An Elegant Device Offers Reprieve from our Paper-Happy Culture

Fujitsu ScanSnap S500MPeople that know me know I hate paper.

I lose it. I forget it in my pants on wash day. I lose it. It gathers in meaningless piles. It blows away when you open the window. It can be dropped and lost. Water ruins it. It can get really heavy in large quantities. It can be misfiled and lost. It rips.

The myth of the “paperless office” has been with us for years, but like a knight in a quest for the grail, I seek that state with undying devotion. Now, thanks to a device I picked up a couple of weeks back, I am much closer to my dream.

The ScanSnap from Fujitsu is a desktop scanner that sort of resembles a very small inkjet printer. In the spirit of Star Wars it comes in two models: Empire black for PC and pure, rebel white for Mac.

When not in use, it very elegantly folds down into a small form that takes up very little space on a desk. Open the unit, however, and it automatically springs to life, ready to go to work.

Operation is simple: place the pages you want to scan in the sheet feeder on top of the unit and press the “Scan” button.

At its default resolution, the ScanSnap can process both sides of 18 pieces of paper per minute.

That means it’s really fast. But it’s also very intelligent.

ScanSnap will ignore blank pages. If one sheet is upside down, it will put it back on its feet.  It can handle paper of all shapes and sizes, even if they’re all mixed up together. And it handles wrinkles, rips, and crinkles with aplomb.

Therein lies the true beauty of this device: it understands that paper is a messy, messy information medium.

To test its smarts I took the last year of invoices and correspondence from my son’s day care and literally just dumped them into the ScanSnap’s sheet feeder. There were crumpled up Visa receipts in this mess. There were water-stained, folded-up, ripped and taped letters. Most of the sheets were an unusual size from a receipt book, and almost every single page had spent at least a day in my pants pocket.

In other words, this was a real dog’s breakfast of paper (mainly due to my natural mishandling of the printed page; my son’s day care is totally on the ball with its record keeping and documentation).

With some trepidation I clicked the big Scan button and the ScanSnap whirred to life.

Without issue, about a minute later Adobe Acrobat (which is included with the ScanSnap)  opened on my Mac and presented me with a PDF document into which every single piece of paper had been perfectly scanned.

Each page was upright, and the scanner had perfectly interpreted and captured the actual size of each piece of paper. I was astonished.

I used Acrobat to optically recognize the words on each page so that my computer would comprehend them as text. I added some keywords to the document itself and saved it.

As much as I hate paper, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy organizing and filing the vast amount of the stuff that pollutes my personal environment. Still, I almost always have trouble finding that one crucial leaf.

How many times I’ve stared at a filing cabinet drawer full of pretty, colourful tabs, uncertain of where to start looking for that Visa statement from last March that, for some reason, wasn’t where I’d expected it to be. Why can’t I just say aloud, “Visa statement from March 2006,” and have it leap into my hands?

Oh yeah, because paper doesn’t behave that way.

But digital files do. So into the Mac’s Spotlight search engine I typed, “day care receipt August 2006.” And there it was, like magic. I almost cried.

I spent a couple of hours feeding receipts, invoices, bills, handwritten notes, magazine clippings, and all forms of correspondence into the ScanSnap.

There were a few times it choked on a page that was almost wrinkled beyond comprehension. Once or twice it generated a software alert that asked me to re-scan a page because it had  trouble with it.

In general, however, this beautiful little device took a mass of space-stealing, aesthetically-challenged, and generally incomprehensible dead trees and transformed it into an elegant collection of digital files on my Mac.

With pleasure I deposited the paper mess into a box for recycling.

Now I have absolutely no trouble finding what I’m looking for, regardless of whether I’ve organized it correctly.

It’s not the final solution to my personal paper gripe; my mailbox is filled with ever more of the stuff each day. But a few moments with the ScanSnap makes the yuckiness go away.

The final frontier of the paperless office lies in convincing people to stop generating printed pages in the first place. Alas, that day is long to come.

In the meantime I remain a digital refugee in a paper-happy world. Fortunately, the ScanSnap makes this lonely existence a little more bearable (and my world a  lot tidier and spartan).

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, April 20, 2007.

2 thoughts on “An Elegant Device Offers Reprieve from our Paper-Happy Culture

  1. Pingback: Mac and PC: It's a Black and White World « Geek Love

  2. Hmm. I just wrote about my paper problems yesterday on my 365pwords blog.

    I had a little device like this from Visioneer called the PaperPort scanner. I still use the software but no longer have a scanner that eats paper like that. I’m going to check this out!

    I’ve lived with paper and files so long it might be terrifying to do without.

    One more reason to make sure your backups remain current and that one is kept off-site.

Comments are closed.