I just regained some faith in humanity’s ability to go paperless

paper - for some reason we don't have an alt tag hereFor every week that goes by, I get increasingly annoyed by how slowly society is going paperless. Unlike a lot of other changes that end up inconveniencing those stuck in the past, this particular one seems to be all about inconveniencing those who are ahead of the rest. Instead of paper lovers being the ones who have to print out documents, it seems I’m the one who has to scan them.

One of my favorite features of the iPad mini is the camera, which is decent enough to actually allow me to scan documents directly. It’s quite sad that one of my favorite features on a modern device is its backwards compatibility with remnants of what might as well be the stone age. Keeping paper around when it’s not necessary just serves to prolong the inevitable and force everyone to take one step backwards for every two steps forwards. 

The other day however, I stumbled across an instance of innovation actually winning through. I was applying for a master’s program at the university college I’m attending, a procedure that has been only partially digital for ages now. Sure, you can apply digitally, but they then print out a document that they send you, in which you need to put copies of your diplomas (that contain your grades) and send it back to them. These copies need to be made by authorized copiers, meaning copy shops, government buildings, or the schools themselves. Otherwise you might falsify them, or at least that’s the logic.

This time, however, sending in the application included a page for “uploading digital documentation,” with very little explanation other than the headlines for each section being self explanatory as to what to upload. Being used to a system that’s only slightly less ridiculous than needing armed guards to watch you while you copy your documents, I was confused by the lack of documentation as to how documents needed to be digitized, and sent the school an email. I quickly got a response saying that the new digital system accepted digital documentation in a lot of different forms, including the PDF files I had of my diplomas- which were just scans I made myself.

To ensure that no one falsified documentation, a new system has been implemented where the original documentation needs to be brought and checked when you first start the course. You’re basically then accepted based on the documentation you provide, but won’t actually get as far as the first class if you did falsify the documents. This way, it’s still secure, but makes the task of applying so much less of a pain- for both parties. I was able to do in a minute what would have taken me a trip to an authorized copier followed by a trip to the post office, and the school doesn’t have to deal with two billion tons of paper.

What impressed me about this was that they actually managed to find a paperless solution, rather than just concluding that it’s not possible to replace verified paper copies with digital versions. That it took them this long to implement the system is less impressive, but better late than never.

I think a lot of the slowness we’re seeing in the adoption of paperless systems is due to a combination of stupidity and unwillingness to change. I still get amazed by the outright idiocy displayed by “high security” services here in Norway, meaning things like taxation documents, bank documents, and so on. A lot of them still insist on sending you stuff via postal mail, the argument being that it’s safer than digital methods. Yes, I’m sure it’s much easier  to hack into my online account. which is a multi-step process requiring both a password and my phone to get into- than it is to raid my mail box that’s sitting unguarded for roughly 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds every day.

Either way, I’m glad I’m seeing some progress in the world, even if a snail could still outrun the adoption of digital paper replacements. I’m really looking forward to the day when paper is only used for one thing, and you no longer have to look at it once you flush.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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