The persistence of paper records


In this day and age, when we're all so mobile and social and cloudy, it's easy to think that everything is digital and that paper is a quaint vestige of a bygone era, but the fact is that many processes still operate on a paper to this day.

This has been driven home for me lately in so many ways--some personally and some from stories in the news we've covered here at FierceContentManagement.

For starters, during the holiday break, I decided to tackle the massive paper pile that had accumulated on my desk. I have to admit that I'm not the best filer in the world--much to my wife's chagrin--and the result was it took me several hours to work through the pile, decide what to toss, what to shred and what to file. It took another session to take the piles and organize that by type.

And when I finished--if I'm being completely honest, it's still not entirely done and the shredding pile is still sitting in box--more came in. It never ends. It's a paper onslaught. And unfortunately, the paper pile on my desk has started to grow again.

I have a friend who suggested setting up a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500m and a Fellows SB-99Ci shredder. It's not exactly a cheap solution at $421.98 for the scanner and $219.97 for the shredder (prices on, but he claimed that using this hardware combination and an unlimited Evernote Pro account, he got himself entirely organized in the cloud and got rid of every scrap of paper in his life. Now, as soon as new records come in, he just scans and shreds. I so wish I were that organized.

I've actually thought long and hard about making the same purchase, but so far I haven't been able to make myself invest that kind of money in paper reduction--mostly because as my wife pointed out, I probably would spend the money and I still wouldn't get it done. Instead, I continue to complain about the sheer amount of paper in my life and fall behind trying to keep up with it.

I got another dose of paper reality on Saturday when we bought a car for my wife. Once you agree to buy a car, you need to sit down with the dealer's finance people and deal with a ridiculous amount of paperwork. We spent at least 45 minutes just signing papers. He had a little pink folio with a check list on the front and a dot matrix (yes dot matrix!) printer at his disposal. He would feed each form in, the printer would spit it out (quite quickly actually) and we would sign our names. The whole process was paper driven. 

I did spy an electronic signature pad on his desk, but he said that was just for people financing through the dealer--and we were going through a bank, so we had to sign the endless forms. 

But it's not just a personal paper story. Just last week, I wrote a story about a Marblehead, Massachusetts medical records company that had to pay $140,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for dumping paper files with personal medical information in a town dump, where unfortunately for the company, they were spied by a Boston Globe photographer. 

After Thanksgiving, I wrote about personally identifiable information from discarded police reports being mixed in with the confetti raining down on revelers at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

All these stories illustrate just how much paper persists in our lives in spite of our technological advancements and digital lifestyles. Clearly, we still need to find ways to manage and dispose of all that paper in a secure fashion--whether it's our personal records at home or files related to business. 

That's because, even in 2013, a lower dependency on paper is still a long way off, and the paperless office remains frustratingly elusive. - Ron