Think before you print

| Staff Columnist

When I went to pick up my printing in the Dauten lab, there was a sign on the printer telling me that by printing 22,000 sheets, we had emitted more than 400 pounds of carbon, used up almost a third of a tree and used enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 6,500 hours. “Think before you print,” the sign exhorted. So, I am thinking, and here are my thoughts.

I don’t like having to pay for printing. Paying a few cents per page makes me mad. It makes me mad the same way guac and sour cream costing extra on campus makes me mad. These make me mad because the separate fees are deceptive. When I buy a burrito, I expect sour cream to be included in that $5.95. I don’t expect to pay an extra 50 cents for it.

Now, the guac and the sour cream are arguably nonessential. However, printing is essential, so I expect it to be included in my tuition fee—not tacked on after where financial aid cannot help. So, I am bothered whenever people tell me to just stop printing to save money. The printed document has many qualities not found in digital documents that make it essential to our education.

Sustainability advocates encourage us to go “paperless.” They point to the advantages of it, such as: shareability, ease of searching within and across documents, access from anywhere with Internet and more. They don’t mention the drawbacks: the need for a computer, a lack of flexibility and a lack of malleability.

[poll id="84"]

Since the document is digital, you need something that takes electricity to read it. As most of us do not have e-readers, we use computers to read them. These computers are power hogs, contain toxic-heavy metals and are replaced approximately every three years. How is that sustainable?

By flexibility, I mean that I can read the printed word anywhere it is light enough. I can spread books out all across my desk, instead of being constrained by the 13.3-inch “desktop” on my laptop. Trying to write a paper while consulting a notebook and other texts is best done by spreading them out on the desk with a computer to type on. Trying to view everything at once on a screen that is tiny compared to your physical desktop is inefficient. The printed word allows you to work more quickly and in more situations than the digital document does.

What I mean by lack of malleability is that I can do whatever I want to a physical copy, whereas I can only do a few things with a digital copy. Some PDF readers let you make notes, highlight and whatnot, but doing so takes more time and the notes may not transfer. They also become cumbersome if you try to do anything beyond the program’s capabilities, like drawing a stick figure to mark an important person or trying to write an equation in the margin. Taking notes on paper is just more effective and quicker.

Then there are the issues brought about by using high technology unnecessarily. Data loss due to hard drive failure, a virus or theft is a common occurrence. Those people who have shifted over to the paperless age can lose everything. I haven’t had a notebook crash on me in years, and the last time my textbook got a virus was when I sneezed on it. In short, books are not only easier to work with, but they are also more durable.

Digital copies are a long way from doing everything paper can do. Until they can do all that and more, we won’t see a “paperless” age. That is why I need to print for my classes, and that is why printing is essential to my education.

So my thoughts on the matter are not “Great, this will be good for the environment,” but rather “I am paying how much for this school, and they want to nickel and dime me?” By making all students pay for printing, Wash. U. is charging us extra for an education that we thought we had already paid for.

  • Erik Cagle

    Very well written piece. The enviros don’t bother to mention that paper is a renewable resource, or point out how much power is consumed by continuously running network servers. Digital has its place, but paper is here to stay.

    Stick with journalism, Mr. Sherman, as it seems to agree with you. But beware the poor pay. :)