In my day job (which, unfortunately, sometimes spills over into an evening, night, and weekend job), I’m an editor. My work involves words, words, and more words. It also used to involve paper, paper, and more paper, but over the years I’ve cut way back on how much printing I do.
During the first half or so of my ridiculous number of years at university, I simply could not write directly on the computer (I mean compose. I’m not talking about graffiti here). When I tried, I would sit there, my mind as blank as the screen.
It didn’t help that there’s something weird about my eyes or my brain that makes me able to detect CRT monitors refreshing, so that to me it sometimes looks like the screen is scrolling 60 times a second. Given my tendency to motion sickness, this is not a good thing. I often had to go lie down (or worse) during work sessions. A writer and editor who gets pukey looking at a computer screen? About the only thing worse would be a car salesman who gets sick on test drives.
Anyway, when I wrote my master’s thesis, I actually wrote it. By hand. With a pen. On paper. And then I typed the whole damn thing into the computer, printed it up for editing, wrote some more, typed some more, printed it again—rinse and repeat several times. Over the years, though, I’ve developed the ability to think and look at a computer screen at the same time, which is good news for the forests of the world. And now that I have a flat-screen monitor, I rarely throw up while I work.
These days I work on-screen as much as possible. And recently I’ve been questioning every print job before I send it. Do I really need to print a book’s table of contents so I can compare it to the headings used in the text (what an exciting job I have—can you stand it?) or can I copy the TOC (fancy technical abbreviation) into a separate file and view both documents side by side? Do I really need to print a set of style guidelines or can I keep them open in the background and refer to them when I need to? Do I really need to print a whole email or can I jot down the important information on a piece of scrap paper? Do I really need to print a knitting pattern that I may never get around to making, or can I save it on my hard drive?
Of course, words read differently on the screen than on paper, so there are times that I have to print a job to get an accurate reading of it. Once in a while I have a client who prefers to work on paper. Sometimes I have to measure margins with a ruler (see "exciting job" above). And I still tend to print things I’m scared of losing, because my backing-up habits aren’t as good as they could be (shame on me).
Now that I stop and think instead of automatically hitting the print button, a package of paper lasts me an incredibly long time and I have less paper cluttering my office (not to imply that my office isn't cluttered—it's just not cluttered with printouts).