Confession #3 – Tasty Treats

Okay, they were just too tasty to resist.

At least they were fair trade, right?

Could I have avoided using this small amount of paper?  Most definitely!  Did I want to?  No, there were much too tasty!  Did I know that they were in paper before they were tossed to me at the back of the class?  Nope, but I could have (and probably should have) thrown them back.

Sinned again… off to confession.

But it was just a small amount, eh?  Two tiny little squares of paper wrapping, no more than a few centimetres across in each direction.  If I avoided one piece of A4 paper, it would be the equivalent of a whole box of chocolates, not just two.

Should they be too small for me to worry about?  They are tiny bit of paper, but if I accepted just small bits here and there, when do the small bits become large bits, and then massive bits?  Is it too slippery a slope to prevent me from sliding into the depths of relativism?

More to the point:  is this the system I am looking to change (paper used for chocolate wrappers) or is it a different system (paper use at university) that I should spend my time being concerned about and examining?  Chocolate wrapping is not my focus here in terms of paper use and is currently too daunting a system for me to change at this moment in time, but it does contravene my rules.  As little as it may be, I must avoid.  While I am not concerned that I will start abandoning rules all over the place, if I do give myself permission for this, what next?

It was my little indulgence.  Next time, they get tossed back.

Be paperless,


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Confession #2 – Paper for introductions

Once again, please forgive me.

I have used paper and must confess.  Today was the first session for our class informal introductions, in which we have each volunteered to do a couple minute presentation of our background.  In order to make the presentations a little more fun and entertaining, I had everyone write their name, their superhero power, and a fun fact on a scrap of paper, and then we drew those randomly over the course of introductions.  In the end, we had quite the little pile of papers up at the front of the room.

It was my choice to use paper.  No one made me do it.

I didn’t need to use paper for this.  We did not need a random order, did not need a fun way to introduce the next person, did not need to guess a fun fact in between each person.  But it made the session so much better, more relaxed, more fun.

I did try to minimize the impact.  I reused scrap paper that had already been printed on, and I recycled the ones that we used up today (we will need to have another session in two weeks time for the remaining introductions).  But that scrap paper could have been used elsewhere, and reuse and recycling are not my goals here, reducing is.  In that, I failed.

I also thought about if there was a way to accomplish the same goal without using paper.  Was there was a way through my ipad to do a similar thing?  I could not design a solution that was reasonably workable.

What if there is no alternative, or the value provided by the alternative is less?  I am trying to cause a technology shift, from the old technology that is paper, to the new technology that is electronic documents.  But what if there is no substitute?  What if the new technology just can’t do what the old technology can do?  Or can’t do it as well, or as quickly, or as conveniently?  In this situation, paper was the most appropriate technology to use for having my classmates quickly provide the information and use it immediately.  Not using paper would have meant giving up the style of introduction we had.

This situation makes stark an important realization:  In order for me to cause change, I will need to provide reasonable alternatives.

We will have another session in two weeks time.  I am open to suggestions for alternatives, if there are any.

Be paperless,


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A love letter to my iPad

Dear iPad,

Do you know dear, how much I love you?  I shall not compare thee to a summers day, but instead to perfection. Your beauty is exquisite, your functionality limitless.  You open instantly for me, and allow me to do things I never thought imaginable.  With a simple slide of my hand, you allow me to draw and write what I want all over you, keeping my notes clean and instantly accessible.  You tenderly deal with my mood swings, allowing me to write one moment and then satisfying my deep desire to type the next.  You patiently categorize each task and demand I ask of you, keeping me going where I need to go and doing what I need to do.  You give me instant access to the whole world, the world wide web to be exact, and present it beautifully to me.

Without you, my life would be in shambles.  Without you, I would not be able to make this journey.  It is only because of you that I am here today, for without you I would have lost my way, would have given in to the evils of the devil twins paper and pen.  Together, we will reach the paperless land.

Do not think that my love is blind, for I am no Apple fan boy.  It is only because of how amazing you are, individually, that you have won my love.  And each day, you become a little more individual, a little more customized, and each day we grow closer together.

You make life so much easier to live, I cannot be apart from you.  When you smile at me as I awake in the morning, I know that day will be a little bit better, and much more paperless, because of you.  May we always be together.

Yours in paperless love,


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Confession #1 – An assignment

I feel a little bit like I am in a confession box, so here it goes:

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

I didn’t take all that long either.  It is with guilty heart that three days into my challenge, I have broken my self-imposed second rule to refuse to produce paper products.   Today, I handed in my first assignment at Cambridge, which required not one, but TWO (!!), printed copies of my assignment.

The net result?  18 pages of printed paper handed in (double sided, of course), plus four pages that were wasted because I printed and then had to reprint because of various errors.  Not that I was happy about either, as you can see from my expression when I handed in my assignment.

I tried to avoid printing, I really did try.  

When I learnt that I needed to hand in the assignment in paper form, I sent an email to Dr. Fenner (the Professor who set the assignment) to ask if I could hand in just an electronic copy.   Highlighting “good security reasons” for the paper copies, he politely declined to agree to my request.

I was thus left with choice between following my rule and not printing, or not handing in my assignment and harming my ability to get what I am here for in the first place, an MPhil.  I decided passing my course was more important.

I could have taken a tougher, more activist stand. 

I could have not asked in advance and just handed it electronically unilaterally, sending an email today daring them to reject my assignment over a printed copy.

I could have not been satisfied by just a polite email and asked for a meeting to discuss the issue in person instead.

I could have made a public scene, or gone to the department head, in an attempt to use external forces to allow me to do it.

But I did not.  

Perhaps I am too risk adverse to potentially sacrifice my grades before I even started.  Perhaps I did not have enough time to arrange a meeting or go to the department head.  Perhaps I am not confident in more general and public support for my desire to quit paper, or that others may view printing assignments as not that big a deal.  It is likely all three, which is instructive to me as I understand what is necessary for me to address this situation in the future, and the lengths to which I am willing to go to do so.

If I am unwilling to risk having my assignment not being graded, it is clear that I will need to secure permission to submit assignments by electronic copy only, if I am to avoid this situation in the future.

So how will I do that?  First I must know my self.  I know that my style of change does not typically involve me chaining myself to the tree, or occupying the street, or marching with a placard, although I have come close at times.  I work best within systems, and will do so here.

I am going to take two actions:

1.    Secure permission to suggest change.

I have discovered in the past that it is easier to achieve a specific change if you first secure openness to change, as when you suggest a specific change your target has already agreed to the idea of change in the first place.  I have also discovered that it is easier to get agreement on the general concept, and then progressively work towards the specific, rather than start with a specific idea which may be daunting or scary.  I will seek a way of getting permission to suggest general change, and then electronic submission of assignment can be part of that.

2.    Understand the real barriers.

Dr. Fenner highlighted “security concerns” as the primary reason for wanting printed copies of the assignment, but I am unclear what the security reasons are or could be.  How is there a security concern when my Bank, who deals with something of greater value and greater likelihood of false transactions, allows me to manage my accounts and send money around the world, all online?  Or when applications for all UK grad schools used uploaded pdf copies of documents for review, except Cambridge?  (Cambridge was the only University that required paper copies to be mailed as well – at great expense!).  Camtools already is a secure system to upload electronic documents – we need to log in to using our Raven ID and password.  While there may be an actual security concern with online submission of documents that Cambridge is unable to solve (while all other Universities seem to have), it is likely that there are other reasons as well.  I will need to understand these barriers and work to over come it.

I feel very guilty that I have sinned, especially so quickly.  However, as in all confessions, I will now pay a penance for my sin; I have much work ahead.

Be paperless,


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My challenge

I am quitting paper.

That’s right.  For my change challenge, I will refusing to use paper from now on.  I have been a big proponent of recycling paper in the past, but it is now time move past just recycling up the ‘value chain’, through reusing paper, to reducing my paper use.  To zero.

For this challenge, I will be following three self-imposed rules:

  1. I will not take or accept paper if it given to me.
  2. I will not produce paper products, i.e. I will not print anything.
  3. If I cannot follow rules one and two, and there is an unavoidable use of paper, I will document the use of any paper that I do use, why I could not avoid it, how it could be avoided in the future, and importantly, do something about it.

It is my hope that I will be able to reduce my paper use to as close to zero as possible.  In the process, I hope to, and plan on, facing down the barriers to eliminating my paper use.  It is my hope that after I have completed this change challenge, I will have changed any barriers I find along the way to make it easier for others to go paperless as well.

Before anyone asks, this is not because I hate paper.  I love paper.  I have lots of paper and paper products.  I love books, I love notes, I love the holding and reading paper.  But there are two reasons why I have decided to try to eliminate paper from my life.

  1. Paper has a large environmental impact.  As part of this challenge, I plan on examining exactly what that impact is (and how it compares with the alternative of using electronic media to store information), but suffice to say that using paper results in an input of trees (reducing carbon in forests), much energy to produce (again, carbon to produce that energy) and disposal in landfill when done with.  While reduced when paper is recycled, there is still an impact from paper use.  I want to eliminate this environmental impact.
  2. Paper is heavy and takes up too much space.  A big motivator for me is that when I moved from Canada to the UK, over half of my personal stuff that I stored was books and paper.  Seriously.  More than clothes and sports gear combined, paper was my largest single source of stuff.  I do not want to gather more paper, and hope to come out of this year in Cambridge with no increase in my already massive collection.  The first step of dealing with an addiction is admitting you have a problem, and I freely and openly admit it here:  I have a paper problem, and it now stops.  I will move on from that ‘legacy technology’, and embrace new technology.

That is my challenge ahead, and why I am doing it.  You can help me by calling me on my paper use.  If you see me with paper in my hand, call me on it.  Ask me where I got it, why I have it, could I have avoided it, have I documented it; all these questions will help me go paperless.

Thanks for joining my journey.

Be paperless,


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