Digital Natives – Are they the Tipping Point for Paper?

By Lawrence Wischerth posted 09-25-2010 09:42



I just finished reading Bill Galusha’s excellent blog post “Get used to it, Paper is not going away” ( .  His post started me thinking about the “paperless office” promise that has been circulating around now for a couple of decades (Yes, decades!). Why is paper still the major source of business transactions and business information?  Bill’s blog post covers the key points as to why paper continues to be a dominant business media, even with the technology advances that have been made to address the need for paper.

If we accept the idea that the move toward “paperless” business operations is advancing slowly or perhaps has stalled, what will it take to move the paperless “snowball” to the top of the hill?  In other words, when will we see a “tipping point” for paper?  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept or haven’t read The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book on the subject, a tipping point is the point where the momentum of change reaches a level where that change becomes unstoppable.

So, I started to think about what might become the tipping point for paper. We certainly have all of the enabling technologies in place today. Technology infrastructures including network bandwidth, WiFi, mobile computing, distributed capture and high capacity, inexpensive disk storage are all mature technologies and are readily available. Businesses have embraced the paperless office concept with varying degrees of commitment.  Most companies see going paperless as a way to reduce costs or to reach more customers. Even the recent emphasis on the benefits, cost savings, and incentives of “going green” has been applied to the reduction of paper use. Taken together or separately, technology, business commitment and “green initiatives” have not been strong enough drivers to create a tipping point for paper. So what is catalyst?

I think the answer lies with the “Digital Natives”; that part of our population who were born during or after the widespread availability and distribution of computer technology.  In other words, the segment of the population who have never seen or used a typewriter!!!  Digital Natives grew up with the pervasive and widespread use of technology. They continually demand new and improved uses of technology and quickly embrace and adopt the new functionalities. These digital natives demand delivery of their content anytime, anywhere and want to view and store that content using a variety of devices and technologies. If you need proof, just look at the functionality of today’s smart phones, eReaders and the iPad.

Could these digital natives provide the catalyst to move us toward the tipping point for paper?  Is it reasonable to think that as digital natives reaches a critical mass in our population; the adoption of all things electronic will accelerate? Will paper based business processes be caught up in the momentum?

Consider that the current digital native generation is entering the workforce in increasing numbers and they are already adept and comfortable with technology. Future generations of digital natives will be even more sophisticated. These digital natives are already moving up through the corporate ranks and are beginning to replace “Digital Immigrants” (those of us who have seen typewriters) in key decision making positions. Is it reasonable to expect that this shift in the workforce will kick start the move away from traditional paper based business processes and lead to a faster, more pervasive adoption of paperless ones? Could this be the tipping point we are looking for?  I’ll let you think about that a little bit and will take up the discussion in more detail next week. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. 


Note:  Healthfirst employment is listed for identification purposes only.  Opinions expressed are personal opinions and not those of my employer.

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