Document Storage: Digital vs Paper

Electronic and digital systems are widely used and relied upon for data storage, but are paper documents still useful?

Advantages of Digital Documents

  • Easy and quick to access- we can use things like keyword searches to find what we need. With paper however, we have to conduct manual searches which can be much more time consuming, particularly if you have a lot of files
  • Storage- digital documents take up limited physical space. This is particularly handy for businesses with a lot of files who would otherwise need whole storerooms for document storage
  • Easy to share- you can send digital documents to other people, using encryption software and password access to send them safely. This is beneficial when sending documents to people across different departments and organisations as it saves you sending them in the post and requesting each copy back, or having to individually scan them over

Disadvantages of Digital Documents

  • Risk of hacking- even if your digital system is very secure, breaches can still take place. If a data breach happens, hackers can gain access to potentially huge volumes of sensitive data, particularly if a large organisation with lots of consumer data has been accessed
  • You are reliant on technology working as planned (which doesn’t always happen!)- if you need internet in order to access digital documents, and the server goes down, your access to these files is temporarily restricted. If we think in terms of individual document storage, if your computer breaks and you have only saved things on the computer’s internal hard drive, you have now lost access to all of your documents
  • Sustainability- people often mention sustainability when touting the benefits of digital systems over paper systems. However, digital documents might be less environmentally friendly than you think; they have a significant carbon footprint, largely stemming from the electricity consumed during use. The longer you spend reading a digital document, the higher the carbon footprint becomes

Advantages of Paper Documents

  • Signatures- many legal and financial documents still require a wet signature, where you need to physically sign the paper with a pen, rather than signing it electronically
  • Backup- paper documents can be good to have as a backup, especially when it comes to personal documents. For individuals, it can be helpful to keep a file of personal documents in a safe and secure place. There are some things we should always keep in paper form, such as our driving license and birth certificate

Disadvantages of Paper Documents

  • Storage- paper documents take up physical space. This is less of an issue for individuals, but becomes a bigger issue the more documents are had. So for businesses, this space can be significant; a small business for example may struggle to find the space needed for this storage
  • Physical damage- paper lasts a long time but it is not immune to things like spillages, floods or fires
  • Getting lost- paper documents may get misplaced, get lost in transit, or you might even accidentally shred something you weren’t meant to. With paper, once it’s gone, it’s gone
  • Environmental impact- just like with digital systems, paper documents do have a significant environmental impact in terms of their sourcing and manufacturing, particularly in terms of their contribution to deforestation

Overall, it seems that it is not a case of one versus the other after all, as both digital and paper documents offer something the other cannot. Although digital and electronic systems are now dominant, it’s clear that paper is still here to stay.

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