It's either that or data tapes.
Every time someone says we're becoming a paperless society, I get ten more forms to fill out.
The future is full of data drives, backups, often made of Organic Technology
, and holographic terminals
. No paper though, even if we still have trees around. The danger of having no hard copies
of information seems lost on folks. This vision of an entirely digital future hearkens back to the 70s and 80s, when the increasing popularity of the home computer and email led many to believe that soon paper would be made obsolete by the ability to transfer and access hundred-page documents instantly on portable computing devices. Ironically, as the years went on the growing use of fax machines and printers meant paper was in higher demand than ever before. However by the 2000s the growing trends was towards everything being digital, and the rise of e-books threatens to make a No Paper Future a reality (despite the no hard copies
Another way to tell it's the future is to make money 'weird', if not get rid of it. This is a Justified Trope
at this point, since now many some of us really do
pay with cards for any sizable amount of money when possible (and preferable
). For now it's still more practical to bring money for smaller transactions, to save the 20 or 30 seconds to sign a receipt or key PIN; yet even now, swipe-and-go smart cards that can be much faster
than handling messy physical change are spreading.
This whole trope presumes the complete elimination of the Black Market
or illegal transactions, as, obviously, drug dealers are not going to be interested in transactions that leave a paper data trail. Ditto for people arranging transactions to evade or avoid taxes or purchase something they'd rather not admit to
; cash has no trail, electronic money does. But then the government decides how money is done, so who cares about the criminals? (Let's not dwell on the obvious answer to that question which is shown every time a newspaper
presents news about political scandals involving large bribes...)
open/close all folders
- Ghost in the Shell has a near absence of all books and papers in physical form, to the point where libraries are only maintained as historical archives. When paper is seen, the text is often barcodes. In fact, the lack of physical hard copies of information becomes a plot point several times throughout the series. In a world where Everything Is Online, and skilled hackers lurk everywhere, how can you really be sure the records you're reading are the truth and not just a well-written fabrication?
- Cowboy Bebop keeps the paper, but apparently mostly gets rid of paper money. Outside of a betting pool being run in the episode "Heavy Metal Queen", physical cash is never seen. Whenever the people pay, they use credit cards. One episode featured not only a set of criminals who had hacked their way into the paperless money system by planting a virus in the automated hyperspace gate toll system that robbed people blind as they passed, but also had an executive with the company annoyed that some of those defrauded sent in complaints on paper letters, something he considered "harassment, it's a waste of resources". Though they were on Mars...
- The sufficiently future setting of Sky Girls has normal computers and papers...that has a scrolling function much like flexible, ultrathin tablet PCs.
- The 30th century depicted in DC's Legion of Super-Heroes is generally paperless. In the Beach Episode issue Legionnaires #77, when the Legion visits a resort planet, one character remarks on the "old-fashioned paper money" she's received for her winnings in a casino.
Live Action TV
- The season two premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise sees Daniels (and Archer) find themselves in a screwed-up version of Earth's 31st century. Daniels' greatest shock is reserved for the discovery that the (abandoned) library has physical books; in his version of the time period, it's all on computer. (Never mind that if it had been on computer, they wouldn't have gotten the information they needed, as the power was out.)
- Averted in the 2007 Battlestar Galactica, which has paper printouts (from a dot matrix printer, no less) aboard the ship. This is to be expected, as the Galactica is a relatively primitive old workhorse, not one of the sleek new state-of-the-art line ships like Pegasus. As a token gesture to futureness or alienness, all sheets are octagonal. (The "cut corners" are a reference to the original Battlestar Galactica.)
- Adama also has a large collection of printed books - close examination reveals that many of them are actually copies of the Reader's Digest Condensed Books series that used to be popular in the 1970s.
- In the spinoff, Caprica, ordinary paper is commonplace but people also frequently use devices called e-sheets. These super-thin PDA like devices feature touchscreens, can be folded like paper sheets, used to take notes, leave messages and send e-mails and are apparently quite cheap.
- Avoided by Babylon 5, where paper's still around in the 2200s. See the quote at the top. Cash also exists; while it's not clear whether the Earth Alliance credit has cash denominations (on one hand, they're never seen, and on the other, shady dealings do occur in terms of credits), the Centauri Ducat consists at least of coins, and is thus preferred for shady transactions. Quite a bit of the show's Call Backs and Foreshadowing come in the form of headlines on newspapers characters are reading.
- One episode shows where all the newspapers people read on the station come from. Kiosks print off newspapers tailored to the readers' interests on-demand, and the previous day's newspaper is fed into the same machine for recycling.
- Played with in Firefly; in one scene in the pilot, the gangster Badger holds up a sheet of paper...to reveal that its actually an active computerized display of scrolling text. Of course, paper money itself is still used, and actual paper documents are used repeatedly, but the paper itself has become much more versatile.
- Subverted in the Doctor Who episode "Silence in the Library" - although the only paper we usually see is the Doctor's mysterious 'psychic paper', which is presumably technological in nature, this episode contains the biggest library in the universe: the size of an entire planet. And it's full of good old-fashioned paper books. It's explains to be the result of a fad; paper books are just the current one, and the entire library is stored digitally anyway. The Doctor lampshades it, musing that although technology keeps improving - mentioning technology real (e-books) and imagined (fiction mists) - nothing can replace "the smell of books".
- In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better if the library had been paperless...
- Well, they also kept all the books stored in a massive electronic library that apparently took the entire planet's core. Gigantism is the word for the future engineers, apparently.
- The Alternate Universe in Fringe is this way to the point that a ballpoint pen becomes the most exotic thing about a crime scene. It eventually leads the Fringe Division to a hospital where patients can't reliably use computers and therefore given pens and paper.
- In an episode of Journeyman, the protagonist ends up accidentally leaving his digital camera in the 70s, where it's found and reverse-engineered to jump-start another computer revolution. He goes back to his work at the newspaper. His boss hands him a sheet of paper that has a video playing on it. The protagonist's reaction is "what am I supposed to do with this?" Also, all computers have holographic screens. He likes this more advanced world but still ends up hitting the Reset Button because the same computer revolution resulted in his son never being born (he was about to do his wife, when he got a call about a malfunction of the new systems), replaced with a daughter.
- Interestingly averted in the original Star Trek: The Original Series pilot "The Cage", in which data readouts are printed out on paper.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, e-books rule the day, except for Picard's prized printed edition of Shakespeare, which takes pride of place in his office.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "2010", which is set Twenty Minutes into the Future (at the time of airing) after Earth has made an alliance with an advanced alien race, cash and cards have apparently been replaced with fingerprint scanners.
- Dilbert had a strip dedicated to mildly deconstructing the "paperless office." Cue panels showing engineers with notes written up and down their arms and an ultimate panel where the topic of the meeting is "the bathroom problem."
- "Bizarro" had a Sunday strip several years ago, entitled something like "Three More Signs of a Paperless Economy." The kicker? The third panel shows a bathroom stall with a monitor showing an image of a roll of toilet paper!
- In Shadowrun, paper has mostly been replaced with credits in the form of the everpresent Matrix and commlinks. However, physical cash is still used occasionally, as are certified credsticks, which are like flashdrives that contain a certain amount of money.
- It's actually somewhat bad in one sense. 'Print is all but dead' it says, when describing why language skill ratings for reading and writing are half that for talking—say, your English skill of 4 for talking in it drops to 2 for writing and reading it. But it still seems a lot of the data of the world is in the form of text ... which differs from print mainly due to all the electrons involved in the display. Plus, this is supposed to apply to specialized dialects, and one cited is legal-speak. So they're suggesting the field of LAW has cut down on writing?
- It's more like the fact that the public schools are underfunded and if you don't have a SIN you can't even go to school.
- Zig-Zagged in Warhammer 40,000, a galaxy with plenty of Schizo Tech. While dataslates are fairly prevalent, paper records, including books and scrolls are also quite common. Case in point: the Administratum, the monolithic bureaucracy managing the Imperium of Man, has entire planets devoted to keeping archives of files, staffed with countless scribes, servitors, and mono-task servo skulls constantly writing down everything on scrolls, and libraries (forbidden, of course; knowledge begets heresy) filled with rows upon rows of dusty ancient tomes, scrolls, and datatomes. And this takes place in the 41st millennium. Some planets are almost at civil war just over the little space that is left to put paper!
- The Cain books show that they really use data-sheets and the paper parts are just for hard copies and show.
- It was explicit that this was only the case for one man, and that he purposely faked ink stains on his robes and fingers to cover it up from other adepts and scribes.
- The Cyberpunk 3.0 RPG used this as the reason for the change in the setting from that in Cyberpunk 2020. All the world's records were held online, and a Computer Virus scrambled all the data. It got to the point where the game is set in the year "303x", because all the calendars were scrambled too.
- On most civilized planets in Traveller transactions tend to be electronic. And physical Imperial Credit banknotes on the worlds that use them are made of plastic too.
- One d20 Modern setting option, CyberRave (basically Shadowrun), has the Wealth score now covered entirely by digital currency, as the near-future economy has gone entirely paperless to discourage the Black Market and illegal trades exactly as described above. Except players also have a "Grey Wealth" score that represents access to physical objects and old currency still accepted as a medium for exchange in the underground economy - stuff like precious metals, disposable consumer electronics, and so on. This is Truth in Television, as goods like prepaid cell phone time cards, gift cards, and even laundry detergent are already used to launder money or trade straight across in barter for illegal goods, and there's no reason to expect these practices to disappear.
- Mass Effect states that both paper money and electronic money exist, but electronic money is generally preferred, due to aforementioned illegal activity that's done with paper money.
- In the sequel, most information is carried around on datapads similar to Star Trek, but sheets of paper, books and binders are visible in many places if you look closely.
- In Mass Effect 2, there are paper books in Kasumi's room, which she seems rather embarrassed about.
- It seems that she isn't really embarrassed about having paper books so much as she is by the fact that several of them are cheap romance novels.
- Xenosaga does have paper, though it's rare and stuff like books are antiquities.
- In Deus Ex, paper money has been supplanted by a global electronic currency, credits, which is mostly seen on physical chits. Otherwise, paper hasn't gone anywhere - there are a lot of newspapers and books in the game world, though notepads have gone the way of dinosaurs, entirely replaced with datapads.
- In Secret of Evermore, the Omnitopia biome uses "credits" as its currency instead of paper money, though the whole game technically doesn't use paper money since Talons, Jewels and Gold are not paper either.
- Mega Man Star Force has an odd semi-aversion of this: while money is all digital (zenny is a number on your transer), but a lot of data is on scannable cards, mostly battle weapons (replacing chips from Battle Network) and what are left of Net Navis.
- Batman Beyond features a future mostly devoid of paperwork and money, with "cred cards" as the standard form of currency. The spinoff series, The Zeta Project, has the titular robot equipped with a card that can generate unlimited money, which often becomes a plot point.
- There is, however, quite a bit of cash seen in the episode "Payback".
- Most episodes handle the "cred cards" and "cred sticks" exactly as if they were cash, however, with thugs gloating over big bags of "creds", and larger quantities of physical "creds" being treating as a greater quantity of valuta. Issues of traceability, of crime victims canceling their cards, and so forth never seem to arise. It's possible that there's a brisk business in pre-paid debit cards, because, frankly, you don't have to be a criminal to have transactions you'd rather not have recorded.
- A Villain of the Week used a newspaper's printing room as a hide-out. Terry said the place was empty because nobody reads newspapers anymore.
- One Robot Chicken skit had Clark Kent out of a job as the Daily Planet became an app and had slashed the staff.
- This article on why the world should eliminate paper money in favor of a cashless society.
- The US makes much heavier use of electronic currency payment via debit cards in stores than places like Japan and Hong Kong. The big exception is the "Octopus" card, a prepaid debit card that can be used in everything from the mass transit system (for which it was created) to restaurants and soda machines.
- And then the whole artifice falls over when you suddenly get a power cut/communications failure.
- Though it's already been argued that the US system as it stands now, even with it's paper money, is quite vulnerable to system failures, cyber warfare, and other electronic issues. We may have paper money, but enough of our funds exist only in electronic format that the economy would still take a major hit if anything happened to the systems regulating and tracking these virtual funds.
- Australia and Romania have already eliminated paper money... in favor of plastic banknotes. Canada also plans to do so starting in late 2011.
- It was never actually made of paper anyway: money is made of cloth - paper just tears too easily.
- Hong Kong did this, but only with the $10 note (That white part is actually a clear plastic window on the real thing). It's less popular than the $10 coin, because most machines won't take it.
- Israel has been using 20 NIS notes made of plastic for several years now. The change to all-plastic bills is rumoured to occur in 2012, though it's been delayed repeatedly several times so far.
- Mexico likewise has had plastic bills with little transparent windows to show off the fact that it's plastic for a while now. Paper ones are presumably still legal tender, but they're being phased out by banks and other government-friendly institutions.
- Sweden actually considers the bold move of ditching paper money.
- Actually Truth in Television-electronic paper has been around for a few years, but development costs (and multiple recessions) prevent it from becoming mainstream.
- Many colleges store value on the students' ID cards, for purchasing meals and other things in campus facilities. Additionally, many professors accept assignments via electronic submission, but there's a bit of a pushback against this by some.
- Currently, the vast majority of all money isn't actually paper but electronic data.
- During the 2008 housing recession, many news papers went out of business, with most cities only having one or two active newspapers lines, and many paper companies still have trouble as many people didn't resubscribe when the economy improved. The Batman Beyond example above may prove to be correct.
- Cloud storage is steadily becoming an alternative to hard drives. Music is commonly stored as digital files vs being on physical storage like records or cds.