The other day, Matt bemoaned the sorry state of our paperless society. Matt's a pretty smart cookie but, this time, his complaint is bunk. To wit:

I didn't have a receipt (they didn't mention it was required), but they had my name, address, and phone number both written down on a sheet of checked out fabric books, and in their store's database. I had my driver's license with me and presented it as well. There's virtually no chance I could have been posing as someone else given all those bits of identification...

Look, it's not like it's any harder to counterfeit a receipt but this argument is simply goofy. This is like Identy Theft 101 and, all things considered, it's probably more of a pain in the ass to spoof a receipt than a driver's license. Not because it's necessarily harder to come by the tools and the materials to do it but because the return on your investment will likely be insufficient to warrant the trouble.

I suppose their is at least one successful receipt counterfeiting operation out there but in Matt's happy computer world I'd bet more on people entering bogus sales in the POS terminal when the manager's not looking.

...if I happen to lose this piece of paper in the next five years, my five year warranty doesn't exist. The record of our transaction will likely be recorded in their databases for 7 to 10 years, but it's up to me to prove that I bought something from them.

Ummmm, yeah...that's exactly why you were given a receipt in the first place. The burden of proof has always fallen on the consumer.

In the thinking out loud department, generating random public/private key pairs might be a more practical marriage of the old world and the new. But you're still going to get a piece of paper with a barcode because it's the only way that people on either side of the counter will be able to handle that kind of transaction.

We've been moving to a paperless society for the past 20 years and increasingly I rely on programs on my computer or Google to store memories, details, and facts about my past.

Power failure. Hardware failure. Media obsolescense. Bankruptcy. Extortion. What do most people do when in doubt? They make a hard-copy .

It's as if all parties have agreed that despite our level of data sophistication, we'll instead act as if it's 75 years ago and everything that matters ends up in a big paper ledger somewhere, and unless it's in the big paper book, it never happened. Dumb, isn't it?

No, not really.

I like computers as much as the next person but seriously, we've had books since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. We have a pretty good idea of how they work and how they suffer not just the elements but also age. They may take a little longer to copy but it's still easier than figuring out what the Hell to do with an 8 ½ inch floppy disk these days. Or the handful of CD s that I burned last year which, it now turns out, was about as useful as writing all that data to /dev/null .

I happened to be flying in to Boston the night of the giant power failure, on the North Eastern seaboard last fall. I probably would have had more sympathy for the people who got their knicker's all tied in knots over the idea that the lights went out if there hadn't been any airports with electricty and we'd been forced to land in the dark . But neither Boston, or Montréal, were affected and my first reaction was : Duh. The only surprise here is that it doesn't happen more often.


The province of Québec has experienced massive power failures (as in more than half the population was without electricity) twice in the last fifteen years. Both times in the dead of winter. And it's not because Hydro Québec is asleep at the switch. For all their faults there is probably no one else who knows more about generating electicity on the face of the planet and every time I see pictures of guys chopping wood I am thankful that I don't have to be out there with them because the water outside is going to freeze tonight.

So the first time the power went out, there was a box up by James Bay that blew up and three quarters of the province lost power. One of those shit happens kind of things that you learn to plan for in the future (the power was still out for roughly sixteen hours in January) and probably one of the reasons we didn't the lose power along with everyone else in August.

The second time it rained ice for three straight days. One of those times when Mother Nature tells you to fuck off and die and what are you going to do about it? They brought the power back up, eventually, but not before it stopped raining and it took them something like a week or more in parts of Montréal never mind the rest of the province. Again, in January.

This stuff happens. We have had electricity as a common currency for roughly seventy-five years and we've done a remarkably good job of making sure it runs because, I think, everyone appreciates how important it is. But it is by no means a given and anyone who thinks it is lives in a fantasy world (or North America.)

If we are ever so unfortunate as to arrive at a place where the power is out for a long time you're not going to get very far arguing that the deed to your house in on a data-farm somewhere out around Four Corners. I know it seems a bit silly to compare the deed to your house with a receipt for colour swatches but fundamentally, in the eyes of the law, they are the same thing .

I'm all for computers and generally speeding things up and helping the government data-mine my ass into oblivion. But just please don't try and tell me that your shiny fifty year old googaw is, or should be the end of the dead-trees that have carried our history for the last, give or take, five thousand years.

Go ahead. Drop this post in the tub and tell me what happens.