When Digitalisation Does Not Make Sense

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We know that people love paper books and are more likely to trust printed marketing materials, but choosing paper isn’t only about enjoyment; there are
some instances when only paper will do.

There is still a place for paper in today’s digital age.

People still prefer reading on paper: the Pew Research Centre has found that people are switching away from ebooks and back to printed books. Between 2015
and 2018 the number of Americans reading printed books rose from 63 percent to 67 percent. Over the same period, the number reading ebooks dropped from 27
percent to 26 percent.

The trust people place in paper is recognised by the digital in-programme lead for Oxfam, Amy O’Donnell. O’Donnell says: “Technology needs to enable, and where
it’s not appropriate, we need to be brave enough to say we won’t use it.”

This means Oxfam staff user paper to record interviews on sensitive topics when its staff are working in environments where people are worried about government
surveillance, or where governments restrict the use of technology.

Governments can run into their own problems with the shift to digital – especially when they attempt to digitalise in areas where it is not appropriate.

In 2014, the UK Government switched from paper tax disks that were displayed in vehicle windows to show that tax payments were up-to-date and moved to an electronic system. At the time, it claimed that the switch would save £7 million in administration costs each year.

Instead, the switch has ended up costing money. While the paper disks enabled anyone to check whether a vehicle was taxed, the new systems of cameras and number-plate recognition has reduced enforcement effectiveness. As a result, the road tax evasion rate has risen – from 0.6 percent of vehicles in the year before the switch to three times that in 2017. It is estimated this has cost the UK Treasury up to £107 million in lost revenue.

As an article in ComputerWorld acknowledged last month: “Paper has strengths and weaknesses that are often complimentary to digital ones. It is resilient and easy for individuals to read, control, secure and destroy, even when the power goes off. “It can’t be hacked and it doesn’t crash, because unlike most digital systems it has no central point of failure. In some situations… paper may be the best information technology we have.”