It’s too soon to write off paper
A webinar invitation from Adobe landed in our in-boxes recently. The topic: “Going Paperless with Wipro and Adobe Sign.” When it comes to keeping employees safe and maintaining business continuity during the time of COVID, the invite noted, “it’s clear that paper-based processes like signing documents physically have become stagnant.”
Of course, it didn’t take a pandemic to make that happen. Futurists have been predicting the imminent demise of paper as a transactional and communicative medium as far back as the 1990s—and probably earlier. “Electronic image management…is bringing the elusive paperless office closer to reality,” WWD proclaimed in 1990. Heralding the 1993 introduction of Adobe Acrobat, The New York Times noted that advances in digital technology “are forcing skeptics to re-evaluate how far off the paperless office is.”
Today, those forecasts have a quaint retro feel, like world-of-tomorrow exhibits from the 1950s, depicting jet-propelled commuter buses soaring over Manhattan and people living in domed cities on Venus. True, e-books, online banking, social media and the Internet have transformed private and commercial life. But visit a bookstore or an office when it’s safe, and “paperless” is the last word you think of. There’s more of the stuff around than ever.
At Carpenter Group we don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Yes, we work on computers, live on our smartphones and make payments on Venmo. Virtually all of the marketing content we create for clients is processed, distributed and consumed digitally.
But we also produce what art curators might label “works on paper.” Brochures. Annual reports. Marketing collateral. Much less than we used to, of course. Yet paper has remained a staple for one simple reason: it works. It’s, transferable, storable, crash-proof and easy on the eyes.
Many writers still do much of their editing and redrafting on paper, printing out pages and marking them up with a pencil—a physicality that is hard to replicate. Historians Robert Caro and David McCullough and novelist Joyce Carol Oates, all renowned for both the singular quality and volume of their work, write exclusively on typewriters.
Obviously, we’re not Luddites. We are not about to decry the elimination of paper in processes where that would serve only to undermine accuracy and efficiency. But paper will always have its place—and nothing will ever replace the not-so-distant memory of killing a half-hour in a well-stocked bookstore, the scent of newsprint, ink and mocha java filling the air. Yes, we live, work and partner with our clients in a world that spins increasingly on a digital axis. But paper still looms large in that world. And it isn’t going anywhere soon.