I will repeat a story told to me. I can't verify its accuracy although I am sure that it must be true of some people.
In my travels recently, an attendee at one of my presentations told of a friend of hers who prints all her email messages "so that she can read them." In this case, I mean ALL of her email messages!
She prints this newsletter every time she receives it in email. If she receives a message from a friend or acquaintance, she prints it. If the local genealogy society sends a notice of an upcoming meeting, she prints it. If someone sends her their latest "joke list," she prints it. If someone sends a one-line message, such as "I'll call you tomorrow," she prints it.
She then reads each printed message and files it by the sender's name.
I have one question: Why?
In fact, there is no requirement to print anything, other than what is dictated by our personal habits. As proven by the millions of people who read novels and many other books with e-readers, printed paper is not a requirement for learning or entertainment. Reading information on a screen is just as effective as reading printed words on paper. In most cases it is even easier to save, copy, annotate, or otherwise add your own input to electronic documents than it is to printed paper.
Want to save something for later use? Click Save As..., give the document a name and a folder location, and whatever you want has been saved to a new file on your computer. Are you worried that you might forget the name of the file or its location some time later? There are dozens of programs that will allow you to quickly search your entire hard drive for any words in the title or even in the text of any file. Once you get used to the software involved, you will find it FASTER and EASIER to retrieve information stored in your computer than to find things that were printed and filed "someplace."
Hewlett-Packard has an interesting paper entitled Calculating the True Cost of Printing, available at http://www.hp.com/sbso/expert/calculatingtruerisk_printin.pdf, that describes printing costs for corporations. I cannot find anything similar describing the cost of printing for personal use, but the paper and ink or toner alone must be five cents a page or more. You may be paying hundreds of dollars a year to print! Then you probably should add in the purchase price of the printer although I suspect most people will purchase a printer whether they print everything or not.
I have been traveling for business and for pleasure almost all of my adult life. Years ago, I started traveling with a laptop computer to access email and other information while on the road. I rarely carry a printer or a ream of paper with me. I quickly found that I didn't need to print everything. In fact, reading everything and electronically filing everything worth saving has not only been satisfactory, but it soon became my preferred method of reading, filing, and retrieving information as well.
Reading new information on a screen has always been easy. Storing information and then retrieving it when needed was a bit difficult in "the good old days" of early computers, but became easier and easier as retrieval software improved, hard drive sizes increased, and prices dropped. Today, I find that retrieving documents electronically is much easier than doing the same from paper copies. Even better, I keep the equivalent of tens of thousands of pieces of paper with me at all times on both my laptop and in a flash drive in my pocket.
In addition, I have the same things stored in a private section I control "in the cloud," where I can access it from any computer with an Internet connection– even a friend's computer or a computer in a public library or my “smartphone” (a cell phone with extra computing capabilities, such as an iPhone or an Android phone). That certainly is a lot easier and more practical than carrying the same things with me when printed on tens of thousands of sheets of paper!
I have saved all the email messages that I have received and deemed worth saving from the past six years. (I don't save spam mail, advertisements, quick "thank you" notes, or notices of upcoming events.) I can usually find any email message within a few seconds by searching my email program for specific words in the text and/or searching by the sender's name. I can even do that from my cell phone when at the dentist's office or at the grocery store. Try doing THAT with printed messages!
Want to save copies of this newsletter? Trivial.
Want to keep every joke that every friend has sent to you? I suggest you do that electronically. Need to find something you saved years ago? If it is stored on your hard drive or in "the cloud," you can do so within seconds.
If I can do it, you can, too.
Your multi-gigabyte hard drive probably has lots of storage space available right now. If not, purchasing an external hard drive is cheaper than purchasing paper and toner or ink cartridges.
Of course, you will make multiple backup copies and save them in multiple locations, right?
Even if you are not very good at organizing and using file folders on your computer, the search capabilities that come with every 21st century computer system and email program will help you locate most any piece of information you have saved. Both Windows and Macintosh now have built-in software to search every word stored on a hard drive. Those search utilities are available to you now. The Macintosh search utility is called Spotlight and is found in the upper right corner of all screens (click on the magnifying glass icon). The Windows equivalent is invoked by pressing the "Windows" key on your keyboard on Windows Vista or Windows 7. You can instantly start searching your Start Menu and your entire computer. It is available in every Explorer window.
I find those search products to be a bit simplistic, but better products are available from a number of third party software vendors. I am presently using EasyFind, a FREE program for Macintosh that is available in the Apple App Store. It also has several competitors. If the free EasyFind program doesn't meet your needs, you probably can find another that does.
If you are still printing lots and lots of things, I will issue you a challenge: for the next seven days, print NOTHING. That’s right, nothing. Sure, you will feel uncomfortable for a while. That is to be expected anytime you try to change a habit that has been engrained over a lifetime. However, I suspect you will find that life without paper is better than what you have practiced in the past.
To be sure, you probably will find a few things that absolutely must be printed, such as grocery store coupons or the copy of today's calendar that you carry in your pocket (I'll write about converting to a calendar stored on your cell phone in a later article). Printing a few things is acceptable. However, I would suggest that printing non-essential items is a waste of money as well as detrimental to the environment.
Life without paper is great. I do believe that I am now more organized than ever before. Eliminating paper doesn't organize everything in life, but it is a big help. Let's keep a "green inbox."
Hmmm, I never thought to ask if the person who prints everything even prints her spam mail!?!
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