I am living the paperless life.
As I end 2014, I am ending something else in my life – paper.
Since personal computers started entering the workplace in the late 1980s, we have heard much about the paperless office. We have all had a crack at it over the years and failed. However, I am now firmly of the view that it is just about to become mainstream. There are a few reasons for this.
Legal systems. I believe the legal systems in developed countries have caught up with technology. For years and years, we have heard that “I need that in writing” or please bring along a certified copy of document x, y or z. Much of this had to do with antiquated legal and risk departments and their outdated thinking overruling technology, marketing and customer service departments on the grounds of ‘risk’, otherwise known as an excuse for lazy arse covering. Today, with the cloud, secure encrypted systems, two or three factor authentication, tokens, fingerprints and more, documents can be stored, accessed and verified easily. For example, this week I had to change my electoral district registration. Instead of filling in countless forms and presenting identification to the local post office manager, I simply went on line, provided a few examples of identification numbers and my registration was changed.
Customer service systems. The next area that has caught up with reality is the issuing of receipts. It started with e-commerce and electronic receipts and tax invoices. However, receipts remain a plague of in person point of sale. Apple, as it does, lead the way with paperless receipts for at point of sale receipts. My email address is attached by Apple to my payment account and receipts are emailed to me rather than printed and stuffed in a bag. In the event I get a paper receipt now, I can photograph it, save it (as a photo or PDF) and then store it in an online filing system in something like DropBox or Evernote. Both of these services are where I run my online life.
Official correspondence. Another area that has caught up with reality is large companies and government departments and their want to send you statements, invoices, notices and more. Under Australia’s legal system, something was deemed to have been received by you when it was sent in mail managed by Australia Post. In the last few years, Australia Post has introduced a ‘digital mailbox’ when companies can send mail to you electronically and it counts as being officially sent and received. Many companies are now using this technology and I would say that three quarters of official documents sent to me now go to this secure location, which can be accessed in a web browser or via applications on my iPhone and iPad. I can also store documents in any format on this service.
Cloud storage. Another great development is scanning to the cloud. For example, in the annoying event that you do get a document in the post, you can run it through a single sheet scanner and send it directly to iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive, bypassing your computer. Brother makes such a device and they’re getting smaller and cheaper all of the time. This means that you can store any received document in the cloud in just a second or two. You can shred the document as soon as it is successfully scanned and stored.
Applications and software as a service. Applications and SaaS are revolutions. I have just completed two semesters of a Masters level study at university. All class work, reading and note taking was done on my iPad. The university uses the open source Moodle system for delivery of materials and class engagement. Texts were read on the iPad and PDFs annotated using the PDF app. All texts and my notes were stored and organised using Evernote, accessible on the web, iPhone and iPad. Brilliant. In previous study, I have had massive ‘lever arch files’ of reading and notes, not to mention a milk crate of text books to wade through. Now all study is delivered, consumed and actioned electronically and available anywhere, anytime.
Printer-less. For years, the default position was to receive something and print it out. An email, a brochure, a report, a publication. Why? Because it is what we did. My desk at home or work was a forest of printed documents, placed neaty in immaculately labeled and organised plastic sleeves. I prided myself on the number of sleeves I had. What nonsense. I have been printerless for nine months now and don’t miss it one bit. All of my reading and writing is done on the iPad or MacBook. If I have to fill in a pdf document, I can do so using Apple’s preview application. I can also sign documents using this app, using the camera to take a picture of my signature. You don’t need a printer. Repeat. You don’t need a printer. What’s more, you will save money on the paper, hardware and ink and be environmentally friendly with less use of paper and chemicals for plastics and ink. Brilliant.
Smart phones and tablets. iPhones and iPads and their imitations are simply incredible devices. When I think of the iPad I am typing on now and the iPhone sitting next to my coffee here at Coffs Harbour Airport, I remain absolutely boggled at the versatility and functionality of these two revolutionary devices. Let me give you an example of my day so far:
* To catch the plane shortly, I will use my online boarding pass.
* My flights and accommodation on this trip, as usual, we’re all done on iOS devices.
* This morning I read that latest edition of The Economist on my iPad.
* I downloaded the latest edition of Harvard Business Review, Fitness First magazine and The Australian Conservation Foundation’s ‘Habitat’ magazine for a choice of inflight reading.
* I prepared for university next week by downloading all of my course materials and organised them in Evernote so they are accessible across my iPad, iPhone and MacBook.
* I listened to the Gaurdian’s Football Weekly podcast on my iPhone.
* When done with that I listened to a classical radio station in Seattle.
* I played Scrabble (badly) with a mate in the USA.
* I bantered with a friend in London about overnight football results in the UK.
* I will upload this post to Tumblr while on the train from Sydney airport.
* I will tell the world about it via Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, all by one app (Hootsuite)
For decades, I use to pride myself on having a home office. I had every conceivable electronic device, Office kit like staplers, hole punchers and more and an Officeworks or Office Depot worth of stationary. I had desks, printers, monitors, bookshelves, fling cabinets and more. You name it, I had it. Today I have a MacBook, iPad and iPhone. I also have a small notepad (which rarely gets used) and a pencil case with a few pens and highlighters for use in emergency. I have a compendium with important documents and a small box containing plastic cards. Even loyalty cards are becoming so last year. As soon as I get one these days, it goes straight into Apple Passbook or to StoCard app. The card then gets cut up and disposed of. If I take a note, it is done on the notes app in the iPhone or iPad and stored permanently in Evernote.
Is there a downside? Yes. I have a beautiful collection of Mont Blanc pens. They are rarely used. I love my Moleskine notebooks. They are rarely used. I love the feel of paper and the touch of a nib. Writing was like conducting a symphony. I rarely do it. It shows. When I do, I am totally embarrassed about how appalling my handwriting is. It use to be like conducting a symphony. Today it is like a punk rock band in full flight. I compare my writing to that produced by my children aged 10 and 12. If I were in their school, I would fail the handwriting test and be kept behind after class. It is that bad.
Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? Of course they do. Is more revolutionary ‘stuff’ on the way? Absolutely. Apple will take us on the next great adventure in the first half of 2015 with Apple Watch. This adventure is in the area of payments. Apple has given us a peak at the future with the introduction of Apple Pay in the USA. It has done in a year or two what the banks, who move at glacial speed, and their supplicant payment companies couldn’t do for over a decade and a half – simple and easy payments. It works well on iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch will see the need for the phone to remain the pocket, coat or bag. Payments is just one of the Apple Pay system. It will replace your transport payment card, I predict, within a year. The next step is workplace entry.
Everything is moving that fast. Why? Fingerprint authentication. People love it. It is the antidote to fears about security of information, money and identity. People get that only you can have the ability to authorise payment using a fingerprint. It is disappointing but not surprising that only Apple gets this. They see it from the customer’s point of view. Their simple thinking and logic, as usual, are a lesson for all of us. I got the logic of the fingerprint when going to my gym in California. At the 24 Hour Fitness gyms you had a simple method of entry – your mobile phone number and your thumb print. Put the number into the reader and then hold your thumb down and you were good to go. 24 Hour Fitness knew it was me. I knew my account couldn’t be compromised. I felt secure. Again, simplicity wins out over complexity.
And that’s what the paperless life is all about, simplicity. If you transact – do it electronically. If you receive something – get it digitally. If you get the choice of paper or electronic delivery – choose electronic. If you need to store something – scan it and subscribe to a storage service. If you need to access something, do it on your Mac or iOS device. No paper, no files, no “personal paperwork nights”, no scratching around for things at tax time, no search parties for receipts to validate a warranty claim. No lost records.
A simple life is a good life.