It has occurred to me that no one has thought about this issue, so I thought I would pose the question. Why, in the modern electronic age are we still using paper? Just to give you an idea, at my company they have some things in electronic form, until they have to hand that off to someone else, at which point it gets physically printed, handed off, and then re-entered on the other parties electronic system. The reasons for this are numerous. Sometimes it's a way to give superficial authority status to the document. Other times someone's signature needs to be put on the document, and then it gets scanned back in in order to be emailed. Why not electronically sign the document instead? It's far more secure than a hand written signature. Sometimes the government regulations say that we have to have a "paper trail". Why does it have to be a paper trail? Why is it not an electronic trail? I see it as a simple two step process:

  1. Encrypt the information, to ensure that no one can access it unless you want them to.
  2. Use a hashing-based network like bitcoin to ensure that the information, though encrypted, is public record. If there was a court order, the authorities could then demand that the documents be decrypted.

To say nothing about the wasted man hours that are used in printing only to have data re-entered electronically, clearly the wasted time/energy/money in labor, fighting the printer to print the way you want, the ink, the paper itself, transporting documents in paper across the world when email and file compression would have done just as well at a fraction of the price, must be in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Is this not an issue that everyone could agree upon?

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    Hello there, and welcome. As we're a question & answer site, rather than a discussion forum, this sort of open-ended invitation to discussion doesn't really work in this format. Please can you rephrase this into a specific question that would have an objective answer? – 410 gone Oct 13 '14 at 13:56
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    no one has thought about this issue?? I've been hearing of the dawn of the paperless office for at least 30 years so far. Everyone knows paperless would be better, but everyone has an exception why procedure X requires paper ... and between all the people in the world, all of their procedure X candidates add up to all the procedures in the world. – Kate Gregory Oct 16 '14 at 17:25

This is quite a broad question, but here are a few thoughts towards an answer. Some are more opinion-based than others.

  • Some people prefer to read some things on paper.
  • There was, for a long time, a shortage of open standards for documents that could be adopted by all; instead, companies and individuals were incentivised to adopt proprietary formats. To a degree, this is still the case. This harms interoperability, and also raises justified fears about whether documents will still be readable in the future.
  • Physical signatures, headed notepaper, etc., provide some appearance of authentication (however easily forged they might be). While technical (cryptographic) methods of authentication and signature have existed for a long time, these have never been made comprehensible or usable to the average office worker, or understood to those who would have to put trust in them.
  • To most practical purposes, sending paper through the post is far less open to eavesdropping than sending it by email. Similarly to the previous point, while secure methods for transmitting information over the internet have existed for a long time, they have never been made useful for most people.
  • Rationally or otherwise, some people are worried about entrusting certain information to computers - usually out of fear of losing the information, or the information being stolen, or both.
  • Even where none of the above applies, many large organisations have a lot of intertia - i.e. they are slow to change and to adopt new ideas. Government is an example of a very large organisation, in this context. And since interoperability is key for this application, society inherits this inertia from the organisations within it.
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    Incidentally, re my first point: I was once employed for an engineering company that had a "paperless office" system. My entire job was to print all incoming documents, wait for engineers to write comments on them, and scan the comments back in. – Flyto Oct 14 '14 at 9:26
  • How would fear of losing electronic documents be irrational? That seems like a weird aside in an otherwise sensible answer. – Móż Oct 15 '14 at 1:55
  • @Mσᶎ that fear is rational, but some would argue that in some circumstances, that that is more likely to happen because of electronic storage is not. – Flyto Oct 15 '14 at 8:29

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