By James Wallace Harris, Friday, June 12, 2015
Back in 2008 I started a series of essays about Going Paperless. I cancelled the paper, let all my magazine subscriptions run out, worked hard to convince junk mail senders to stop sending me crap, got off mailing lists, and did whatever I could to stop the flow of paper into my house. I greatly reduced my usage. It made me happy. My paper recycle box usually takes weeks to fill.
Then about a year ago, I got a couple magazine offers so cheap I couldn’t resist. Then I got more. Who wouldn’t want The New Yorker for $25 for 52 issues? After years of reading free on the web, I kind of missed the magazine experience. Now I’ve got piled of unread magazines sitting around again. I hate that. I hate to throw them out unread. I feel an obligation now to save those magazines and read them so the sacrifice of all those trees won’t have been in vain.
Having this clutter again annoys me. I do love reading magazines, but I hate their clutter. I won’t renew any of my paper subscriptions or make new ones. I actually do 95% of my periodical reading off the Internet, or from Next Issue, a digital subscription library to 140 magazines for $15 a month. I was almost paper free and I had a relapse. Sorry about that.
Annoyingly, our local paper has decided to give everyone weekly special issue. I tear out the crossword puzzle and put it in the recycle box. What a waste. I feel sorry for newspapers, but how many of their pages are actually read?
In the seven years since I started this project, my bank, credit card, retirement account, health insurance, car insurance, utility all wanted me to go paperless too, and I have. But it feels strange not having any paper proof of my savings and debt. I’m having to invent new routines to handle living in a digital world.
I still have plenty of paper books, but I don’t really like buying them anymore. I buy printed books when they are cheaper than Kindle books. For example, a recent book club read was $9.70 Kindle and $4.00 for a used printed copy. I went the cheap route. I’ll read the paper copy and then give it to the library. However, if I had bought the Kindle version, I’d have it for keeps. I would have saved some trees and the fuel it took to ship it to me. I would have opted for the ebook if it had been $5.99 or lower. I think it odd that publishers price their ebooks so close to printed editions. Why aren’t electrons cheaper than ink and paper?
For the last two decades we’ve been going through a digital revolution, and it’s affecting more than just paper. I’m phasing out CDs, LPs, DVDs, cassettes and even hard drives. I recently switched to a SSD drive (solid-state drive). When I cleaned out my closet I found six internal SATA drives and one external USB drive, all 500GB to 2TB. My new SSD is only 250GB, and so far I’ve only used about 70GB. Because of cloud drives and digital content providers like Audible, Spotify, Next Issue, Amazon, Scribd, etc., many books, songs, television shows and movies I used to horde on mechanical drives now reside in electronic libraries.
I wonder if by 2020 if I will own any content on physical media? Not only will I have gone paperless, but I will have gone disc-less too. Did anyone imagine how the smartphone would bring about a paperless society? Now that Apple is joining the Spotify revolution, how many people will keep their old CDs, or even their iTunes songs. When I set up this new computer I intentionally didn’t install iTunes, or copy my 25,000 MP3 files to my Music folder.
I’m currently reading Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert, a novel from the early seventies about a secret branch of humanity that models their society on insect societies. Is the Internet creating a hive mind? Now that we store our libraries of knowledge and art online to share, doesn’t that radically change how we live?
Where does paper still get used? Packaging. Way too much of that. And what about school work. Do kids still turn in all their work on paper? Receipts are a big source of paper for my recycle box. And I still get too much junk mail – not anything like before, but still a good bit. For some reason every charity I contribute to feel the need to send me a regular magazine. I need to write them about that.
Of course, in the future when anthropologists unearth our civilization, they will only find dead smartphones and tablets. I wonder what they will make of that?