What If.. We Went Back to PAPER

I received an email this morning from a company called SoftwareMedia.com, which markets software as one might guess. This turned out to be more than the usual sales pitch for more stuff I didn't need; it looked like a missive preaching the wonders of technology. Well, they rattled the wrong cage. I would reproduce the original email, but unfortunately it is copyrighted, so I'll just quickly summarize it by saying that the author seems to think that paper is inherently insecure, while electronic documents epitomize security. I demolish that in my response below:

Believe it or not, paper is lots more secure in many ways. Don't fall into the traps of thinking that all technology is progress or that history marches inexorably in one direction. Paper has these advantages:

  1. If someone wants a piece of paper in my metal filing cabinet, he has to gain physical access to the specific premises in the world where that piece of paper is stored; he can't do it with a computer program or from the comfort of an office somewhere in China or Russia.
  2. In breaking into the premises where that piece of paper is stored, he will almost certainly leave tracks. The door or cabinet will show signs of damage, and at least someone will know that a breach has occurred. Electronic documents are probably breached every minute of every day and no one even knows that it happened.
  3. A physical break-in also exposes the perpetrator to being caught and identified, whereas electronic break-ins are easily covered, and even if one can be traced back to China or Russia, what can anyone do?
  4. I actually felt safer when my signature card at the bank was physically located in a specific branch office that was not likely to be breached and someone had to visit that branch to verify my signature. Now, it can not only be breached, but duplicated and affixed to any document whatsoever, even a confession to a crime, using tools available to anyone who can afford a personal computer.
  5. All these government regulations do very little to protect anyone and simply provide more of an excuse for bigger government and bigger business, who will insist that everything is safe, just because they say so. Proving that something is safe is almost impossible, even if people could agree on what "safe" is.
  6. It's hard to argue that anything electronic is safe when almost every day major companies announce breaches. Again, the proof is in the pudding, or "by their fruits you will know them."
  7. The electronic age has placed verification of everything into the hands of so-called "experts." Any reasonable person can verify the security of a physical filing cabinet or count paper voting ballots; only "experts" can judge the accuracy and safety of electronic records or voting booths, which leaves things wide open to manipulation by those experts-- and how do we even determine whether one who claims to be such an expert really is qualified to render an educated opinion or is just spouting what his handlers tell him to spout?
  8. I remember when banks and supermarkets could operate quite nicely without electricity or computers. Today, without those, a supermarket won't even sell a loaf of bread; they'd rather lock the doors, let everything go bad and toss it in the garbage. Is that progress?

I do actually work in IT, but I hardly find cause to worship IT. Like everything else, it is a highly mixed blessing. Technology is neutral; it can be used for good or evil-- and while it makes some good things easier, it also makes many evil things easier too. It is hardly a complete, unqualified win for man. If we have to go back to paper, I could deal with it-- there will be advantages.

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