Paperless Perils and Pitfalls
By Al Giovetti
A few days ago I found myself day-dreaming again about the way things may be in the future. Even after all the disappointing events of a long and eventful life, which has lead to a jaded and skeptical view of the present, I harbor feelings of hope for a better future. Ah, I can see you feel that Murphy's Law will thwart my hopes. Well, I prefer to follow O'Toole's corollary: “Murphy was an optimist.”
Through my rose-colored crystal ball I see us living in a better world. Technology of the future will be our friend. And, thankfully, I am not the only one who will wade through the neck deep sewage to get there. Misery loves company.
The price of flat screen monitors is dropping. I have seen the 15-inch size as low as $200 in a recent advertisement. As the price of monitors comes down, the major objection that I have to computer based systems will be removed. One day your entire desktop will be a flat-screen monitor, which will wrap around you like a 360-degree movie screen.
When you want a file, you will reach up with your hand and grab it from the virtual shelf. (In the future, people will be intelligent enough to no longer use the annoying and painful input device that we now refer to as the mouse.) You will then be able to pull the file down, open it on your desk, and flip through the pages as if the virtual file were a paper one.
Scanning documents into the system will be as simple as placing the paper file into the virtual file folder. Cameras above your desk will photograph the document and place it into the folder where you wish it to go as easy as a paper document. Once scanned a laser or other device will dispose of the paper document.
Today's reality is different from my rose-colored future. A paperless system requires that you scan into an optical database all items of paper that you are sent. The paper is not really gone because the item is photographed into a database file, similar to a microfiche. Unlike a microfiche, however, items can be viewed randomly, if you have a system for finding the documents in the virtually bottomless pit of CD-ROMs and hard drives. A typical CD-ROM can hold hundreds of thousands of documents.
Many using paper systems, including tax departments that are using scanners, are finding out that thin and abnormal size paper gets lost quite easily when used with the scanner paper feeder, requiring manual scanning, similar to using a copy machine for each item. As a result, many of these odd-sized paper documents are destroyed or lost by the system.
Paper-based records require you to punch holes in an item and put it into the metal fasteners at the top of the file folder, which is worlds easier than scanning each item of paper. Paperless systems require you to locate the scanned item and move it into virtual folders, similar to the paper filing systems.
Once the item is put into this optical receptacle you must develop and memorize a complex database system to identify where the items are to be found within your virtual system. The organization of the scanned optical data and other data is much more involved than the systems we are used to in paper-based systems. Both professional and clerical employees who are going to be using this paperless optical file system will require much more sophisticated computer training than that needed in the paper-based systems.
Right now, paper records are much easier to handle. Paper sorts easier, stores easier, and saves us buckets of time when we are looking for something secured by a fastener and two-hole punched into a binder. A very large paper spreadsheet is instantly viewable when unfolded flat on a large desktop surface. Even with a 19-inch monitor there will be parts of your electronic spreadsheet that you will not be able to view unless you scroll to them.
Bound books are more convenient to read than virtual ones on the computer. The pages flip more easily. The topics are easier to scan. It is much easier to take notes in the margins. And, as for being interactive, books can't be beat. You can turn to any page in an instant, certainly quicker than any Internet page loads. You can view an entire page at one time. Scrolling to the bottom of the page only requires that I move my eyes - not click buttons or roll wheels on my carpel tunnel syndrome-causing mouse.
Finding your page involves thumbing through pages, which is certainly not possible in our virtual reading material. Pocket books weigh little and conveniently fit in your pocket, while most laptops require a case, and lugging them around is sure to keep your Chiropractor affluent.
The contents page and the index of a book allow you to find most items more quickly and efficiently than any “search engine.” And contrary to what you find on the Internet, a book index will not inundate you with reams of irrelevant and pornographic distractions – that is, unless you've selected a book by Henry Miller.
I find it most convenient to read in bed or in the library using my paper books. The laptop has far too many cables connected to various devices to make me happy doing virtual reading there. And, of course, there is always the danger you will fall asleep with your electronic marvel and push it out of bed, thus destroying it. I have often done this with a paper book, which in no way impairs its future usefulness.
Among the places where paper books excel is the “library,” where most reading is done; thank God no one is attempting to make that paperwork paperless. And while the concept of paperless bathrooms is one humiliating innovation to which we may eventually be subjected, thankfully we have not progressed to that point in the paperless society.
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