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Whatever happened to the paperless office?

In a recent article, The Economist discussed one of its predictions gone awry:

In a 1980 briefing in The Economist entitled “Towards the paperless office”, we recommended that businesses trying to improve productivity should “reduce the flow of paper, ultimately aiming to abolish it”.

After all, even in 1980 there were centralized systems that allowed electronic storage of documents. And this is even more true today, when anyone can obtain storage in “the cloud,” in some cases at no cost whatsoever.

As the Economist notes, and as you have probably observed, usage of paper has increased. The Economist created an infographic that shows, for selected countries, the number of 12 meter/40 foot trees consumed per person per year. While noting that certain measurement factors can distort the results, it still indicates that many industrialized countries consume the equivalent of four 12 meter/40 foot trees per person per year. (The figure for my country, the United States of America, is 5.57.)

So why don’t we have a paperless office? Gordon Kelly reports a common explanation:

All too easily the answer is put down to human nature: the idea that we could not accept change after centuries of paper use or an unbreakable dependence upon secretaries, dictation and aversion to reading from a screen.

But Kelly postulates two more likely reasons:

…computers were unreliable and printing became cheap.

Read the rest of Kelly’s thoughts here.

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