In a recent post, GigaOM presented this intriguing question: Can you really go paper-free?

This is a timely article for me: The article’s author, Eliza Kern, found the occasional need for a printer to be the bugbear in her quest to go paperless, and as it happens, I just spent two days giving tech support to my parents for their new computer, only to find that they are keeping the old one, after all. Their new computer, it turns out, is not compatible with the otherwise perfectly fine printer they’ve had for a decade, and when I replied with, “So what?” my stepfather said, “Well, how do you expect me to print my airplane tickets?”

paper-freeI guess I never think much about things like that, because I have access to a printer at work that I can always use if I really need to print something. Or, failing that, I can email it to the Beloved and ask him to print it athis work. We’ve found that during the handful of times each year when we might truly need to print airplane tickets or some such document, there is usually a printer we can use without us owning it.

As the article points out though, a printer is just an example; for other people, it might be something else that stands in their way. Joseph Walla, the CEO of a fax company, explains it thusly:

“It just takes one person in your network to require faxing or paper and suddenly it makes you do it, too. If you’re a business, and you have to interact with me, but I require you to send me invoices with a fax machine, you’re not going to say, ‘I’m not going to do this, I don’t want your $10,000 in business.’ The only way you can stop faxing is if I stop faxing.”

So is it a printer, or a fax machine, or something else that’s holding you back from a paperless life?

For me, it’s to-do lists. There is something about seeing a to-do list on paper that just really works for me. I’ve tried Google Tasks. I have tried Evernote. But it just isn’t the same. I can digitize almost everything, but I still seem to need that post-it note list where I can cross things off in pen.

Is there anything in particular that’s keeping you from going completely paperless? Let us know in the comments.


  1. That’s not so bad. My dad used to keep an ancient serial port printer in the closet for printing out his business taxes. He had been using a DOS-based program for the last thirty years, and he wasn’t going to give it up even though it had been invented long before the USB printer was born. Vista finally ruined the last of his jury-rigged compatibility, and he had to switch to something more modern. Now that’s a commitment to outdated technology!

  2. There are two things that keep me from going completely paperless.

    I actually print out Google Maps, and with my job, I need mapping often enough for that to be an issue. Yes, my phone has GPS and Siri, but I still prefer my old Google map.

    However, I could live without them if I had to. What I can’t live without is the ability to print out character sheets for D&D. We’ve tried all sorts of electronic alternatives, but they just don’t work as well.

  3. Writing is an immaterial activity and so are reading, revising, and re-reading. The delivery to screen or paper is less the issue, but we use real means of delivery and engage these physically.

  4. Sure, I could go completely paperless IF I didn’t need to take some information with me for meetings where others need copies, or if my clients wouldn’t send me info that can only be read off-line.

    Since I keep both my desktop and laptops in portrait orientation, I find I’m using less paper as I move from draft to finished work.


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