Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

What Ever Happened to the “Paperless Office”?

What Ever Happened to the “Paperless Office”?

By Dennis D. McDonald

What ever happened to the "paperless office"?

That question pops into my mind whenever I press the “print” button on my computer or smartphone to send something to my wireless office printer. While I hand-write letters to friends and relatives that I scan and store in the cloud before snail-mailing, for business purposes I still occasionally like to hold and even file individual sheets of paper for selected short documents, emails, or the occasional image.

Given today's easy access to electronic filing, storage, transmission, and display, why aren’t we totally converted to digital? 

Several possible reasons come to mind.

Concept of the "page"

First, many are still wedded to the concept of the "page" as a unit of measurement for creating and delivering content. Pages are still after all these years meaningful, even for people who only read books on Kindles. Even in that form the electronic page provides an easy to understand unit for measuring one’s reading progress.

This is a lesson I learned many years ago while developing a training program for an early version of a shared hypertext medical textbook. No matter how hard I tried it was impossible to avoid using traditional concepts like pages, chapters, and even page numbers. Obviously these concepts are still with us.

Paper exchange

Second, there still exist certain business and professional communication transactions that continue to rely on the exchange of paper pages or and/or physical signatures. Some businesses still prefer the physicality and formalism of paper even though electronic equivalence continues to grow as the fax dinosaur retreats into extinction. (This is one of the reasons we keep a dust-gathering fax machine around for those few times per year when such an exchange is required.)

Paper review

Third, there still exist what I will call "convergent" circumstances where having a common unit of content to review makes sense even when the individuals convening regularly collaborate and exchange information via a variety of physical and electronic media. Sometimes a projected PowerPoint slide can be used to focus the attention of the group. At other times handing out a printed sheet of paper to the group sitting around a conference table is needed to focus attention. Just as some still prefer using email as an (inefficient) collaboration platform, some still prefer face to face reviews of paper documents.

It is for such reasons that paper and the servants of paper survive.

Even in my local pharmacy or grocery store I can buy reams of eight and half by eleven inch paper along with ink cartridges for my printer.

So, while I may be able avoid printing from my home office printer as much as I can, especially for the longer documents I prefer sending to a Kindle, I don’t think paper is going to disappear anytime soon.

Copyright © 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald. This essay was also published in edited form on aNewDomain.

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