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Friday, March 10, 2006

Wasting Paper

Given the Inspection Fever sweeping work we've been printing "evidence" so fast the printers must all gather round at night and swap war stories; "Oh man I had this colour job today, right detailed it were" Yes they are all northern printers. I was considering today how much fuller our recycling was at the end of the week compared to the beginning of the week. It isn't right I tell you how much paper just I have gone through this week. It's completely ironic of course, I don't mean that because the vagabonds won't read half of it, or that no one really cares about the paper work because you either know your a good teacher or not. I mean that given that the major advances in computing were dreamed up and created first time by a damn photo copier company.

Thinking that if everyone was gonna move to this computer stuff they'd stop needing photocopiers, remember the dream of the paperless office ? They clearly didn't need to worry. I don't understand it though, I'm as guilty as anyone, it stems from a laziness I think, since using a computer we've become lazy. Not in the utopian way the computers were supposed to gift us but just in the general production and distribution of written work. Before I had a computer writing an essay meant I'd sit down with a pad and make a plan, not a proper one like we were supposed to in school but an attempt. Then you'd write the first draft, sit down read it and draw all over it with arrows, new sentences, different paragraph structure then, you'd write it out again getting a better version but you'd still maybe draw all over it and then finally write out a final version, ok you think that looses a lot of paper but because writing that final version took time you were more conscientious in the production of you work.

For some time after I got my first word processing computer lets say around 95 / 96 ? I still sat down made a plan and then drew on it before typing. Now few people do this, we mostly "compose at the keyboard." Whilst this seems best at first, you can move text change words more simply it should improve quality. Wrong, what for most seniors at uni constitutes writing an essay is sitting down, usually far later than they should have done to start some work and hitting the keys for a number of hours, hitting print and then heading to the faculty office and submission is over with. This is wrong, it's an offence to writing it's an offence to yourself, it does no justice to your ability as an intelligent human being! It's lazy. there is no review process in the work, OK we might glance through it but really we're only looking for wavy green or red lines. This isn't due process. This doesn't create a good piece of work. We tell ourselves editing is easier on screen, which is clearly a lie because otherwise we'd do it. What can be easier than drawing a big fat red arrow from one paragraph to another section of text, edit done !

I think this has happened because people have become precious about their work. They believe they get it write first time. They can't improve on a piece of work they think is complete. It takes to long to do it on paper. You've got 5000 words on screen that's the word limit, so it's finished. Leave it alone. Wrong. Arrogant. Lazy.

I beg of you all let's stop this. We're not that good, we can't compose at the keyboard and get it right first time. I beg myself to consider this next time I write a long piece. Make that plan on paper. Write you thoughts out on paper. It's a quaint idea but hear me out. Then collect your sources, make a flowing argument putting a story board like stack of papers on the counter top, on the floor whatever. Only then touch the keyboard, start with section headings. Drop your quotes or evidence into those sections. Then if you're gonna compose at the keyboard start to fill out your document when you think you've written your stuff print it. This is called your draft.

Now take this archaic paper version and procure another ancient artefact called a pencil. Now read through your "draft" using that pencil to just go wild. Cross bits out. Move bits around. Make notes, like "Make better", "doesn't make sense" or simply "WTF?". Now go back to the computer and make the moving alterations. Write some more, fix the bad bits and delete the downright crap bits. I know it's difficult. I mean, you wrote it. Its your baby. Its work. Lemme tell you it's a draft so lets be honest, some of it is crap.

Iterate through this print, annotate and change loop a few times. You will realise you can't make a perfect document, each time you'll wanna change things - be careful here don't fall into a perfectionism trap, thoroughness = good, perfectionism != good, perfectionism = bad, a waste of time.

I'm going to go into some detail here about this magical word I used further up: delete. There is an entire key on the keyboard for this and you know what's interesting... it's for more than just correcting spellings, this is a powerful tool you can wipe out entire paragraphs with this, a whole page if it's worthless can be exorcised by that magical key.

People don't like this, and this problem extends further than simply writing a document, a paper, a thesis. Coders do this. What's a greater offence is when coders do this in a team. They mentally compartmentalise their sections of code off, they believe that they own the code. "It's my code", no buddy it's not. Especially in a team. The code belongs to the project; if someone wants to see something and think "Hey that's cool but I could do it this way and it might work, better, faster, more elegantly." That is not a problem. It is for the benefit of the project. It's all good baby. We must all learn that nothing we write is sacred. it's not a dead sea scroll, it's not a stone tablet. It can change, it's good to change, let it change.

I began by saying what a lot of paper is wasted by printing, re printing, checking finding an underline missing, re printing, finding a wrong font, re printing, finding a missing picture, re printing. Yet then I said hey lets use some paper and a pen and print then scribble. These ideas are not at odds. What i hate is that we seem to compose at the keyboard and refuse to alter text compared to the idea that we'll print tens of times just to get a font right. It drives me mad. We could actually use this onscreen wysiwyg thing to check the document for those layout problems before we hit that final print, because we always think when we're printing that final version. Why don't we ? You guessed it we're lazy.

Sometimes we're not lazy, sometimes we're rushed... but that's another story, a long bile filled rant about bureaucracy, unpreparedness and more laziness.

So stop being lazy; plan writing properly; print less. I do it for my blogs, I keep a list of ideas I wanna talk about and add thoughts to them over time until I've got enough hopefully intelligent thoughts, well more intelligent than your average plant could come up with, in there to then compose into a piece of writing. Don't know if it works though.


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