Paperless Sounds Good and Is Almost Possible


Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

Fujitsu ScanSnap S510

For about a year now I’ve been using a remarkable tool for paperless research, writing, record storage and dog grooming (well, maybe not dog grooming). It’s the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510. And I like it for lots of reasons that may strike a chord with you.

  • It’s compact, with a footprint of 5.5″ x 11.5″ and a height of about 7″, until the feeder tray is opened (at which point it grows about 4 inches taller).
  • It plugs into the USB port on my laptop (or USB hub connected to my laptop), allowing all scans to slip easily into electronic nirvana.
  • It feeds standard-size documents and scans both sides on one pass. This is not a flatbed scanner. You load the document into it the same way you do with a FAX machine. A multi-page document can be loaded all at once and scanned as a single file.
  • The software that comes with the S510 allows me to save my scanned files as PDF documents.
  • It plays nicely with Apple.
  • It replaces my FAX machine because I can now scan any document, save it as a PDF (or other) file, and send it as an attachment by email. So it saves space in my office by performing multiple functions and replacing other single-function devices.

I’ve used the ScanSnap S510 to:

  • return documents with my signature;
  • retain copies of receipts and other documents for tax purposes;
  • save typed manuscripts and student papers that include detailed comments I’ve written in margins;
  • store photocopied material on my computer;
  • prepare for writing and research to do while traveling;
  • streamline paper files (and piles).

Signed Documents

Because my work involves payment for speaking engagements and author consulting, I often have to complete and sign documents that are then filed with the IRS by the individual or agency paying for the service. The forms can be sent to me for my signature, then signed, scanned and returned to the sender. The sender has what he needs for his records, and I have a copy in my electronic files.

Copies of all writing contracts can now be kept on my laptop. This is helpful when I need to refer to these documents to recall terms of publication years after a book or article has been published.

Tax Returns

Now I can scan all paperwork needed to complete my tax return each year: receipts, IRS forms, templates used by my tax accountant, even copies of all past returns.

My setup for 2009 begins with a folder on my computer labeled “2009 Taxes.” This folder is subdivided with folders for different kinds of deductible expenses. Individual receipts are scanned, labeled, and filed into these folders. When it’s time to prepare my return for 2009, I just pull everything from these virtual folders. (My tax accountant tells me that most docs that would be needed for an audit can be submitted to the IRS electronically. If they’re stored that way from the outset, it’s ready to go—just in case.)

Marked Manuscripts and Student Papers

I often read manuscripts for other writers and write comments in the margins. Sometimes this is at the request of a publisher. Other times it’s for the author. With the ScanSnap S510 feed scanner, I can keep copies of anything that might be useful to me later. I feel more comfortable writing detailed comments knowing that the ideas I share are permanently captured for future reference.

I find this also works well when marking papers for students. For smaller classes I have more time for more detailed evaluation. I can scan papers that I load up with comments. That way, I have a permanent record of the basis for any grade I assign, and whatever remarks I’ve made in the margins that might be useful in my teaching and other work. Sometimes I scan only select pages.

No More Photocopies

While I haven’t completely eliminated photocopies, I have streamlined my files with electronic versions of photocopied material using the scanner. This makes it easier to find the material when I need it, and have it close to hand rather than at the bottom of some pile or in a file cabinet. When scanning a document, I can assign key words to facilitate searches for that document on my computer. (This is important when scanning and filing handwritten documents.)

Research and Writing on the Road

I’ve found a number of ways to minimize the ordeal of traveling while keeping up with my research and writing. One is to carry fewer books. With my Kindle I can carry a whole library within the compass of a single slender and light-weight volume. My iPhone 3G is equipped to do internet research and gives me access to several specialized applications for the iPhone that help with productivity. With the ScanSnap 510 I’m able to scan papers and documents needed to carry on my research while on the road. Rather than pack a hard copy of some journal article I plan to study, I can now scan the article into my laptop. This takes no more than a few seconds.

From Piling to Filing

The sheer volume of papers I manage for speaking and writing projects can be overwhelming. Paper files are large and unwieldy. With this scanner I can quickly get stacks of paper off my desk (and floor) and into a codifed electronic form. I find that this step of scanning material I may want for future reference helps me winnow the chaff and store only what is truly worthwhile.

For effective winnowing, I often ask myself, “If I trash this item, and I need it later, will I be able to get my hands on it without actually having it take up space in my own files?” It’s amazing how often the answer is yes. (And I usually know the answer sooner than it would take me to utter the question out loud.) I can always create a note for abandoned items using utility software for this purpose. Or I can scan a handwritten note about items I’m tossing, and keep the note where I’ll find it later if needed. The note will lead me to the original material.

Clearing the Decks

One of the best uses of the S510 I’ve found is to scan all of my handwritten pages of “To Do” lists and miscellaneous—and yes, random—ideas. My habit of writing things down quickly leads to piles of handwritten notes. Some pages are dedicated to special topics or projects. Others are simply lists of things to do. And some are a hodge-podge of unrelated items that have fallen onto the page in a meandering stream of consciousness. Over time they pile up. And knowing where to file them has always been a conundrum. Not anymore. The least I can do is get them off my desk and into an electronic format, filed away in a folder of dated items of that sort. I may never return to them, but I know where they are. So this is now something I do periodically when the stack obstructs my vision.

Note: This hack works well in combination with writing, research, productivity, and database software I use: Things, Scrivener, MacJournal, and OmniOutliner. PDF documents can be dropped into files created with these applications. That goes for PDF documents produced using the ScanSnap S510.

Things 1 Icon

Scrivener

Scrivener

MacJournal

MacJournal

OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner

Share your ideas about how you streamline productivity, or leave a brief review of the tools I’ve mentioned in this post.

“You’ve Got Friends”—Looking Back on Facebook, 2008


First there was MySpace, appealing to the junior high and high school crowd, and eventually appalling to many parents. Then came Facebook. More mature, and yet somehow safer, Facebook instantly became the venue of preference for college and university students. Until we reach a certain age, we are all fated to assimilate to some degree the technologies of the present. I haven’t reached that age yet, and I candidly acknowledge that my penchant for accommodation is pretty healthy. Still, I have to be convinced of the value of the latest “technological advance” before adding it to my repertoire, which, ironically, becomes more cumbersome with each “improvement.”

In 2008, I succumbed once again to the blandishments of technoverture (i.e., overtures perpetrated by novel technologies). Among them, Facebook. How did this happen?

First, I attended a Web 2.0 faculty workshop at my university. Facebook aficionados extolled its virtues. The single greatest revelation of the occasion was that our students are off email and on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook is better. It turns out that email served the primary value of social networking, until Facebook came along. Then it was bye, bye email. Facebook is a much more powerful tool for social networking. Students knew, of course, that few of their profs were in the loop. It didn’t concern them that by migrating to Facebook, they were effectively unreachable for academic purposes.

This may cause teaching faculty mild consternation. But it shouldn’t. I discovered that my students, and especially my most recent former students, welcomed my presence on Facebook—as opposed to thinking I had invaded their space. My policy on this is evolving, along with the general acceptation and utility of Facebook, but for the time being I don’t initiate Facebook invites to students. I don’t want them ever feeling obligated to regard me, even in the increasingly benign Facebook sense, as a “Friend.” As it happens, the largest constituency of my Friends List is students and former students who have sent me invites.

Second, my older daughter, who is a university student, made a convincing appeal to go on Facebook. She was, I’m proud to say, the first to send me a Facebook Friend Invite.

Once signing on to Facebook, a large question remained: What do I do with it (or on it)? My first impulse was to search for family members, especially my younger sisters (24 years younger) who were most likely to have accounts, and see if they would have me as friends. This initial act was rewarded in a most unexpected way. I found another “Geivett” with a familiar first name, the name of a cousin I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. With moderate trepidation (how could I be sure?), I posted her a note to confirm my suspicion that this was in fact my cousin. She replied instantly and enthusiastically (this is Facebook, after all). Yes, one and the same. We arranged to have lunch on my next visit to Seattle, only a few weeks hence. Since then we’ve seen each other twice. Within a few weeks she’ll be visiting us in southern California.

Facebook is a powerful tool for reconnecting people who otherwise would not be able to find each other. For me, this alone is worth the cost of Facebook. And Facebook does exact a cost. Here are three areas where the cost is especially dramatic:

  1. Time. Facebook, for its true enthusiasts, is a time-sucker. The distinctive sucking sound can be heard at its most voluminous on college and university campuses, where Facebook addiction is more rampant than alcohol addiction—which, come to think of it, is good news.
  2. Fantasy. Facebook fuels fantasies of certain kinds. Possibly greatest is the fantasy of intimacy with one’s Friends. I’m a firm believer that “being there” is till better than “the next best thing to being there.” And while Facebook beats out the telephone as “the next best thing,” it ain’t the same thing. Whatever it’s supposed to mean for Facebook to be “bookish,” one thing is certain, the interpersonal contact Facebook mediates isn’t “face-to-face.” Following hard on the heals of this fantasy is another—the fantasy of finding and fanning old flames. This form of intimacy-chasing is encouraged by Facebook. How many users have punched the search engine with names of former lovers and crushes hoping, with vanity, to reconnect? Our emotional lives are suggestible, susceptible, and, yes, sordid enough without the support of new social networking tools. On the other hand, the positive potential of Facebook, even in the arena of quiet desperation, isn’t completely negligible.
  3. Information Management. Maybe “life management” is more apt here. Facebook has a growing inventory of applications. Some of these promise to put vital, or at least interesting, information in your hands, and with greater convenience. This is one of the advertised  advantages of “Groups,” for example. “Information overload,” a phrase of relatively recent vintage, has already long been clichéd. Clichéd or not, the burden it names is very real and is here to stay. Do we really need more information and information sources? Maybe what we need is less information. But that’s because of the burden information management imposes on general life management. Facebook doesn’t perform all the tricks a techno-society requires to remain organized, and, more to the point, hip. So it actually adds to the burden of keeping up. I already had three email accounts before Facebook. In effect, Facebook brings the tally to four. (OK, honesty requires that I mention my LinkedIn account, as well. But this adds proof to my point.) Maybe someday we’ll learn that the proper telos of technology is human flourishing, and discover that no technology is the best technology.

Yes, there’s a price to be paid for the Facebook frenzy. Used in moderation, however, it serves us well who cling to fantasies of intimacy in the midst of an information hurricane . . . as long as there’s enough time for other things that matter.

Copyright © 2008 by Doug Geivett

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Related Post: Geivett’s Glossary

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