OPINION: Paper vs Electronic in the digital age

Paper documents are becoming a thing of the past, facing competition with electronic media in the digital age. (Zachary Korb/Creative Commons)

Paper documents are becoming a thing of the past, facing competition with electronic media in the digital age. (Zachary Korb/Creative Commons)

In today’s digital world, printed documents are becoming a thing of the past. And that’s a good thing, right? Digital documents are eco-friendly, easily accessed, portable and even reduce the space needed to store files.

In terms of the internet, it has made photos, documents, video and really any type of media easier to share than ever before. Digital seems to be the most convenient and obvious option. It is the way of the future—or so we think.

With the use of digital media becoming the favored option, we face the stark reality that the future may not know its past. Digital documents are less reliable than printed documents and must be consistently up kept or face elimination from existence.

The problem with storing important documents electronically is it must be actively maintained or it risks being unreadable after even a decade. According to Storagecraft, media such as CDs, DVDs, hard disks and flash storage have lifespan of five to 10 years.

Of course, with active maintenance your files will have a long life—right? A lot of people struggle to maintain the car they drive everyday, let alone keep up with all the crap that they store on their computer.

I have personally experienced the downfall that is electronic storage. I can list countless times, where my computer crashed, files got corrupted or were accidentally deleted because of my negligence. Human error has been the downfall of many of my photos, videos and documents.

I’m not embarrassed to say that when I was 13 I cried for at least a half an hour when I accidentally deleted all the videos from the last three years of my life off my video camera.

Sure it was all probably crap quality footage, since it was on a nock off Flip video camera, but photos and videos are very dear to my heart. And since I never backed it up on a computer, it is all lost forever.

Actually, I take that back. I did back those videos up on a computer, until that computer blacked out one day and I lost everything on there. And no, I never backed that computer up either.

Seriously just take a second and think of all the times you lost files, photos and music to the horror that is a blue screen. Or lost everything on your phone, because it failed to back up to cloud for 52 weeks.

This isn’t even touching on the storage of important documents. It would truly be a tragedy if important documents were all kept digitally.

From experience, there is something more tangible and real about printed documents. Once it’s there, it is here to stay. And once it’s stored properly, little needs to be done to preserve its longevity.

And who can forget about value? When something is stored digitally, it in a sense, loses its value. There are things like signatures that wouldn’t be the same if it was on a digital document. It has the same meaning, but the value isn’t the same.

Just think if the Constitution of the United States of America had been digital. It’s importance would be reduced by its lack of physicality.

It is also true that after a century paper documents can become significantly decayed. It terms of digital archives, these documents can now be scanned and saved digitally as a back up. We are currently doing that with the newspapers at the Lariat.

I’m not saying electronic documents are all bad. There are many benefits and it certainly is the way of the future. However, printed documents and media that still hold value and importance.

The way of the future isn’t one or the other. The way of the future is both the print and electronic world working together. Together, they will increase longevity for all forms of media.

Just make sure to back your files up.


Photo used by CC BY-SA 2.0