Many businesses and individuals seem excited about the prospect of ditching paper products and converting their livelihoods to digital alternatives. While in concept, this may seem like a more efficient way to operate, the reality is that there are various shortcomings in the electronic world that print, as a whole, is not afflicted by.
1. Privacy is at risk of being taken away
Financial Times contributor Lucy Kellaway opined that, as an avid user of paper-based planners to help organize her life, she feels that a digital comparative is demonstrably less useful. In the business world, she said, company-wide e-calendars are rising in popularity and usage. She conceded that this allows coworkers and employees to have access to someone's schedule without needing to ask, and that this practice can promote ease of scheduling and avoidance of conflicts.
However, Kellaway argued that this is not only an invasion of privacy; it is counterproductive from a business perspective. Increased access to one's calendar by others inevitably leads to scheduling more meetings, which, she said, consume significant amounts of time that can be otherwise used to improve workplace efficiency. When an employee's time is under constant threat of being hijacked by a well-intentioned but nonetheless obstructive colleague, that worker's productivity is lessened.
2. Security is a problem for confidential information and records
While business functions are increasingly completed online, Staples noted that there is one major area in which this practice is deficient: confidential legal and financial documents. Email is hardly a secure way to transmit information, Staples warned, and yet it is the primary method of sending and receiving such important data, the source lamented. Too many workers fail to recognize the threat that is inherent when using email, as it has proven to be relatively insecure without heightened levels of encryption or password protection.
As far as notarized documents, electronic versions are simply not as reliable or trustworthy as physical forms, Staples said. Anyone can type a name into an e-document, which is all it takes to officially sign a legal form. But if the document requires a signature on paper, then the signee will have to complete it in person. It's a lot harder to impersonate someone in real life than it is on the Internet, so the traditional practice is more secure in that regard by its nature.
3. Digital "solutions" can be complicated and difficult to navigate
Kellaway conducted a little anecdotal experiment that attempted to prove the added complication in using digital calendars. Separating people into two distinct groups – the first using smartphones, the other using a physical planner – she asked them all a very simple question: What are your plans for October 30?
In a finding that might serve as a surprise to the digital crowd, those who used print planners were markedly faster in opening the book, turning to the correct page, and determining what they had to do on the given day. Kellaway remarked that while the paper group took an average of eight seconds to complete this simple task, the digital folks took at least twice as long, with the quickest clocking in at 17 seconds and the slowest at 32.
The reason behind this discrepancy, she argued, is that there are various layers to accessing information on a digital device that complicate and slow the whole process. Instead of flipping to a page and reading the words that had previously been written, the electronic subjects had to type in a password to get into their phones, then open certain apps, and perhaps type in another password before they could even read the text.
A similar result was found when Kellaway told her guinea pigs to write jot something down – the paper people took just five seconds, while the digital crew spent six times as long to perform the same incredibly simple action.
4. Without Internet access, electronic functions are useless
One of the bigger developments in the digital world in recent years has been the advancement of cloud computing, and the subsequent implementation of remote working. Employees can now check in on their work while on vacation, or at home after office hours, or even at a sporting event or movie theater – provided, of course, that they have Internet access, or, for mobile users, cell service.
However, Staples said, Internet access is not guaranteed. Though it is widely supplied even in public settings throughout the world, it is not a definite. If an employee decides he or she is going to do some work from home in order to complete a project on time, the possibility exists of his or her Internet provider experiencing an outage. There are also potential security risks, especially when using an open WiFi connection at a coffee shop, hotel or other public setting. Such connections are more susceptible to being hacked into than private ones. This risk can be avoided altogether by just using paper materials instead.