Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paperless society

In other automation news, the one task that I have to do most often that annoys the living hell out of me is organizing the tons and tons of loose papers. They are everywhere. My university sends me papers. I get mail, much of it unwanted crap. Some mail must be destroyed because it could be used to steal money or credit from me, thank you very much credit card spams. College and government demand forms, often in duplicate, or worse, triplicate. There is easily twice the weight of paper than humans in my house. There are also too many books. Handwritten notes are common from places where I had no computer available and still needed to keep a record.

Much of the tasks now on paper could be done on computer. For instance, the 1040-EZ, a "fun" little US Government form that determines how much tax you need to pay them. Despite being perfect for computerization, it is only offered as a PDF file to be printed out and drawn on with a pen. A computerized version could also handle the few calculations involved (add line 23 to 53, subtract line 19, and multiply by the square root of line 89. Well, okay, it's all add and subtract.) A computerized version could even auto-transfer the money at the end thereby relieving me of all responsibility there. (Every year, on April 15th, the date US taxes are due, the post office has to stay open until midnight because large numbers of people insist on waiting until the last possible second. The people working there can't be pleased by that. Nor do I think the IRS is pleased at having a burst of forms on April 16th to fuss with.)

The savings in paper would be immense. The college, government, and spam forms are often sent by mail, meaning that the government subsidized mail carriers had to physically carry it to my house, put it in my mailbox. Electronic forms would be sent as a signal over existing wires, for a savings of 43 cents per form.

Also, computers can more easily be organized. Items can be moved around in batch according to patterns in their content. Were I blind, computers can read many forms with a synthesized voice, whereas paper forms require their own reader, often a friend of the blind person. (Yes, there are OCR devices for blind people that can help them read paper. I don't imagine they're easy to use, especially if one inserts the form upside down.)

If I get any more paper, I think I'm going to invent some kind of paper-burning reactor to deal with it. It would produce energy through the heat difference, and....


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