A Look on the Lighter Side: A paperless world? Not so fast!

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was on the train the other day, next to someone reading on some electronic device, when she looked up and caught me trying to read it over her shoulder. 

“Yes, I think we’re reading the same book,” she said.  I looked down at my copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo.  

“You got me,” I said.  “Of course, for all I know, yours could be ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ ” 

“It’s funny you say that,” she said, smiling.  “That book is the reason I got this.” She waved her e-reader at me.  “But now I use it for everything.  I’ve got dozens of books on here, and it’s easy to take them all with me. Plus…”

“Yes?” I dog-eared the page in my book as I closed it.   

“Now I’ve gone paperless, I’m saving trees!” 

“Well, so am I,” I said.  “I don’t need electricity to make this work.” 

She went back to her Kindle, or her phone, or whatever it was. Until the battery died. 

“Oh, drat,” she said. “Now I’ve got nothing for the rest of this ride.”

“Here, borrow mine,” I said.  “What page were you on?”

“Well, that’s a problem,” she answered.  “I never know where I am, till I’m finished.  Sometimes I don’t even see it coming!”

“That’s one reason I like paper,” I told her.  “Whenever I read something on a screen, I get claustrophobic; it feels like I’m scrutinizing the hull of the Queen Mary through a paper-towel tube. When I read a real book, I  just have a better feel for where I am.  Plus I remember things better.  Like in this book — there’s a place where Marie talks about paper…”

“I could find that for you — if mine was working.  Unless it just found 300 references to ‘paper’ instead. ”

“Never mind, I’ll find it — I know it’s on the bottom of a left-hand page … Ah here it is, on page 96:” 

“My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away  My clients are stunned  when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers.  After all, they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.”  

“But she’s wrong,” I insisted, closing my book once again.  “I like paper. I like books.  I feel much better, finishing a book, than I would just deleting one file and starting another.  Some of the most important things in my home are on paper — my framed wedding certificate;  family photos; hand-made Mother’s Day cards; and a bill my older boy gave us, when he was 6, for “Babby-siting” his brother.”

“I hear you,” said my seat-mate.  “But there must be some times when even you would agree we don’t need paper?”

“Well, yes.  I will admit that, knowing the New York Times is on the internet, it is easier for me to recycle the newsprint copies.  Maybe someday, I’ll even go completely digital. It was one of my New Year’s resolutions…before I chickened out.”

“And what about paper towels?  Every time you dry your hands with those, in a public restroom, you’re just killing trees! What about them?”

“You’ve got a point, but every hand dryer I’ve ever used is just so noisy!  And at my age, I really don’t have a lot of hearing capacity to spare.” 

We both sat quietly, enjoying the scenery out the window.  “You know, this is the first time I’ve looked out the window in almost a year,” said my new friend.  “It’s quite a beautiful view.”

Then I broke the silence.  “Here’s what bothers me the most, when people talk about going ‘paperless,’  I’m afraid it’s just going to be like every time I try to lose weight, and end up gaining, instead.”

“I’m not following you.…” 

“Well, take our school district.  They announced they were going paperless.  So now, for school board meetings, there aren’t any handouts.  You have to go on their website and look it all up, instead.”

“So?”

“So one time I was reading everything, but I couldn’t understand it, so I just said, “Print.”  Eighty pages later, my printer was still going!  I was knee-deep in attachments that I’m sure, in the old days, would have been three pages, each.  But someone probably said, ‘Oh, no one’s going to print this anyway, what’s another 20 pages?’ ”

“Sounds awful!”

“It was. The worst of it was, I fell asleep reading it all — and missed the meeting.”

“So — you’re saying paper makes for a good bedtime story?” 

“I guess I am!” We both laughed, happy to agree on something, as the train arrived at our stop. 

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