Going Paperless: When does it work?

July 23, 2010
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I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday when I checked in online for my Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to San Francisco and was offered the option of sending my boarding pass to my mobile instead of printing it out. I had heard about the concept but this was my first experience with it so of course I used the option.

I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday when I checked in online for my Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to San Francisco and was offered the option of sending my boarding pass to my mobile instead of printing it out. I had heard about the concept but this was my first experience with it so of course I used the option. You have the choice of having the boarding pass emailed or sent via SMS…I chose SMS and promptly received a barcode tagged boarding pass in my inbox.

At the airport I was very interested to see how (and frankly if) this would work. As I approached the baggage check counter I told the clerk that I had gone paperless and he reached out for my phone, looked at the SMS and scanned the barcode on a special reader. With the exception of trying to figure out where to put the baggage claim ticket (why not go paperless with them as well??), after all there’s no cute little folder in which to affix the ticket (I guess I could have stuck it to the back of my phone), things went smoothly. Now off to the security line, where I certainly expected some friction from my paperless ticket. Much to my surprise the TSA agent pointed me to a special station with the same barcode reader and with one simple scan I was off (I couldn’t resist making the bad joke of where do they scribble in colored pen). I also wondered how I would hold up my ticket when passing through the metal detector but in Atlanta at least, that process is gone, presumably to accommodate us paperless ticket holders. At the gate once again it was frictionless, a simple scan from the same style barcode reader and I was heading down the ramp.

I’ve tried to go paperless for the last three years, partly for green reasons and partly to get better organized but unfortunately not everyone I deal with is helping my efforts. Boarding passes have been one of the areas that prevented me from  avoiding the printer up until now, hopefully more airlines will follow Delta’s example. In some areas of my business and personal life the transition has been fairly easy. I started reading books in eBook form with the Amazon Kindle about two years ago and have since moved to using my iPad as my primary reading device. I also use my Android phone and iPod Touch with Kindle app, all nicely in sync across all devices. In my backpack / briefcase the only paper you will find is my business card, and even there I’ve tried to use mobile apps like Bump to replace them (it just isn’t culturally possible yet). You will never find a book or a notebook. For note taking I rely on Evernote, again across all my devices, MacBook Pro, Android phone, iPad, iPod Touch, all in sync. I do have a paid premium account, even though I really don’t exceed the requirements for the free version (with the exception of a few additional supported file types), as much as I rely on the app I want them to be a successful business (if it went away I would have a significant problem). For storing records I have a nice Canon Canoscan and am converting all my records over to digital as I get a few minutes. Business cards aer scanned with my Cardscan scanner and software (which syncs with my Mac address book, an online backup service called atyourservice that is provided by Cardscan and I upload all my contacts to my Google contacts which syncs with my Android phone). For sheet music, although I still have a lot of paper books (the only ones I’m keeping on my shelves), I have started getting new music on my iPad through Musicnotes, with the added benefit that turning pages while playing or singing is a quick touch instead of a struggle with paper pages. All in all I’m making good progress.

Still I do have some reasons to stay with paper in a few instances. One is caused by a very outdated expense system at work that still requires hard copy expense reports and receipts be snail mailed across the country instead of the electronic report and scanned receipts (I know, hard to believe). The other paper train comes from my vendor clients (software vendors remember). They still provide a lot of paper for my convenience (and I guess some of my colleagues probably would complain if they didn’t). This paper takes the form of agendas, conference materials, schedules, and even Powerpoint slides. A few vendors have made some good paperless progress over the last year or so. More and more I’m being offered a flash drive with Powerpoints and materials over paper (although often the paper is still available for those who can’t deal with electronic copies). At one event the vendor provided a device that served as name badge and had my schedule embedded in electronic form (a good effort even if the device looked like it was the best of show in 1988 and weighed about 10 lbs). One vendor even offered its entire conference materials, presentations, etc. on kiosks where you could download what you needed on a flash drive, choice and paperless combined, a great solution.

So I’ll continue to fight against paper and try to get / keep everything in electronic form. From an organization standpoint it has improved my ability to find and keep things orderly. Now if I could only figure out how to completely stop snail mail in all its ridiculous forms…