It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
-Henry David Thoreau
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Creating a Digital Filing Cabinet with a Scanner

From the moment my computer connected to the Internet almost 20 years ago, I started saving most of the e-mails that I received. I organized and archived the information. I began daydreaming about converting much of the paperwork around me to digital. I didn’t even own a scanner at that point, so it would have required extensive typing. Then several years ago, when I joined NAPO, I started seeing discussions of scanners and digital filing systems, specifically The Neat Company and Fujitsu ScanSnap. Beyond the actual monetary price of these systems, there are other costs to consider.

Beginning with the upfront, actual cost – the desktop versions range start at $400- and the mobile versions start at $200- so it is an investment not only of your money but your time. They can be helpful for businesses in organizing paperwork and working toward the goal of going paperless.

I adore the idea of these for myself. Then I was talking with my husband about them and how much we could use them. How much more organized we could become and get all digitized to boot! He had envisioned how helpful they could be for having access to reports easily without needing to physically carry around a huge folder. The files that they create are searchable (the extent varies between products) and readable by PDF readers.

I saw myself obsessing about getting all the information into the system. I could then spend hours, or more likely days, organizing it. I could keyword the various files and start shredding the growing pile of papers no longer needed. We could eliminate so much paperwork, making it all digital and I wouldn’t even have to type things out. It takes time to set everything up and then the time to “get caught up” with all the things we want to scan.

What is my time worth? Would it be worth your time? Any time you invest in a new organizational system, it takes time and energy to put it into effect. The new toy and revolutionary tool tempts us with the idea that it will solve our struggles. There are certainly situations where this tool is useful and the best alternative. They’ve been designed so that anyone who wants to pay the money can use it, regardless of their purpose.

One of the things I do as a volunteer, is to scan a sheet once a month to e-mail into the office. I also add the information from that sheet into my own spreadsheet. In addition, I have a file with that original sheet, since that sheet is clearer than the scanned sheet. Oh, and I keep a copy of each e-mail with that attachment. How many copies of this one piece of data do I need? I have fallen into the trap of digital clutter, which I only recently recognized. (I’ve been doing this for almost three years!)

I cannot help but wonder – having this wonderful ability to have so many things digitally available, does that not increase our ability to “hoard?” Those digital files don’t really take up that much space, right? There is no visible clue that we are holding onto more than we actually need. It would be simple to forget about the things that were supposed to be only temporary. Those “what if I need this one day” questions entice us to simple scan it in, adding clutter. Maybe only to our hard drive, but clutter is clutter.

Despite some of the possible detractions, I will keep this technology in mind. It is not for me at this moment, but I am still tempted. That physical cost is more than I am willing to spend and I need to plan how to not lose my time to it when we do get it. I might sound like a broken record, but whatever tool luring us with making our lives easier comes with caveats. The more I look around, the more I am aware of these temptations for making our lives easier have hidden costs that come with them.

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