Towards a Paperless Future: Is your Company Ready for the Revolution?

Last time we established that the translation industry is one of the most document-heavy industries around.

So why should any of our companies consider going paperless?

Well, for as long as we can remember, both clients and translators have been dealing with vast accumulations of paper, printing out numerous manuscripts, writing out billions of letters and lengthy submissions, faxing out endless piles of barely readable documentation, and producing voluminous tomes on end.

So with all the documents we receive in digital format these days – ranging from text messages to emails, electronic receipts, online banking transactions and so forth – why should we even consider converting them to paper in the first place? Most importantly, what does going paperless really mean and what benefits could it bring to any of us?

Is keeping palpable paper archives of everything part of a nostalgic impulse against the flow of modern times?

Well, for starters, the conversion to paperless already makes sense on a number of levels. The reasons for the transition include improving client service, flexibility to work remotely, general increase in working efficiency altogether, and financial benefits, considering stationery costs and physical storage costs can be drastically reduced. Going paperless also provides an easier access to information through the web.

Plato would be glad to know we’re all gradually moving to “the cloud,” his beloved “hyperuranion” where pure ideas dwell in a perfect state of existence.

But, in order to adopt such an ideal, we lascivious, mundane beings must get over the difficulties and the detractors of the paperless model.

First of all, are any of our multiple printed out productions worth the paper they’re written on in the first place? Electronic documents and records are replacing their paper counterparts in many sectors, but the translation industry is taking longer to adapt. While electronic records provide the security that crucial information is backed up, can online documents fulfil the same evidentiary requirements and benefits as concrete paper copies?

Well, this very important hindrance has to do with the very reason for the existence of paper records.

Take for instance, a phrase which has often been associated to Machiavelli himself during the Renaissance in Florence:

“Carta si face perché homo é fallace.”

In plain English:

Things are written down because people cannot not be trusted.

Memory fails. Sometimes on purpose. Important agreements, promises, settlements, and whatnot, must have a physical format that can be referred to in any case or situation where doubts may arise.

But can electronic documents offer us the same guarantee?

Well, whether digital documents seem more forgable a priori, physical documents have been illegally replicated for centuries, which only unveils the constant behind it all: Forgers have also evolved into the digital era, and as it was in the beginning, Men cannot be trusted. “homo é fallace”, “homo homini lupus”, et so on, et so on.

So maybe it’s not a question of going paperless after all, but about becoming more of a “human-less” industry altogether.

(And here I am once again, rambling my way back to the Machine Translation topic out of sheer pulsion) Oh, well….

But back to hating deceitful humans, tune in next week to find out all about who, at least for a share of our global human population, seems to be the current least trustworthy human alive (Mr. Zuckerberg) and how the recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal might reshape our industry altogether.