Friday, July 27, 2007

The merits of paper vs electronic; paper lives on, even for "generation digital"

Paper continues to be very important for many organizations, often coexisting with electronic records and sometimes in preference to it. At times, this reaches irrational extremes. Some people I have worked with insist on printing information from computers (e.g. emails, database search results) that simply strike me as a waste of paper (Just read it on the monitor! Save paper!). However, I enjoy writing and sending traditional letters; I like that it takes more effort than email, how it is a physical object that one sends and so forth. As much as I wish more of my friends and family would correspond properly, I can appreciate that this is very much viewed as a dying art.

Normally, in any kind of professional context, I function with a presumption in favour of email. Today's example involves the final project of my History MA. The department requires email and paper copies, fair enough. A friend of mine, however, only wants to submit paper copies. He is worried (indeed, convinced of the fact) that electronic submission may result in some kind of fraud. It is true that it is easier to copy electronic text rather than paper. But this concern strikes me as overrated; while interesting, I don't think anybody would steal my work. But I digress. To argue in favour of this pro-paper view, he vaguely asserted that it was common business practice to still only use paper. The reasoning for this is security - alternations to paper are more difficult than to paper. There may also be certain legal reasons for this - a handwritten signature is generally accorded more weight than an "electronic signature" that is little more than a password.

Aside from letters and other such personal items, I generally think email and electronic documents are the best way to go. I wonder how long this hybrid situation will last though. Is the conservatism of the legal profession really the driving force here? Will archivists succeed in persuading email users to keep files properly? We will see.

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