A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Paperless Office ..

not a paperless office image

Whatever happened to the paperless office? DENNIS D. MCDONALD is still looking for answers after all these years … in between print jobs.

dennis d. mcdonald tom cruiseaNewDomain — Every time I hit the print button, I think about it.

Why is it that I still don’t have a paperless office? I work in tech. I have total and excellent access to a wide range of free and pay data storage, filing, transmission and display services. So why am I still printing out things? Why are you?

After some analysis, I came up with the following list of a few of the obstacles that still stand between us and that evocative, but stubbornly elusive, image of a dead tree free office future.

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.

A stubborn paper economy

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.)

Dumb, legacy paper review policies

Third, there still exist 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.

For aNewDomain, I’m Dennis D. McDonald.

This essay originally ran on Dennis D. McDonald’s DDMCD site. Check it out right here. – Ed

Cover image by Yinan Chen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33633834