Everyone has their favorite and least favorite tools. For example, I love my computer, but tend to despise fax machines. Today, I had a bunch of work to do that would have been much easier with a fax machine. I managed to do everything I needed using a scanner and email, but I was finally forced to admit that there is still room for a fax machine in my tool set. I still don’t really like fax machines, but sometimes it is the perfect tool for the job. Today, I felt like I was using a screwdriver to drive nails–sure, the nail will go in eventually, but a hammer is really what you need. It would be silly to decide that I don’t like hammers, so I’m going to use a screwdriver, but I’ve found that is what I’m prone to do with other tools.
After this realization (I know it seems like common sense, but it struck me as profound for some reason), I started thinking about other areas where I might be much more efficient if I just break down and use the right tool. Aha. Paper. Paper is another thing I don’t really like. Perhaps I suffered from paper cuts as a small child. A more plausible explanation has to do with the first desk I bought after college. It was chosen based on purely aesthetics rather than function. The desk was simple–a large sheet of glass slightly smaller than a door and a black metal frame for it to sit on. I had two of them that would allow me to set up an L shaped work surface.
Unfortunately the desk had no drawers or storage whatsoever. But, of course, since I had spent some significant money on it, I couldn’t blame the desk. Gradually, I developed an increasing hatred of the paper in my life because it made my beautiful desk look ugly and disorganized. I took all of the loose sheets in my apartment out to the parking lot and set them ablaze while encouraging my neighbors to do the same…ok, maybe I wasn’t that extreme, but I did start trying to get rid of paper.
The problem is, paper is just another tool. When we bias ourselves against a particular tool or technology (paper is technology even if it is fairly low tech), we make decisions that are bad for our productivity. There are many high tech gadgets available that are meant to replace paper, but sometimes paper is still the best tool.
Originally published September 12, 2006.
Adam Rice says
Yeah, I still have a love-hate relationship with paper. For instance, my files soooo need to become digital pdfs. But I also know that not all of my files can go digital (yet).
And then there’s my guilty pleasure, as expressed by Penny Arcade…
Mark Shead says
@Adam – That’s a funny comic. I have found that most of the stuff I don’t want to digitize and shred really belongs in the safetly deposit box anyway. This includes things like birth certificates, marriage certificate, life insurance policy, etc.
I was going to scan in all the sheet music I wrote in college, but haven’t because I can’t bring myself to think about tossing the physical paper out. :)
Adam Rice says
Those particular things you mention DO belong in a safety deposit box, but copies of them belong in your digital archives so you can reference them at will.
For your sheet music I’d suggest scanning it then filing the originals in your Memories box(es). You know the trunk or box that contains all the stuff you want to keep for sentimental reasons. I keep my baby pictures and school photos and year books, awards, trophies, that kind of stuff in it.
The particulars that I can’t seem to figure out in y filing system are things like CD-ROMs (which I don’t have the HD space to copy them to HD then mount them as necessary) or Blank Thankyou cards, or those random bits and pieces that come with gadgets…I’ve never figured out what to do with that (almost junk, but still useful enough to save).
I know I need to bite the bullet and scan scan scan and purchase a 1 or 2 TB HD for the CD ISOs…but the current cash situation won’t allow for it. Maybe I need to build a file server or something…
The correct tool for the user is still part of the question. For instance, for me, the hPDA is still my best capture tool, and in some instances, I need to use it for my TODO list because I don’t have Internet/computer/electronic access all the time.
As a side irony, why would someone have a category for “paperless” and a link to “Print this article”? Just something that tickled my funny bone.
Ricky Buchanan says
I seem to recall you have a Mac computer – do you know you can print directly to a fax number if you have a modem connected up? It’s stupidly hidden in the “print to PDF” dialog box – select file->print then click on “PDF” and the third option is “Fax PDF…”. It’ll ask you for a phone number and that’s about it!
Sometimes the trick isn’t to buy a hammer, it’s to look at the nail again from a different angle – perhaps it’s actually a screw. OK, that’s stretching the metaphor way too far but it was fun to do :) And as a person who has physical difficulty manipulating paper – not to mention no fax machine – it’s a very handy thing.
Mark Shead says
@Ricky – I don’t have my computer hooked up to a phone line, but I haven’t used that functionality before. I’ve managed to solve most of this by scanning my signature and using Acrobat Pro to sign things. I then fax things using RingCentral
Still, if someone hands me a stack of papers to fill out that requires diagrams and stuff like that, a pen and fax machine are probably going to be faster than scanning it in, editing a PDF, scanning it back in and faxing.