"Feed me, Bob. Feed me," the two-foot stack of paper seemed to say.

The mound seemed to have life of its own; growing, insatiably demanding more space. The solution to this monster's appetite was simple--recycle it, because the realization came that keeping paper copies of documents, unless you've got a copy of the Magna Carta or an original of the Declaration of Independence that you bought for a dollar at a garage sale, is often not worth the effort.

In fact, it's often a hindrance.

The ravenous demand of paper for space is well known in the tax and accounting office, as are the problems of retrieving information. And it's the last that caused me to toss out a lot of pages that I spent way too much time printing.

Just by its size, the mound deterred me from looking for information. I knew it wouldn't be easy to find what I wanted, compared to examining an image in a file, even if the words in the image weren't indexed. I could label my pages so that they have some meaning to me.

This is the kind of thinking that I believe is necessary for firms to overcome their resistance to getting rid of paper. People hang onto paper because they believe that having it is more secure, perhaps even more useful.

In fact, the opposite is often true. Having paper doesn't guarantee security. We have to back up paper--we call this making copies--and ship the copies off site if we are following good practices. And that's a process that produces a version that occupies just as much space as the original. As an amateur historian who deals with old books and newspapers while researching I can also vouch for the fact that through digital copies I often end up with versions that are easier to read.

Anything, whether physical or digital, can be lost or damaged. The idea that a physical page is far more secure than a data file is one that comes from a longer acquaintance with paper. While it may be true, it's not as big an advantage as most people think.

In the long run, what's more important than the media used for storing information are the methods take to preserve it. That requires planning and thought, whether you are running a disaster-recovery hot site or the New York Public Library.

Me? I still have a fondness for handling books. But I also like to stop feeding the monster.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access