Thursday, June 30, 2016


I often suspect that I was born in the wrong generation, and those who know me well would probably agree. Here are some cold hard facts: even though I’m under 40, I generally don’t know any music written after 1950, I only use my smartphone if I have to (and I also leave it at home sometimes), I still text with only one index finger (as opposed to dual thumbs), and I like to print documents out in order to read them. I know. I’m the worst.

But I would just like to point out that, at least as far as the last item on my list goes, there may be some evidence that I’m not destroying the planet by my profligate printing ways.  We are often exhorted to go paperless in order to be more environmentally friendly. (I would also like to interject here that, due solely to my husband’s efforts, I live in a largely “paperless” household.)  As a result, whenever I print something that isn’t absolutely necessary, I’m plagued by mild guilt accompanied by a mental image of clear-cut expanses and little forest animals without homes.

However, using paper isn’t necessarily synonymous with “mass deforestation.”  After a little Googling (yes, I noticed the irony), I learned that paper-making is a sustainable process, the majority of paper is recycled (making it the most recyclable commodity in the US), and over the past 100 years, forest coverage has increased by 28% in certain parts of the country. In contrast, manufacturing electronic devices leaves quite the carbon footprint and requires controversial rare earth metals, powering those electronic devices takes a lot of energy—often derived from coal—and there is that pesky growing problem of e-waste.  

Let me stop here, though, and acknowledge that: 1) this is a horribly oversimplified take on the state of affairs, 2) there are lots of arguments, nuances and caveats with regard to everything I stated in the paragraph above, and 3) I realize that, as between paper and electronics, it’s not even close to being a zero-sum game. Just to articulate one of the arguments: a worldwide problem of deforestation still exists and using paper that isn’t responsibly harvested can contribute to that. It is also true that there are lots of industries springing up to combat the problems associated with electronic devices, including alternative energy sources and e-waste recyclers.

What’s my point? I’m not arguing that we all ought to chuck our electronic devices and pull out the old Royal Model 10. But I do think that when new trends or ideas emerge, before wholeheartedly jumping on the bandwagon, we should attempt to examine their ramifications and not let the pressure to adopt new things eclipse their actual results.  New tools do not always mean better outcomes across the board. Sometimes a new tool is quantifiably better; sometimes it is worse; and sometimes it may be better but bring a whole host of complications along with it. We, as consumers, business owners and citizens of the world would do well to keep our eyes peeled.

No comments :

Post a Comment