“Increasingly gone are the days where you can build a scrapbook of physical items like tickets, boarding passes, certificates, letters, newspaper clippings, etc. because of the digitization of everything.”

Call me old fashioned or a ‘luddite’ but I really do miss the feeling of paper tickets, boarding passes, and even the plastic menu. It does not mean I don’t enjoy the fruits of the abundance of technology that we have today, and it is something I’m comfortable with having grown up in the 1990s and 2000s as the computer, personal cell phone, and mobile applications came into being. I do also remember going to baseball games to buy a physical ticket at the ‘will call’ window and keeping the ticket stub as a form of memorabilia. The same could be said for receiving a boarding pass when you’re traveling to a new city or country and keeping it with you to remember when and where it was when you went there.

Increasingly gone are the days where you can build a scrapbook of physical items like tickets, boarding passes, certificates, letters, newspaper clippings, etc. because of the digitization of everything. Yes, you may still have the option to print out what it is you need or send out birthday cards, wedding invitations, college diplomas to enjoy the momentous occasions that come up throughout our lives, but when it comes to our day-to-day needs, we increasingly rely on digital wallets, QR codes, mobile applications, and smartphones to get the job done.

You could argue that given how present a reality climate change is in our current era that not using paper or plastic to protect our trees and wildlife is a positive step, but I would argue that everything has an environmental effect including our smartphones, smartwatches, and computers. Using less paper and plastic is overall a good thing but my concern these days is that it seems like we are not being given a choice to have either option.

I like to keep physical / paper records, when possible, up to a point whether for personal, financial, or medical reasons. It is hard to do that when you are only allowed to use a digital record for your files, which may not be as permanent or as secure. Maybe physical records are never 100% secure either but at least you know that you are the only one that has access to it or people you trust who you give access to as well.

When it comes to digital records or files, there is a cost involved in building up the security and safety measures around those sensitive records, and it is never 100% secure regardless of how many firewalls or barriers you put up. There have been numerous data breaches, hacks, and manipulation of people’s digital records, and that will be a cause for concern going forward as we increasingly go to a digital-first world where our first go to is a swipe of smart phone instead of the stroke of a pen. I believe that each person should have the option though to go forward with having both options of having a physical as well as a digital copy rather than having to choose between the two options.

There are always going to be external costs involved with both physical records (paper, plastic, etc. or digital records (computer, smartphones, smartwatches, wi-fi enabled devices). The key for the future is how to minimize these harmful costs whether to the environment, to our safety and security, or to our mental health as well when it comes to using either option. Those costs need to be factored in to how much we pay to use them and whether the competition can be fairer as companies vie to be both ethical and responsible in how they use our records, physical or digital.

Having a choice at the end of the day between physical v. digital when it comes to our personal data and records should be advocated for to companies and other entities before we give them access to our information and our wallets. The lack of an option to choose who, when, where, what, why, and how our data is obtained and shared should change especially as we increasingly rely on digital services and products to power our daily lives.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the QR code or barcode went from being used to scan items that we buy to allowing customers to read menus, see advertisements, subscribe to a new service, and have access to a unique link to sign-up for events and workshops. While in the interest of public health, the QR code utilization helped maintained social distance protocols and assisted in keeping workers safe by limiting contact with clients, however, QR codes have not really gone away in the post-pandemic era and are still being substituted for real person-to-person interaction.

Not only can you see your dinner menu on a QR code, but you scan your movie or concert ticket without needing a paper ticket or printout copy of it, you can also use it to order food or drinks or shop from that QR code without needing a catalog or a store magazine or a customer service employee to help you with the transaction. The rise of self-checkouts, automated service to order what we want and when we want, and being able to pay or reserve or check out with our phone alone is not just creating less paper but also the need for less person-to-person interaction.

Without being someone who yearns for the good old days, but you used to be able to order from a paper menu, get your ticket collected and stub ripped off for you to keep, and be able to pay with cash at a business without worrying if it was card or Apple / Google Pay only. Less paper and plastic are not a bad thing, but I do think it’s healthy from a social interaction point of view and as the world digitalizes and automates, I also think we will be less comfortable making small talk or socializing with those we don’t know who provide us with a service or a product.

There are real security concerns with an increasingly digital only world that have their own potential costs and drawbacks to consider as well. I hope that even as technology continues to advance with automation and artificial intelligence surpassing our own human capabilities, we will not allow ourselves to be robbed of our choice especially when it comes to how we receive our mail, pay our bills, buy our products, or if we can opt to talk to someone at the checkout register instead of self-check-out because we believe that 2–3 minutes we talk to a worker there is better than that 30 seconds or 1 minute we do it ourselves but without talking to anyone and with no one to maybe brighten our day a bit or make small talk with.

Losing that choice of digital vs. physical records or information would be detrimental in the long run. We should know of the environmental, security, and mental health costs involved if we tip too far in one direction or the other, but I think given that we are social creatures and we enjoy the physical touch of a book, a magazine, a letter, or even a ticket to a baseball game, let’s not try to go to 100% digital especially for those of us who remember when information was primarily shared physically.

It’s a complex era that we are currently living through, and it appears that we are transitioning slowly but surely to a digital-only world. However, my hope is that we allow ourselves to choose how much or little as individuals we opt into this ‘brave new world’. We may not be nostalgic now, but something tells me we would miss our scrapbooks, our photo albums, our book collection, and even our baseball tickets, and boarding passes if they were up in the ‘Cloud’ protected by facial recognition and multi-factor authentication instead. That’s not the world I wish for us to have in the future and that our choice(s) to opt-out will never go away.



The Life and Times of Ben Weinberg

English Teacher, Entrepreneur, World Traveler, and Writer from New York.