Paperless Office Remains Elusive

May 30, 2008 08:02 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Early visions of the paperless office have yet to be realized decades later, as companies struggle to reduce paper use despite technological advancement.

30-Second Summary

In 2002, Malcolm Gladwell called the phenomenon “one of the great puzzles of the modern workplace,” noting that cognitive psychologists and ergonomics experts say that paper continues to persist because it has certain advantages over computers. “Paper is tangible: we can pick up a document, flip through it, read little bits here and there, and quickly get a sense of it,” Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker.

But environmentalists and businesses continue to push for less paper, for both environmental and financial reasons, according to a recent BusinessWeek report.

Companies will spend about $8 billion this year on paper, not including the cost of ink, toner, and buying and maintaining copiers, printers, and fax machines.

Paper and paperboard products make up the largest portion of the waste stream, writes Web site Ecopreneurist, and there is an obvious benefit to reducing landfill waste and saving trees.

Some say change is underway. The New York Times reported earlier this year that worldwide paper consumption has plateaued after rising steadily in the past few decades. It attributed the phenomenon more to efficiency than environmentalism, as people embrace the convenience of online bill-paying and airline e-tickets.

“Paper is no longer the master copy; the digital version is,” says Brewster Kahle, the founder and director of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library. “Paper has been dealt a complete deathblow. When was the last time you saw a telephone book?”

But the authors of a 2001 book on the subject, “The Myth of the Paperless Office,” argue that paper will always remain a part of office life. “Rather than pursue the ideal of the paperless office, we should work toward a future in which paper and electronic document tools work in concert and organizational processes make optimal use of both.”

Headline Link: ‘The new push to get rid of paper’

Background: ‘The Office of the Future’

Opinion & Analysis: Paper vs. Digital

Reference: Tips toward a paperless office


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