I'll be honest — I’m writing this blog a little bit as a form of catharsis, so bear with me. It’s been a little over two weeks since Hurricane Irma plowed through Florida. As a nearly lifelong resident of Central Florida, I’ve experienced my share of hurricanes and, like many others across the state, will tell you Irma was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. When Andrew was pummeling South Florida in 1992, it was a sunny day in Orlando – Andrew was a small if powerful storm. Irma was huge. She made landfall more than 200 miles southwest of my home, and we felt it — pounding rain, pummeling winds, dozens upon dozens of the tornadoes common to the northeast side of a hurricane. And we saw it, in the form of pools of water in every room on the side of the house where those driving winds and rain hit the hardest. My moment of true panic came when I saw those pools of water surrounding my bookcases.
And this is where the story of paper comes into play — it’s two stories, actually, and diametrically opposing ones. The first story is the fear of loss. I never for a moment worried about losing important documents or archives of magazines or anything else. Those are all housed on multiple hard drives and cloud locations. Even if the storm had gotten to my phone or iPad, the content was safe. When the power went out, the devices kept running, and a portable generator and USB battery packs ensured they’d continue to do so as long as needed. Even if a lack of power to the router prevented immediate access, the data was safe.
The books though — I grabbed some photo albums in which not all pictures have been scanned, but I couldn’t move everything. I didn’t need to, fortunately – it was not a flood, just some water incursion — but watching the news reports of Harvey’s flood victims had driven home the realization that in the event of a real flood, the books would be toast. And did it matter? I also realized that, as much as I love my library, the books are largely sentimental in value. Many of them were my dad’s. Many are from my childhood. But most of them haven’t been read in years.
And that’s the second story. I’ve always been a paperless kind of girl, ever since paperless became an option. I don’t have paper in my office, I eschew all forms of printed correspondence, pretty much any hard copy that comes to me that can’t be gotten in any other digital form is immediately scanned and then shredded, and I’ve gradually collected most of my favorite books as well as all new acquisitions in e-book form. But the physical books were still there. And then the time came to try and read one of them. In the week of stress and preparation leading up to the storm, my friends and I talked about “comfort reading” — which books would we try to read to calm ourselves? (I decided on “Watership Down,” because nothing says “comfort” like homicidal warring rabbits.) So the morning after the storm, figuring I’d preserve iPad battery, I sat down to read a paperback book for the first time in ages — and I couldn’t do it. The font was too small and I couldn’t tap a command to make it larger. The pages were too dim and the book light cast funny shadows and made turning pages awkward. I missed my e-reader. I needed my e-reader. I’m pretty sure that as of that moment, I officially become 100 percent paper-free.
Offices, of course, face many other challenges when it comes to paper, and it’s not as simple as saying “that’s it, no more paper.” But some of these lessons hold true — particularly when it comes to disaster. We’ve heard many stories of fires or floods wreaking havoc on a company’s records and sending them off in the direction of digitization. There are lessons to be learned and obstacles to be overcome. We’ll talk more about the paperless office, the “paperless office” and the paper-less office in the October issue of The Imaging Channel, so stay tuned!
Editor’s Note: Many people in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean hit by Maria and Irma, Houston and the surrounding area hit by Harvey, and parts of south Florida are still suffering life-altering effects from these storms. Please consider donating to a relief fund.