This post is about carbon paper. But it’s not really about carbon paper, it’s about the perception I have of how fast the Philippines is progressing.

Let me just say that I hope the Philippines continues to advance, sooner than later. I’m (mostly) all for that. I’m just having a difficult time believing that things, the economy in particular, are as as great as they keep saying. Maybe I’m missing the point, and maybe the point is that they are just trying to build up public image and esteem.

So I’m going to talk about carbon paper for a minute, because to me it shows, though just one small instance, how far from present the Philippines really is in some areas.

I worked in the printing industry for about 20 years. My first sales job with print was with Standard Register (SRC) in 1993. Standard Register was a large national company that specialized in business forms and equipment, at least that was true at time I joined them. I was told, in no uncertain terms, by the retiring fellow that I was replacing that I was crazy to get into that industry, as it was almost dead.

He was certainly correct about the industry, but somehow I was able to make a decent living for about 13 years while there.

When I started with SRC both carbon interleave forms and carbonless forms were available. Carbon interleave were slightly cheaper, and therefore more popular, but within a year or two that changed, and from that point on carbon interleave forms became very rare. A few old-timers held out for those as they felt they gave a better impression, but with carbonless being cheaper, the writing was on the wall.

That was 20 years ago. Twenty years ago marked the death of the carbon form, as far as I’m concerned.

You know many carbonless forms I’ve seen in the Philippines? Before you guess, let me point out that the use of forms and photo copies here is beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed before. At the end of my career at SRC all kind of forms were on their way out. But to answer the question, I’ve seen exactly zero carbonless forms here. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I’ve seen none, and with the background I have I tend to notice those.

If a duplicate is needed, carbon paper is used. If the duplicate(s) will come from the customer, you will provide either photo copies or fill the form out multiple times, unless you were meticulous enough to bring your own carbon paper. What are the odds that the information doesn’t match when you fill out three or four forms individually? Pretty high actually.

So what is the answer I get, when I can get one, about why there are no carbonless forms? Cost. We had a formula that we used to show the real cost of a form at SRC, it was the Iceberg Theory. Basically it showed that the actual cost of the form itself was small compared to the overall cost of using that form, but I won’t go into all that now. Suffice to say that with labor here being so cheap, no one cares how long it takes, how many mistakes there are, or how inefficient it is to do it this way.

Not only are we so far behind on the kind of forms being used here, the fact that forms are being used at all anymore is telling in itself. Hand written receipts from CDR King, one of the most prevalent computer hardware stores in the Philippines?

So all that brings me to this view – all the instances I keep seeing that tell me the Philippines is still far from being caught up with 1st world countries, in many areas. I do see many signs that show there is progression, but they are offset with all things being done in ways that are decades removed.

I suppose it takes time for change and some things will move faster than others. For me the reality doesn’t always jibe with the rhetoric.

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