A page in the history of paper
Let’s start by reviewing a bit of history about paper. According to Wikipedia – paper is a “white colored” material primarily used for writing, and was first invented in ancient China. It may surprise you to know that paper was initially used in the 2nd century BC as padding and wrapping to protect delicate items, and was only first used for writing in the 3rd century. The invention of the practical fountain pen and the mass-produced pencil within the same period, along with the advent of the steam driven rotary printing press and paper, caused a major transformation of the 19th century economy and society in industrialized countries. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_paper)
Turning the page on paper – today and beyond
To put it simply – paper is used everywhere and by everyone. This continues to hold true even in today’s technology-focused world. Paper is still used extensively – in the news we catch up on (newspapers), the fiction we read (paperback books), and in the workplace (handwritten notes in either notebooks or legal pads used in meetings). The PDF file format was introduced to provide a convenient medium to capture information and to store and share it easily. PDFs can capture the original look and feel of a document, including fonts, images, graphics, and formatting of the original application file. Yet, unlike the original application file, PDF files are compact and platform-independent, and can be shared, viewed, and printed by anyone with free reading software.
The advent of digitization
We have come a long way since the introduction of the first computer, and the invention of the internet. Both have helped us make a technological shift away from paper – in the form of document processing software, online/cloud computing, and the continued widespread adoption of the PDF format.
Here are two stats to provide perspective on the scale of PDF usage:
- There are approximately 1.6 billion PDF documents on the web
- There are about 2.5 trillion PDF documents created each year (https://www.pdfa.org/pdf-in-2016-broader-deeper-richer).
PDF has evolved to meet specific user needs: PDF/A (for archiving), PDF/X (for graphics and print applications), PDF/E (for engineering documents) – the list goes on. Take PDF forms for example. It is estimated that the US Federal Government has 465,980 PDF public forms across all its Federal agencies, and approximately 423,464 of these PDF forms are fillable (Xplor – Moving from Forms to Applications presentation 10/4/2017). The Federal Government has been able to increase its productivity and cost savings by converting their form submissions from a manual/hand written process to a fully paperless form capture process with PDF forms that applicants complete online. This helps reduce the amount of paper being printed, filled in and rescanned, and reduces errors due to misread handwritten forms.
PDFs play an even greater role for records management, and is especially relevant in highly regulated industries. All of the materials your company produces that are required to keep by law are stored in archives: invoices, training manuals, personnel files, audit reports, tax returns, financial statements, contracts, etc. There will continue to be a legal requirement to retain and store paper records for the foreseeable future, albeit with a blending of both physical and digital “manifestations” of an archived document. One benefit that comes with the arrival of “digital preservation” is content, including PDFs, can be assigned tags within an enterprise content management system to index it – allowing for easier search ability of electronic records.
Another article we’ve seen that supports the idea of going paperless was on the PDF Association website and in Government Computer featuring Duff Johnson, Executive Director of the PDF Association, who discusses the future of the PDF in government agencies. In this article, it states the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) plan to stop accepting paper records at the end of 2022. All submissions after that date will need to be electronic, further reinforcing the belief that PDF is an equivalent to paper.
Though it’s obvious that cutting down our paper consumption will be great for our environment, from a business perspective the benefits are endless. Not only can we share information quicker than ever before, doing so electronically and with PDF allows for more efficient business processes, and content that we can count on being around for the foreseeable future. Though we know paper will continue being used for personal day-to-day activities (post it notes, notebooks for meetings, etc.), we look forward to the growing confidence and adoption of electronic versus printed documents.
We would like to acknowledge and thank the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) for its efforts to promote World Paper Free Day on November 9th 2017 – a day dedicated to helping people recognize and reduce their reliance on paper.