Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Comfort Zones, On Paper

I just threw away half a ream of paper and it got me thinking.

Why do we still use paper? Give me an example of an application that absolutely, positively requires wood pulp from trees. Surely publishers make bigger returns on digital work, surely money could have gone digital years ago. Are digital copies and backups for files not more reliable and easier to organize? I can think of a hundred means of identification more reliable than a signature. Who writes checks anymore?

I have a co worker who insists that we distribute event information in multiple places throughout the hotel. When information is revised, we distribute more pieces of paper. We have a meeting twice a week that is formatted such that we have to bring stacks and stacks of paper, roughly a ream, to be thrown away after an hour. For each group I host with rooms I distribute coversheets, group resume's, to every manager. And yet, I know mostly they go unread. All this information can be found in our systems. I admit, you can touch, see, hear, smell paper. But it's no more real than compressed data. It's just comfortable.

I'm not saying paper is only for the wasteful and those who missed the computer revolution, (you know who you are), I'm just pointing out the reason people insist on having paper as a "backup" in these situations. It's comfort. It's what they're used to.

I admit to a certian level of comfort in plucking a volume from a bookshelf and thumbing through the pages that trumps scrolling a mouse. But I think that's only because of experience using books - I'm old enough to remember life before Google. But it's unnecessary. A digital copy with a further backup will long outlast a piece of paper.

This is the same comfort zone that leads so many people into a harmful fear of change. Many people insist prayer should be in schools, but it makes no sense to the non-Christians. Are we so caught up in our own comfort zones that we're willing to sacrifice those of others if their belief system differs from ours? Couldn't one argue that this is quintissentially un-American? But then, so many parents grew up with prayer in schools, so constitution be damned. There are those who believe gay marriage is an assault on traditional marriage, but really it's an assault on their perspective on marriage. The Defense-of-Marriagers would rather sacrifice the comfort and happiness of others to remain in their unchanging world.

Many people spend their whole lives in one city, but eventually anything else escapes their comfort zone and they lose out on the perspective gained from travelling. All these things may seem unrelated to that ream of paper I just threw out, but they aren't at all.

Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, all stem from a fear of change, a fear of anything that contrasts with one's perspective, however narrow or seemingly wide.

One could argue that religion, when taken out of context can be used as the ultimate comfort zone. Ultimate forgiveness, eternal life, and the warmth of routine ingrained in every aspect of our daily lives can seem soothing to some. There's peace in ritual. But if one injects true spirituality and self-questioning into the religious mix, (regardless of the religion), you are catapulted into the wandering place, a place the Christian Bible describes a desert. No trees grow there.

So here we all are, standing at opposing sides of the wandering place, throwing rocks at each other and refusing to budge if someone from another point of view tries to butt their way in. There has to be a middle ground, but we'd all become very unformfortable before we could get there. But maybe we'd be better people for it. Maybe we'd grow a little.

And maybe we'd stop wasting so much damn paper.