How Digital is the Average American?

Alexander Roubtsov, December 21, 2016

How Digital is the average american From papyrus in ancient Egypt and cloth scraps in China to modern, recyclable sheets made from trees – we’ve relied on some form of paper since as early as 4000 B.C.

We use paper for a lot of the same things our ancestors did, but the modern advent of the digital press has given paper production a run for its money and revolutionized the way we think about everything from bills to books.

How digital was the average American in 2016?

And how much did they prefer digital solutions to common paper-related problems? We polled over 2,000 people and asked them how they felt about their digital options, which paper products were better left alone, and which ones they never needed to see again. Curious about the digital appetites of the average consumer? Continue reading to see what we found. 

Electronic Signature

The Beginner's Guide to Electronic Signatures

Comprehensive guide to getting started with e-signatures

Download Now

Positively Paperless


The choice is clear – 84 percent of respondents prefer digital to paper.

From e-books to email, preference for digital products over paper is about convenience. Over 70 percent of survey participants told us it was easier to use digital resources to read, communicate, or complete other tasks. Why drive to the store to buy a book when you can instantly download it instead, or writing down a grocery list when an app on your phone can keep track of it for you?

Another 15 percent said they picked digital because it was better for the environment. In fact, 44 percent of junk mail is thrown away unopened, and only 22 percent is recycled. However, 28 percent of respondents prefer paper to digital because they like the feeling of writing. Maybe there’s something to be said about putting pen to paper rather than using a keyboard.  

Personal Paperless Preferences


Despite the overwhelming majority of respondents who prefer digital to paper, some habits die hard.

Notably, 72 percent of survey respondents would rather send a traditional paper greeting card than a digital one. Telling your mom you miss her by email probably doesn’t have the same "wow factor" as a card that has the love of your handwriting (and effort) all over it.

Additionally, 67 percent prefer to make repayments using paper money to digital transactions. And despite the modern convenience of e-readers and tablets – which can hold thousands of e-books and still weigh less than an actual book – 63 percent of respondents would rather hold a book in their hands over reading a digital copy. That may be for the best, considering research shows people retain less information when reading on a screen.

For things like the news (93 percent), bank statements (87 percent), and directions (85 percent), paperless was overwhelmingly the method of choice.  

Tough Paper Choices


Would you rather live without email or never send or receive postal mail again? It turns out, 80 percent of respondents would rather live without postal mail. With the exception of greeting cards, it’s possible that nothing good comes in the mail anyway. However, only 22 percent could live in a world without paper books. Who doesn’t love flipping pages and smelling covers?

When it comes to items respondents would have no qualms about discontinuing, paper checks topped the list (over 22 percent). On the other hand, they can’t imagine living without text messaging (almost 35 percent).  

Modern Digital Conveniences


With newspaper circulation (and profitability) in decline over the last decade, the news media landscape is shifting away from print and going more high tech.

Almost 46 percent of respondents get their news from a specific news website or app, and nearly 24 percent get their news from Facebook. While the social media site may seem like a convenient place to know what’s going on in the world, you might want to take that article your grandmother shared with a grain of salt.

For other digital activities, 89 percent of participants do their banking online, and 34 percent do their accounting and schooling digitally as well. As modern conveniences go, you really can’t beat rolling out of bed and earning college credits at your kitchen table. Filing taxes and shopping online for insurance were also activities participants wouldn’t mind doing digitally.  

Digital Generation Gap


Change isn’t easy, and going digital isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Based on the data, baby boomers prefer paper to digital overall more so than Gen Xers and millennials. While all three generations agree on the benefits of reading paper books to e-books, 42 percent of baby boomers still use paper calendars or planners to keep track of their appointments and events. They are also more likely to use a printed plane ticket (70 percent) and pay someone back using a check or cash (81 percent).

However, Gen Xers admitted to sending the most paper greeting cards (74 percent), and millennials and Gen Xers were somewhat as likely as baby boomers to carry cash (89 percent each).  

Regional Digital Options


Paper popularity is greatest in the Northeast. Over 19 percent of respondents in this region said they prefer paper to digital. With the first paper mill in the U.S. originating in Philadelphia, the Northeast has plenty of reasons to be proud of its paper past. Those in the Midwest and South had similar responses, with more than 17 percent of participants agreeing on the superior nature of paper, while those in the West had the highest affection for digital alternatives.  

Your Digital Signature

Perhaps Michael Scott from "The Office" said it best when he told his colleagues, "A blank sheet of paper equals endless possibilities!" Still, while people surveyed admitted to preferring paper for some things (like books and money transactions), they also said paper just didn’t offer the same conveniences as digital substitutes.

If your business is still counting on print to connect with your customers, you could be missing out on potential growth. At eSignLive, we provide the electronic signature solution behind some of the world’s most trusted and security-conscious organizations. To see other services we offer, visit us at  


We surveyed over 2,000 people in the U.S. about their digital and paper preferences.  



Fair Use

Want to share this project digitally? Just make sure it’s for noncommercial purposes only and that you link your readers back to this page.