Chapter 1 begins with a bang: Hurst admonishes us for using paper when we should be doing everything electronically. While paper does have its advantages, namely low cost and durability, the disadvantages far outweigh any positives. For instance, according to Hurst, paper kills trees; bits do not kill trees. Bits are nothing more than electrons, even though hardware “can be poisonous to the environment” (10).
Also, paper takes up space which can inundate the user, while bits take up no more space than a harddrive or a USB thumbdrive. Storage size is constantly increasing while physical size is decreasing. Paper, on the other hand, can only be so small. Paper can also be torn, burnt, destroyed and fade.
Hurst further shows his disdain for paper when he replaces what is obviously GTD with [complex paper-based system] in an email quote. It’s obvious from both the first chapter and his chapter on todos that he does not like paper.
So, it’s obvious that I disagree with him on this point. First of all, I don’t think GTD is a complex paper-based system. I certainly think GTD is better implemented if you use paper, but as David Allen says, it’s platform agnostic. You can do GTD completely paperless or completely computerless. This is why the system is timeless.
Secondly, the argument that paper kills trees but bits do not is ridiculous. He says hardware “can be” poisonous, when he should say it “absolutely is”. My iPod has mercury in it; if not properly disposed of, this mercury can and will cause damage to the environment. Also, the idea that bits themselves are not harmful is slightly disingenuous. Sure, bits are just electrons, but they do require something to display them. Computers use quite a bit of electricity which is probably fueled by coal which is probably strip-mined and, well, you get the point.
Finally, Hurst doesn’t seem to take into account that some people actually prefer to use paper in some circumstances. I am a fan of the Hipster PDA, which basically just means I carry index cards around with me to make notes and keep track of actions list. There are times when I can’t get to a computer or when I’m not allowed to be online (at work), but I still need to stay on top of my projects. Paper, whether index cards or a Moleskine journal, is an invaluable resource.
While I disagree with Hurst on this point (and fairly early on in the book), he still does make some good points about the sheer size of paper. Of course, if you’ve been using a computer for any period of time, you probably have gigs and gigs of files that even the best filing system can’t help you with.