Time Magazine: The Paperless Chase

I know Central Intersection hasn’t been the prolific blog I’d hoped it to be – so many other things pulling at me I guess. I find just keeping up with my reading to be a challenge. The start of the new year, however, found me committed to catching up with my magazine overload so this morning I vowed to finish the November 23, 2009 edition of Time Magazine – I know, why bother when it is so far in the past, but I find the arts and opinion articles to be relatively timeless so I’m willing to at least scan them before I toss an out-of-date copy. This is how/why I stumbled on an articlette the really got my goat. It got my goat so badly that I tore it out of the magazine and started to jot notes all over it – The articlette is The Paperless Chase by Barbara Kiviat and I found it to be narrow minded, short sighted and frankly…inaccurate. Yes Ms. Kiviat, I have to call you out on this one.

Ms. Kiviat’s premis is that we are less likely to take our credit card statements seriously if we don’t see it, handle it and relate to it on paper; that the electronic versions of credit card statements are causing us to loose the ability to “internalize broader spending habits”, her words, not mine. Hogwash! Oh, I’m sorry, did I say that out loud?

Ms. Kiviat does admit that there are many services coming out that help to make these on-line statements more “comprehendible” but clings to the idea that this is only necessary because we are loosing so much by not having the credit card company print and snail mail us a copy of our account statement each month. Ok, I’ll say it again, hogwash.

Her premis is based on the idea that we take in information differently off of the web than we do off of paper. Who is this ‘WE’ you are talking about Ms. Kiviat? If you know anything about learning and processing information you know that everyone absorbs, learns and processes information differently. According to her source Jakob Nielsen, a web-usability expert, ‘WE’ do not learn deeply from the internet – only ‘surf’….um, that will be bad news for all of the on-line continuing education credit companies out there that train nearly every significant professional field in our country. This Nielsen claims that by the time we are half way down an internet page we have tuned out…is that halfway above the fold or below?…just asking…

Well, I’d like to see your research Mr. Nielsen. Who was your subject group, how big was it, how old were they and did you do anything to determine their level of comprehension for the matterial you just exposed them to…and speaking of the matterial you exposed them to was it of any interest to them, or was it a list of screw parts manufactured by the Acme screw company? I guess I’ll have to read the book… but I think Ms. Kaviat might want to spend some more time with it too because I’m not sure that his information has much to do with how we process our on-line statements.

Another of Ms. Kaviat’s sources claims that it is even worse for those of us who have the audacity to auto-debit from our bank accounts to pay these credit card bills each month – we really have no idea where our money is going because we are really out of touch with our finances. I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it.

I will agree that many people do not have an acurate enough handle on their day-to-day finances but I will argue ’till the cows come home that it has anything to do with electronic vs. paper statements. It has to do with our relationship to values, money and how we utilize our resources. I will admit that there are some people that are simply more comfortable with the world the way it used to be and do not want to change – age is often the excuse but I’m not buying that one either – my 97 year old grandfather no longer receives paper statements but either way, paper statements are, for the most part, still available to those few who still want them. I do beleive that we need to ween ourselves off of paper statements – they hold little to no value and needlessly destroy valuable natural resources to produce and send. I believe that most people welcome the idea of secure, electronic availablity to their statements. It enables them to sort, filter and examine the information in a far more tangible way than a paper statement ever could and this I will argue, is the way to better “internalize broader spending habits,” understand, relate to and take charge of how your resources are utilized.