Take a letter, Maria

Crooked Timber - The myth of “The Myth of the Paperless Office”

John Quiggin ponders his (almost) paperless working life. I used to not like reading online and tended to print out articles that interested me but I now actually prefer an online source and I don't even buy a newspaper anymore. However good your indexing methods there is no contest when compared to a good digital search system. PDFs and EBooks have improved enormously over the last few years and sophisticated database systems, such as the one I use - DevonThink Pro Office - provide management tools that no paper based system can begin to match.

The “paperless office” is one of those catchphrases that gets bandied about for a while, only to disappoint and eventually be used in a purely derisive way...The death of the phrase was cemented by a 2001 book, by Sellen and Harper “The Myth of the Paperless Office”.

This book wasn’t a snarky debunking but a fairly sophisticated analysis, pointing out that a sensible analysis of task requirements could allow a significant reduction in paper use. But it was the title that stuck. No one would ever again refer to the paperless office with a straight face.

Six years later, though, looking at my own work habits, I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper, in all but a couple of marginal applications.

There are some interesting comments. For some people paper scores on juxtaposibility, and longevity. And some think the reduction in paper usage has more to do with print duplexing than with paperless systems.

Of course there are some things that only paper does properly: love letters, suicide notes, birthday cards and leaked memos to name a few.