Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Going Paperless

02 Dec 2008

I think that one of the most wonderful things about owning a laptop is the amount of paper one can cut down on. I have never had a need to print lecture notes, assignments, tutorials, lab manuals, or project specs. I estimate all this saves me approximately a 1000 sheets of printing paper each term. And e-school at Waterloo is eight terms. I'm sure you can do the math.

Since I don't have a printer of my own, anything that needs printing needs to be printed using university printing facilities which unfortunately cost me 8 cents a sheet. Not to mention the inconvenience and the wasted time waiting for those slow lab computers to log me in. So it not only saves paper to not print, but also saves time and is more convenient.

And if I want something photocopied, I scan it instead. Not only does this save me paper, but I can also import the scanned document into a service like Evernote and search for text in it at a later time, handwritten or not. Very powerful.

Currently, I use a paper-based agenda to keep track of all my academic deadlines and assignments. But as I complete my migration to Google Calendar (view my calendar here), even that is going to go away.

At the start of each term, I find this one particular white-coloured recycling box near the university library where reams of printing paper are dumped each term. I'm guessing these are from profs and graduate students who dump copies of their research papers at the end of each term. All these sheets have something printed on them on one side; I just use the other empty side for scrap. And also, before I forget, to do my assignments.

I find three significant advantages, beyond the obvious environmental fourth, to doing assignments on about-to-be-recycled scrap paper that you didn't pay for rather than on loose-leaf paper that you did pay for:

  1. When marked assignments are passed around in class, it becomes really easy to spot your needle from a haystack of about 300 sheets.
  2. I generally get the assignment done faster when doing it on scrap paper. I don't really know why. I wish I did.
  3. I generally make fewer errors when doing assignments on scrap paper. This probably explains, even if not entirely, why I get them done faster in the first place.

I think it's important that we all strive to go paperless during our university careers. Just imagine the amount of paper we'd save over the 4 or 5 years of our program's duration. I still end up printing a whole lot more than I'd like, but that's just because I'm forced to by profs and TAs who find it hard to read off a screen. But hey, at least I'm making a conscious effort to cut-down. I think you should too.

The "paperless" idea isn't quite revolutionary. It is at least 30 years old, but only today do I feel that we have the necessary tools and technology to perform virtually everything on a laptop with simply an internet connection.

My university, the University of Waterloo, is making an effort to go paperless. The challenges were explained at a recent in-house conference. Take a look and let me know what you think.

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