Copyright Linda Marcas 2003 - All Rights Reserved


Crank's Corner


                                        A Paper Mess Society


    Didn't they tell us that the Computer Revolution was going to reduce
or entirely do away with the files and piles of paper that confound our lives?
As with past promises of liberty through technology, what they didn't tell us
was that we'd have a whole new set of problems to deal with, problems that
would more than make up for the few we got rid of, which in turn were far
fewer than we'd been led to expect.
    For example, has anyone really noticed that they get far less paper
junk mail, now that they have spam and pop-up ads on their computers?
Nope, I thought not. Does anyone have a computer that isn't, like mine,
surrounded by piles of paper, tech manuals, little scribbled notes, and stuff
you printed out so you could look at it later?  Our computer desks look just
like our other desks used to look, except now we have CDs and diskettes
scattered in with the piles of paper.
    Paperless society, my eye. Now that the utility companies have
computerized, automated billing systems, it's useless to call them up and ask
that they put all the bills in one envelope, because the computer isn't set up
to do it that way.  We have three electric meters, so we get three bills, in
three envelopes, with three copies of whatever electric company newsletter
and other inclusions they happen to be sending out that month. All three are
sent to the same name at the same address, but the computer isn't
programmed to be smart enough to send them all in the same envelope, so
the electric company pays three times more postage and uses three times
more paper (for the extra, non-bill junk that it includes) than it needs to, and
guess who ultimately pays the price? We have two phone numbers, so we
get two separate phone bills, too. And the county sends me two bills in two
envelopes for my real estate taxes, because I have a double lot.
    My credit-card companies have developed the habit of sticking a
"convenience check" on the end of every bill they send me, just in case I
can't wait to go further into debt to them. No problem; I ignore the checks,
just like I ignore the other advertising flyers and promotional offers they
send with the monthly invoice.  If they'd stop at that, I wouldn't mind, but
they send me more convenience checks and credit insurance offers, several
times a month, in envelopes that look enough like the envelopes that their
bills come in that I can't just toss them in the trash, unopened, for fear of
accidentaly pitching the actual bill. I get at least one offer every day from
credit card companies that I don't owe money to, all anxious to grab a piece
of that interest pie, and Oprah has warned me to shred these applications
before throwing them away, just in case someone attempts to steal my
identity. But the envelopes are too thick to send through my shredder, so I
must take the time to open and unfold the papers first. And whenever I make
a large payment on a credit bill, the company sends me a letter asking if it
was really just a balance transfer to another card, and offering some kind of
low-interest-rate deal if I'll just transfer the debt back to them.  If I saved all
the paper that credit companies send me during the course of a year, it would
probably weigh a hundred pounds.
    I'm not going to do that, although it might be an interesting
experiment, because I already have a problem with saving paper. This past
week, I finally went through three of the many, many boxes of papers, mail,
catalogues, magazines, newsletters, and receipts that, over time, I've set
aside "to sort through later." These boxes are usually the result of a frantic
dash to clear off the kitchen counter because company is coming, or to clear
off the table because that's where I'd put the stuff from the last time I cleared
the counter, or to clear my desk of the stuff that landed there from the
counter and the table, so that I'll have a square foot of flat space where I can
write checks and pay bills.  I have filing cabinets, but my filing system
doesn't keep up with my piling system.
    Anyway, after sorting through the three boxes, I managed to throw
away about fifty pounds of paper, which might be a record for me.  I also
generated a few piles of papers I need or want to save, things like clip-art for
future projects, ideas for furniture, jewelry, and other crafty stuff, old
Christmas card envelopes with addresses that I need to copy to my Rolodex,
a few old doctor bills and health insurance forms that should eventually find
their proper spots in our medical files, and assorted other "important,"
"potentially important," and "potentially useful" papers.
    I save junk mail envelopes, to use as scratch paper and as shopping
lists that will hold my grocery coupons. I save brown paper bags, so I can
turn them into artsy gift wrap. I open and save "safety envelopes," because
the variety of the patterns printed on the inside intrigues me, and I have an
idea for a cool project. I used to write this column on a manual typewriter,
then photocopy "spares" of the original, and then snag a few extra copies of
the newspaper, too, just for good measure. Now that I use the computer for
composing, I save the column in a computer file, and keep only one copy of
the newspaper. Nevertheless, I usually print out at least one copy of a
column, just in case the computer crashes before I save the column to a disk.
Better safe than sorry; I've lost many e-mail addresses because I didn't have
them written down on paper when my computer crashed.
    A cigarette company sent me an 8"x10" folder, in a slightly larger
envelope, to announce their new packaging and send me three coupons.
Roughly, they sent me 42 square inches of paper I might use, enclosed in
354 square inches of paper that I threw away. Unless I'm at death's door, I'll
try never to set foot in any hospital that sends out twenty-page glossy
magazines of self-promotion to all households in a thirty mile radius. I never
subscribe to newspapers that leave "complimentary" copies on my doorstep,
and I remove myself from mailing lists whenever I can. This very column is
using too much paper. Paperless society? Not likely. I'd be happy with a
smaller "paper mess" society.

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