything [IE a computer] would make it nearly impossible to produce, so it should only do what it's desinged for: displaying text.
  • This has happened many times: PHB sees something marginally interesting and relevant on the web. He prints out a bunch of pages and brings them to ne next staff meeting to talk about.

    How many times have I wanted to make the case for a wireless net connection to a laptop with one of those overhead projector adapter thingies so PHB can impress us without printing out 10+ pages per employee!
  • Simple answer. Monitors are pathetic. Despite getting down to .22 dot pitch, they are still nowhere near as crisp and as sharp as the "old" 300 DPI printers.

    It's also the paradigm of work. Think of each screen on a computer as one sheet of paper. (You folks out there with giganto monitors, multiple monitors, or virtual desktops will comment that your workspace is bigger than one sheet of paper, but we're talking about the average user.) On the average desk, you can easily arrange 8 sheets of paper to work with. Writing on one, scribbling on another, and referencing the other 6 (3 open books?) is quite easy. Now, on the average 17" monitor, try reading one thing, and referencing another. The programs don't tile/cascade well while retaining their GUI (meaning the workspace-to-toolbar ratio changes).

    The modern monitor is metaphorically the old one-room-schoolhouse slate board. You do something on it, erase it, then do something else. Except that it is required to be your source of information, not just your information input.

    Until we get wraparound, gigantic, 300 DPI monitors with four times the area we have now, people will continue to print things out.
  • Printed material is easier on the eyes, the contrast is better, its more portable and you can leave it somewhere and not worry about it.

    Until we get some digital replacements that can meet these requirements, there will still be uses for printed material. []
  • Sorry, I still don't think even the snazziest of these techno-dreams adequately captures what makes paper work well. Take something simple, like physical pages. While they can be quite limiting at times (and certainly a good electronic document should not be rigidly constrained by pagination except when it is actually printed), they also provide a very good and intuitive navigation mechanism.

    If you're reading criticaly, one of the things you do frequently is flip back a few pages to review what was said there or see how it fits with what you just read, or perhaps you obviously missed a point back there. With paper, this is easy, and there is a natural and intuitive feel for how many pages back something is. It's not perfect, but it works well - much faster than searching, and it's fairly easy to mark your place at several locations at once, at least until you run out of fingers!

    This is really the point of my criticism of the state of reading software: we could build good readers, but we haven't yet. Even the basics of navigation within a document don't work well yet. Unfortunately, the best thing out there so far is possibly Acrobat reader, and it only works because it lamely imitates paper. We can and should do much better.
  • This was tried a few years ago. There was a company offering net notary services (I think they were actually called NetNotary) that would do a hash of what you sent them and notarize it. Daily (or weekly, I forget which) they took a hash of all the hashes they'd done for that period and published it in the Wall Street Journal.

    So far as I can tell, they went out of business - I can't find them now...
  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @12:02PM (#1656194) Homepage
    OK, I can't resist doing a quick little back-of-the envelope analysis on this one.

    I think most of us would like to use electronic versions more than we do. As with most things we talk about here, there are two problems: Hardware and Software. Both are big ones here. In order, then:


    The bandwidth of even a really good screen is at best a tiny fraction of a *single* sheet of paper.

    Do the math: At 600 dpi (the most common printer resolution these days) and assuming .5" borders around the page, you get a resolution of 30 Megapixels on a single A-size sheet:

    600 dpi x 600 dpi = 360,000 dots/in^2
    8 in x 10.5 in = 84 in^2
    Pixel equivalent of page, then is:
    360,000 x 84 = 30,240,000 (!)

    Even at 300 dpi, it's still 7,560,000 pixels!
    (84 in^2 x 90,000 dots/in^2 = 7.56 Megapixels)

    Even with the most sophisticated HDTV monitor (1920x1280? = 2,457,600 Megapixels) you've still got only a fraction of the real estate that a mediocre printer provides, at a price point that puts them well out of reach. Granted, some of that resolution (particularly at 600 dpi) is not strictly necessary, but it does serve to reduce the strain of reading bitmapped fonts, which is another reason people prefer paper.

    This has a secondary consequence which leads to the software considerations: We are all effectively working through portholes. This is a major reason the desktop UI metaphor doesn't work as well as we initally think it should: The area of your virtual desktop is a very tiny fraction of that of your real desktop. I currently have over a half-dozen pages of paper on my desk that I'm working on. (Actually, way over, but I'll leave it at 6 for those of you neat enough to have only that many...) The equivalent resolution of my real desktop then, is substantially in excess of the 300 dpi equivalent (for 6 pages) of 45 Megapixels!

    In reality, counting the papers on the reference table behind me and the things I have pinned up on the wall, my immediate work area (the "real" desktop) has an equivalent resolution at 300 dpi of probably around a gigapixel. Oh, and many of the documents are in full color, too, so triple or quadruple that if you really want to build the Sun "Starfire" wraparound workstation that Bruce Tognazzini did a UI film for a couple of years back. It's no wonder we want eight virtual desktops and that still doesn't work!


    This problem is every bit as recalcitrant as the hardware. Bottom line (because I'm running out of time and the envelope must be getting quite full now): we don't have any good software for reading. Some of the posters here have mentioned the PalmPilot and its Doc format readers. While considerably more awkward than real paper, they are much better readers than are available for PCs. Most PC software is optimized for writing - precious little consideration has been given to reading! (I haven't tried the RocketBook or eBook gadgets, since I can't see toting such weight and complexity simply for reading.) The ability to quickly "flip" pages (gee, that would allow true browsing!) is vital. People will continue to use paper instead of screens until it's not a PITA to read on a screen.

    Oh and there's one more thing: Books and paper don't need batteries or recharging, they have indefinite shelf life, they rarely if ever require bckups, they survive incredible physical abuse, and I haven't yet run into a file format incompatibility that wasn't rooted in an insufficiency in the training of the warmware.

    Bottom Line: Without MAJOR improvements in hardware AND software, screens aren't even in the game. I've found that only a very few people are capable of dealing effectively with large amounts of electronic documentation. This is not just a cultural issue - I've expressed here fundamental reasons why it's just not reasonable to expect people to prefer screens to paper anytime in the near future.
  • It seems that it's the older people that tend to print more things off.

    Your example, well, makes me sick. Trees are not nearly as renewable as I wish. Hemp is a damn near perfect solution to this but many governments are horribly misinformed/fearful. It's a good thing they're growing it in Ontario. I hope the practice gets more popular. I've seen the effects of clear-cutting and it disturbs me.

    Older people tend to be set in their ways. They resist change.

    I started working at a place in January and I did a fair bit of research. I would grab items from various sites, generate plots of data I collected (They let me use GNUPlot and Cygwin, yay), etc. When I would tell someone that I had an item or a piece of data, I would tell them what directory to find it in. Invariably, they would say, "print it off."

    I didn't like doing it, but, well, I had to.
  • Now, on the average 17" monitor, try reading one thing, and referencing another. The programs don't tile/cascade well while retaining their GUI (meaning the workspace-to-toolbar ratio changes).

    That depends. In Windows, it seems that most of the applications are optimized for full screen. They just don't look very good in a non-maximised state.

    I prefer the various X apps. They appear to be designed to share space with other apps. Netscape is an example. I have to maximise it in windows, but in X, maximising it makes it look odd, and a waste of space. I rarely use a second workspace, even though I run *a lot* of stuff at one time (people look at my desktop in wide-eyed amazement). Default font sizes are one reason for this, even though I increase my font in Netscape. the other thing is the multi-window apps, like the GIMP. Use a graphic app in windows, and you have to full screen it to be able to use it, then you have to deal with that MDI garbage. I prefer being able to switch between windows of the same app in the same manner as switching between apps.

    It's especially useful for programming, I can have docs, my code, a debugger, as well as other things on the screen at one time. That's a hell of a lot quicker than any reference manual.
  • by johnrpenner ( 40054 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @09:09AM (#1656217) Homepage
    i've been paperless since 1979 and my trs80 model i. i've kept everything as a text file, and this last year i backed up every text file, email (from BBS systems before internet and fidonet) onto one searchable CD-ROM. i've been consistent at forwarding data from system to system and always made backups. the system works, it just takes training users how to live filing electronically instead of with wasteful old paper. i had to use xmodem and a rs-232 cable to get it out of my trs80 into a PC (xt8088), then a few years later into a macintosh plus, and from then on in all my creator dates and filenames have been long filenames. i still use text files (with bbedit) for writing everything, because then you can easily search it on the mac using GREP (built-into bbedit). the system works great. just the other day i emailed a friend of mine a 30k text file entered in 1981 - he didn't even remember it existed, but my text search found it in less than ten seconds. if only people could be weened off their archaic reliance on paper. i think its just a comfort thing. they're tought how to files with paper, but they "don't trust" electronic filing, because they don't know how to backup properly, nor how to create a useful directory structure with DESCRIPTIVE and useful filenames for when they have to search. its all a matter of learning good filenaming and directory structuring, but people keep crazy electronic file structures, while they don't think twice about spending HOURS organising paper files in a cabinet. if people would just take the care they did in filing things electronically as they did in a real paper filing cabinet, there would be no problem!


  • Well, I'm 47 and do not have a printer. I got tired of wondering what to do with 3 ft high stacks of paper back before recycling was easy. But I'm a big fan of paper for some things.

    My eyes aren't great, and reading on a 14" screen for hours is out, it gives me headaches. So I bought a 21" screen and things are fine. But it's still too much strain to read for hours at a time for pleasure, for example a book, though I will if the book is good enough and not available offline. I'd rather have a printed book.

    The other thing is documentation. I really, really prefer a printed manual containing the instruction set and processor architecture rather than having to browse some awful interface for the information. After you know where things are it's easier to open a book to exactly the right place than to click your way there, and you can still see what you were working on that caused the question in the first place. You can make notes and correct errors in a printed manual.

    For mail, slashdot, usenet, regular news, I want hypertext and/or threads and that is very hard to get on paper. Some types of overview help are also better hyperlinked than printed. Each medium has it's uses, we don't *have* to choose one or the other. Let's just not create a demand for new tree farms, that's all.
  • Now I've done it, in admitting that I'm a Paper Chemist, not a republican Nazi who works for the FBI...or worse. (Even thought I have friends at places like that).
    Anyway, the facts are simply this: Paper useage will grow at a rate of 4-7% for the next 20 to 25 years. The paper industry will see a shift to the use of digitally printed paper when folks like Scitex figure out how to do 4 color process (like a printing press) at 250 ft/Min. They are very close, and should announce that this fall( but they've said that before too). Each Scitex machine will print 10,000 tons of paper a year; so the day may come where it's faster to digitally master and print publications like USA Today on a Scitex. It is already used to print those magazine inserts with your name on it.
    Finally by the year 2015, digitally printed paper will account for 37% of the worldwide paper markey, as opposed to 4-5% now (and that's being generous, it's actually lower). It will do this at the expense of paper being printed by flex or rotogravure. However those markets won't go away, in the ensuing years they will become static as the overall market doubles in size; allowing digitally printed paper to become more of a commodity market than it is today.

    Oh, and don't expect a paperless office, we in the paper industry have seen a 2 fold increase since Xerox announced that in the 70's. Paper is always going to be there, as technology plods on new uses will replace those that fall by ther wayside.
    That's my $0.02, but it's an accurate one.
  • by zot o'connor ( 67493 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:09AM (#1656262) Homepage
    When it comes down to it, you can't take your monitor with you. Just yesterday I was tempted to print a manual pdf file, becuase I could not get the jist in my head. Reading on paper is a different mental process than on screen. The sad thing is I have the manual "somewhere."

    And more than once I have printed a manual to take it away so I can read it "away from the situation."

    Oh and I have taking my laptop to the John with me, its a bit dangewoues/

    1) It might get wet (or worse).
    2) You legs fall asleep after 1 hours of solataire.
    And I am hyper about recycling and reducing paper usage.
  • Since people like to print stuff, because it's handy (I can't quite take the PC into the bathroom and read something), people will keep on printing.

    If you are concerned about the environmental impact, try using recycled printer paper. Advocate the use of recycled paper. Write your gub'ment representatives and tell them to at least legalize the farming of hemp for paper production (the process to make paper out of hemp is far better for the environment than making paper out of trees. Of course, it will be the THC-less hemp though...).
  • Perhaps, but the planet still needs more trees than currently exist. They also help to clean the air. Your point is probably very accurate though, afterall they are mowing down the Amazon Rain Forest (one of earth's more important forests) for land development. Now if I could just understand why an old boss I had printed out each and every web page he visited. That is a classic example of waste that is an order of magnitude beyond stupidity!

  • by technos ( 73414 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:35AM (#1656275) Homepage Journal
    One of the people I work with, a woman in her late forties, has the horrible habit of tying up the printer first thing every morning. (So badly, in fact, we ended up installing a personal printer for her.) On the way past her desk recently, I asked her what was so darn important it had to be printed every morning. 'Oh, I print my email.' was her response. I asked why. 'Well, if the message was kind of important, I file it. If it has something in it I have to do later, I fold it up and stick it to my calander with a push-pin. If its something I want my secretary to handle, I'll stick it in her 'in-basket'.' My jaw dropped. I told her 'You know, you can forward the relevant messages to your secretary, put the 'important' ones in their own mailbox, and drag the time-sensitive ones right into your scheduler! I'd bet it would take you a lot less time, and it would certainly kill fewer trees!' She looked at me with an evil glare. 'Listen, hon. I've had my system for mail for almost twenty years, and I'm not going to change it just because it doesn't come pre-printed anymore.'

  • by technos ( 73414 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:54AM (#1656276) Homepage Journal
    Court documents != contracts. Besides, if I were to lose my original copy of my divorce settlement, I can walk into the county clerks office and get for a certified copy for four bucks. Originals are not that important!
  • Paper is used becasue:
    1: Losing Items on a computer:
    a: sys-admin deleted it.(up-grade)
    b: cann't find it because I keep 1 gig of old email.
    c: Random deletion by user.
    d: Hard drive got reformated.
    2: Losing Items on paper:
    a: The barn burned down and destroyed all my hard copy.
    b: It's lost in this pile of hard copy.
    c: My dog ate it. (Best for school).

    It looks like paper is a winner
  • by Jupiter2 ( 83436 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:10AM (#1656298) Homepage
    1. Reading from paper is easier on the eyes. (In my case anyhow)

    2. You can take it anywhere. Read it outside in the sunshine, or even in bed.

    3. People feel safer with a hard copy than just having a file on a computer which could easily be trashed if they are not competant users.
  • I'm not concerned with what you prefer (paper or screen). There's a bigger issue here. If you do print out onto paper, do you actually recycle it? Many companies are going electronic, but have no policies for how much an employee can print out, and even more so, no conveinient ways to recycle those printouts.

    Recycling is the key. You can print things out, just do your part and help cut down on the environment's problems.
  • by knife_in_winter ( 85888 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @08:55AM (#1656303)
    I think we all have a good grasp of why paper is here and why it is so prevalent in whatever office or work environment.

    We know paper is simple, convenient and universal. We also know that not everyone can cope as effectively with certain information assimilation tasks on a computer (desktop, laptop or palmtop). We know that the current technology just cannot compete with paper's simple and tactile qualities. Finally, we know that as the amount of information a person has access to increases, their need to absorb that information by traditional, hard-copy means also increases.

    However, the one issue that has not been really addressed was not really stated in the question, but more implied. What can we do to reverse the growth of paper consumption? I guess that question assumes that we all have the goal of reducing paper consumption. Is that true? Is it desirable? Is is valuable?

    I think it is. The natural resources used in paper production are not easily renewable. While we can recycle paper, we are still consuming natural resources to make new paper. Digital information and its presentation has no bounds, on the other hand. Sure, it may be bounded right now. But it is a matter of time before our technology can compensate for older, more resource intensive, technologies.

    For a long time, the mentality of our society has been to push the advancement of technology at the cost of natural resources. Is this trend reversing? Now we have the means to advance our technology without impacting the environment so much. We even have the means to use technology to help conserve our resources.

    I think that is the issue here. I think it is our responsibility to adapt to the newer technologies. especially if they directly or indirectly conserve the environment and our resources. Rather than just saying, "we like paper for reasons A, B, and C and that's that" we need to make a concerted effort to work with better alternatives.

    But that's just me.

    Nothing can possiblai go wrong. Er...possibly go wrong.
    Strange, that's the first thing that's ever gone wrong.
  • with respect to printing out web pages, i don't understand why people are so quick to characterize other folks as being scared of "the computer" or "the internet." i think everyone's been burned by all of the following problems:
    • you can't find a page again.
    • you can't bookmark a page because the site uses dynamic content in a way that is bookmark-hostile.
    • you bookmark something, but the site organization changes and the bookmark is useless.

    basically, printing is the only option most mortals have for making a persistent note of web content. "save as text/source" or "send page" don't work well because the layout, images and other graphical information are lost. "save as " burns a lot of disk space and introduces a big file management problem.
  • by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @09:21AM (#1656315) can't staple a resignation email to your boss's head.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas