10 things we still print that should be digital by now

Written by printingchoice

When was the last time you wrote a check? 2004? Well, if you’re like most people, the bank keeps sending you little reminders, pestering you to order more. We live in an increasingly digitized world, and with every new invention comes fewer reasons to print things like checks. Yet we still have them, and many other things that could just as easily be digital, saving us not only paper, but time and money.

Here are 10 everyday items that could — and should — be 100% digital by now, but aren’t. For the love… somebody please do something about it!

Checks


First of all, who uses checks anymore? You’ll never see a more angry line of customers at the checkout counter than those waiting behind some old guy who’s slowly recording his shopping total in the back of his checkbook. Very few businesses today (in the U.S. at least) say “yes” to checks and “no” to credit cards. Most of the time, it’s the other way around. Checks take time to clear and have high rates of fraud and bouncing. But the bottom line is we have a grip of digital alternatives; checks are inefficient and waste paper.

Instead: Credit cards; E-checks; or typing in your PayPal information at the checkout counter.

Paper Currency


While we’re on the subject of money, it’s time to face the truth that paper money is so 20th century. In 2007, the US Treasury was printing 38 million notes a day (and that figure may be higher now). That’s a lot of paper.

The bills themselves have little inherent value. In an increasingly digital world, it makes sense to save all those printing and transportation costs, all that space, and all that time and just make money digital. Wired recently published this very argument, and they generally have a good handle on what’s in the future. It’s definitely not more paper money.

Instead:
Using your smartphone to pay; credit cards; QR- or bar-codes; peer to peer money-sending apps like Venmo.

Airline Tickets

It’s only been a couple of years since a lot of airlines stopped using those horrible green and white cardboard tickets with illegible text on them. Now many of us can print our own tickets at home or get them printed on demand at an airport kiosk. But when it comes down to it, what’s the point? The airlines have a digital record of who’s on the plane anyway. And they make you show your ID all over again even if you have a ticket. It would be smart to ditch the paper tickets entirely.

Instead: E-tickets on smartphones; just show your ID and credit card; retinal scanners.

Drivers Licenses

Why does identification have to be printed out on a card? Fingerprinting tech has been around for decades. And anyone who’s seen Minority Report knows that eye scanners are the future of ID (at least until the black market figures out out eye transplants). Furthermore, as more and more people carry mobile devices with them everywhere, it makes sense to combine identification into a cellphone or smartphone. Sure, there will be lots of security issues to overcome, but in the end it will be smarter, more efficient, and just plain sexier.

Instead: Mobile devices as primary form of ID; retinal scanners; fingerprint scanners.

Passports

Same goes for passports. If government agencies and airlines can just get along (sync up their data), digital passports will be a lot easier to manage than their paper-wasting counterparts. For one, any time a suspect crosses airport security, authorities can be instantly notified. Right now if when you go through security, the overweight guy with the blue flashlight just checks for forgery and you’re on your way. A digital system will remove human error, enhance communication, and facilitate travel faster than the paper method.

Instead: Mobile devices as primary form of ID; retinal scanners; fingerprint scanners.

Business Cards

Nothing’s more archaic in the 21st century than handing out your name and email address on little slivers of dead trees. That info will automatically be saved in your contact list online as soon as you go home and write that “Nice meeting you” follow-up email. So why does contact info even need to cross the digital threshold if it’s only going back to cyberspace? Apps like Bump for the iPhone let you share contact information as fast as it takes to bump fists. It leaves a lot more room in your pockets, too.

Instead: Mobile apps; QR-codes; just type it in your freaking phone.

Receipts

I recently bought something from a store where they asked me if they could email me my receipt instead of printing one. It was cool, because I would have thrown that piece of paper anyway. Keeping your receipts in the cloud is much safer and smarter than keeping them all in a box under your desk. And as smartphones keep permeating society, it really should be possible to beam your receipt straight from the cashier to your phone rather than print you out an indecipherable receipt.

Instead: Email receipts; send receipts to smartphones.

Traffic and Parking Tickets

Don’t put that ugly orange envelope on my car! It’s gonna get rained on anyway, and it’s a waste of taxes. Police and parking officers should be able to e-ticket you by looking up your license plate number, generating an email and invoice informing you of your violation and how you can pay online. For that matter, speeding tickets should be handled the same way. An officer could attach photo or video proof of the violation to the e-ticket so you and the judge could see. It would add a layer of proof and transparency to everything in addition to saving paper and ink.

Instead: Email invoices with attached video or photo documentation of violation.

Bulletin Board Flyers

Every college dorm, every municipal building, and half the telephone poles in your hometown are plastered with tattered flyers of all colors and varieties. This amounts to about a zillion pounds of trash every month. In this digital age, bulletin boards ought to be digital screens where flyer posters can pay for space in which to put digital flyers. In fact, bulletin board companies could create networks of boards where people could submit their e-flyers to be syndicated across all their boards at once. Save time hoofing it to the next dorm; save tape; save paper. Makes a lot of sense.

Instead: Digital bulletin boards.

Newspapers

This is the one everyone was waiting for. Yes, at this point in history the newspaper knows its time is almost done. When Marc Andreesen famously told Charlie Rose that The New York Times should “kill the print edition,” he was speaking from a business perspective: cut those costs and focus on the web. But another consideration is waste. 60 million newspapers are printed daily in the US. That’s a lot of paper and a lot of delivery trucks. We have the ability to read the news online, so why do we continue to level a forest a day just to print them out?

Instead: Newspaper websites; blogs; the friggin iPad (and the awesome Android and other tablets that will hopefully come out soon).

Of course, there will always be some things that will be printed out. Some people will never give up paperback books; a market may always exist for them. And that’s fine. At the same time, there are so many things that we have no reason not to switch to digital. These 10 are certainly the tip of the iceberg. Please add your own to the list in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “10 things we still print that should be digital by now

  1. Lizziepup1824

    This is stupid. One third of the world's population lives below the poverty line. Smartphones ae not on the top of their agenda.

  2. Tomaj

    sure, once we get the never-say-wrong-world-info-database-on-all-people-everywhere up and running, and issue everyone in the world some sort of smartphone, we'll be able to get rid of everything.

    my favorite line from above: “if government agencies and airlines can just get along (sync up their data)…”

  3. Dixie Normous

    This is folly. Not everyone on the planet has computer access and money is very difficult (near impossible) to hide when it's all digital. Governments can freeze your account when you put it all in the bank too! What if you're innocent? They do that crap ALL the time! Police can use this to coerce people into rolling over on their friends. This is such an American article!

  4. Bojangles

    this would save a lot of paper butint he end i think if that were to happen it would become entirely impossible to go about being anonymous. passports -OK, but like money, receipts; if those were done electrotically we could do virtually nothing without other people being able to follow our tracks.

  5. Nigel

    This is just stupid? did you not think to ask yourself at some point, Hey maybe everyone in the entire world doesnt have a smartphone?

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