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Save the trees for firewood

Going digital in a paper-addicted world

Gulf News

Asking a newspaperman to go paperless is like asking someone who has smoked two packs a day for 20 years to go cold turkey.

Of sure, it sounds like a good idea. It’s better for you and the environment, it saves you money, and your fingers won’t be stained with some noxious substance (ink). It sounds great until you realise that you’re not just trying to give up a product, you’re actually trying to a give up a decades-old bad habit. It’s only a matter of time before you’re sneaking out back to flip through the occasional paperback or opening up a magazine in the men’s room, hoping your friends don’t catch you and get you back on the wagon.

You just have to look at my desk to see I have an addiction to paper. There are currently 20 newspapers on my desk, not to mention napkins, old notebooks, various spreadsheets, a cardboard cup sleeve from Starbucks, post-it notes — one with the words “Synergy! Synergy! Synergy!” posted by reporter Deena Kamel Yousef in retaliation for one of my tirades about jargon words — and an ever-shifting pile of notepaper with inscrutable phrases such as “Fed ex Shuroog Halo”.

The irony is: I don’t like paper. I’ve long desired to move my entire books collection to digital so I can throw out my books and the book cases with them. I read all my newspapers online. I haven’t bought a physical magazine in two years. People who say “I like the feel of paper” should be the first ones shot when the revolution comes. My colleagues give me evil looks, generally because I give my anti-paper tirades from behind a pile of newspapers that would drive a fire marshal insane.

I’ve tried to move to digital. It really started with an interview with David Lauren, son of designer Ralph Lauren. During an interview a few years ago, I made some crack about the company being late in getting serious about technology. He looked at me and said: “But you’re a tech reporter who still uses pencil and paper.” Touche.

My first attempt was to buy a stylus, which was about the size of a small cigar and about as easy to write with, for the iPad. But the quality just wasn’t there and, while I did conduct an interview using my tablet, I also kept a notebook in the bag just in the case. It was only a matter of time before I was back to being a two-pad-a-day user.

For the record, even the iPad wasn’t my first attempt at digital note-taking. Those of you who remember the Palm Pilot know that the once-famous PDA had a system of symbols – a lot like shorthand – that allowed you to create text. However, any attempt at writing faster than ten words a minute usually resulted in gibberish text, a cramped hand and an urge to stab the interviewee in the shoulder.

Real challenge

My latest attempt to go paperless involves the Samsung Note II. The Note II has a stylus that actually works. The software gives you the option of tapping on a digital keyboard, writing on a screen that converts block letters to text or, in the case of the hopeless illegible, writing directly on the screen. It works with a smoothness and clarity that is nearly identical to writing on paper, minus the inkstains or the need to scribble madly across the paper in the hope the pen will miraculously start working.

It works well. In a three-day trip to Paris last week, I conducted over 15 interviews, all using the Note II and without feeling the need to keep a notebook handy. To be fair, I still have one, mainly out of sheer paranoia, but it was never opened.

The real challenge though, isn’t going to be giving up a notebook for the Notebook, it’s going to be using the Notebook for the tens of little notes I write everyday. When someone calls, I instinctively reach for paper and toss half my desk looking for pen, which has managed against the odds to roll under a stack of papers that date back to the Bush era.

But while I’m actually making progress, it still feels like no one else is. I’ve don’t bother counting the newspapers, faxes and pieces of snail mail that get deposited on my desk every week — although, to be fair, the public relations industry’s reliance on emails has done wonders for my ability to kill press releases en masse.

Environmental guilt gets you nowhere, so I’m thinking about using the Tony Stark (Iron Man) method to make everyone else try to cut down on paper: I’m just going to tell people I don’t like to be handed things. It may sound silly, but it does go to the heart of the issue.

We are entering a digital world — clean, editable and efficient. Keep your crumbled, analogue paper products to yourself.