Paper or plastic?

I feel torn as a sheet in a paper shredder and lost as an attachment on a deleted e-mail. As I attempt to navigate this transitional age between paper and electronic communication, I find the organizational promise of all things digital elusive.

Take journaling, for instance.

On the traditional side, there is something easy and attractive about an “always on” paper-bound journal. My pen may run out of ink, but my book will never run out of juice. I don’t have to back it up or be overly concerned about leaving it near a sippy cup. Plus, I enjoy flipping manually through the fruit of my work, and it’s just cozier.

On the progressive side, if I journaled consistently with a word processor, I could search and organize my entries. I could easily post (appropriate) thoughts on social media or Web logs, or quickly email them to a friend. I could back up my data on Web-based storage in case my computer gets lost, stolen or just tired.

Or I could handwrite with a stylus on a tablet computer and not be burdened by carrying an extra notebook.

With pros on both sides of the ledger, I find myself waffling between both and feeling more fragmented than unified in my cataloging pursuits.

Next, take letter writing.

Yes, you can fire off ten electronic messages in the time it takes to write, address and stamp a handwritten note. And we need not talk about delivery time; it will only make us taxpayers mad.

But there’s something intangible about touching a card that another has held, seeing the uniqueness of another’s handwriting, giving credit for the inefficiencies surrounding the labor of love.

Here again, not knowing which method to pursue at a given time, I sometimes end up doing neither, the worst of all scenarios.

What about household records?

Yes, I’m signing up for electronic statements wherever I can. I want to save the trees as much as the guy whose e-mail signature ends with “Consider the environment before printing this message.”

But, inevitably, Acme Company will send me some apparently important document by snail mail. The only responsible response is to create a paper file for the doc. So, the duplication of effort begins and often doesn’t end until I have paper and electronic files both at home and at the office.

(Yes, I know I can scan the paper and file it electronically, but so much labor for a piece of paper I don’t know I’ll ever need again!)

A paradox of our information age: We are drowning in our data. With near limitless filing hierarchies and storage capacities, things get buried and misplaced faster than in a paper world.

I wonder if pre-historic man suffered such a quandary during the transition from stone to papyrus. Did Moses ever say, “These stone tablets are heavy, but there’s something so certain about their constancy. Then again, scrolls can be easily transported and shared!”

In a touch of irony, hefty paper tomes are the modern equivalent of ancient stone tablets. Nano-sized digital files equal the wieldy parchment of long ago.

So, do I keep the paper because it’s more personal and tangible? Or enjoy electronic efficiencies, despite the propensity for things to float into cyberspace?

As it stands, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard drive.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at


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