This post gets back to an issue that I addressed early on in my chronicling of writing a paperless dissertation. Namely, that many, if not most people I’ve encountered are dubious at best when presented with the idea of giving up stacks of scribbled upon, highlighted, and unsearchable journal articles and drafts. Moreover, all of this paper does not afford them the quality of portability and/or accessibility. Wherever those stacks are, they’re likely to stay put, and are only begrudgingly ported from one locale to the next when circumstances mandate such a thing. If you have 100 journal articles that you are in the process of reviewing, you’re faced with lugging them with you in the car, or on an airplane, should you be taking your Thanksgiving (or other extended) break, but must still work. Without realizing it, what they’re really endorsing is not a tried-and-true research workflow, but a preference for entropy. That is, they’d rather have those stacks of paper with all of the aforementioned qualities.
To be fair, I realize that a hard copy of anything has certain benefits. Well, at least that’s the claim that stalwarts will make when defending their decision to continue using paper drafts and copies. A common argument goes something like this: “Paper won’t ever run out of batteries.” To me, this is like saying: “Birds won’t ever run out of gasoline. That’s why I continue to use Carrier Pigeons instead of the United States Postal Service.” To answer the burning question at the forefront of your mind: no, I don’t use Carrier Pigeons. I drew this parallel because both arguments employ the same logical fallacy. That is, they both try to distract you from the benefits of ‘Thing A’ by pretending ‘Thing B’ possesses a quality that it does not and cannot possess. Paper cannot run out of batteries. This is logically true, since paper does not afford the ability to be powered by any means, batteries included. The point of such an argument is to create the illusion that battery powered devices are unreliable because they have a finite source of power. While this is true, most of us don’t run into this problem, because we’re all acutely aware of the limited run time of even the most advanced batteries connected to the most power-efficient machines. Furthermore, while paper has its place, it has many of its own qualities that make it unreliable (can be lost, burned, thrown away, etc.).
Another benefit of using an applications-based workflow is accessibility to the files themsleves. I use two Macs (an older G4 PowerBook and a unibody MacBook Pro) for my work, and pretty much always have one of them with me. There are times, however, when I am without one of my machines. This is where online, or redundant backups, come in handy. I use four cloud server backups: Dropbox, Box.net, Cloud, and Droplr. Of these, Dropbox is my primary off-site backup solution. It not only backs up everything instantly each time I save a new document or add anything to a dropbox folder (or to a folder with a symbolic link within Dropbox), but sends it to my other Mac as well. Since I have Dropbox on both machines, I know that both of them are synced all the time. When I’m not in front of either of my computers, I have access to most of my important files (like this post) as long as I can get to a computer with online access. So far, this has been a Panacea for hyper-accessibility. This solution is not a new one, and is not the only one of its type. It is underused, though, as most people don’t keep even one backup of their important files, never mind two or three or more.
There are certainly other peripheral benefits of paperless technology. These are my favorites, and so I figured I’d hit on them first. I may post some more next week or later. If you have some favorite points of paperless workflows, please add them in the comments below!
Finally, I am (mostly) all moved in here in South Florida. Hopefully this means I’ll be getting back to some more regular posting. We’ll see, as my Internship begins on Wednesday!