Sunday, June 11, 2006


The Myth Of The Paperless Office

Thirty years ago, predictions of the "paperless office" were all the rage. All information would be channeled through the computer, where it would be stored forever and from which it could be retrieved instantly. At least, that's what the management consultants and the automation guys told us. That day has most emphatically not come to pass. The fact is, people in office jobs like multiple pieces of information in front of them at all times. They also like the idea that these pieces of information are individually mobile and detachable. With computers in the old days, you really couldn't have multiple pieces of data right there in front of you. Nor were computers mobile - not even desktop PC's. You could say that the Microsoft Windows standard of the Multiple Document Interface (MDI) is the closest equivalent to a desk with dozens of different notes and memos spread across it. And laptops, iPods and the like give computerized information the kind of mobility it never had before. But even with these improvements, there's nothing more natural than something on paper. You don't have to power up a machine or fiddle with a keyboard to check your notes - all you need is to glance downward now and then, use your hands a little, too, and you're all set. Worst of all is that electronics distracts us from the people we're talking to way more than paper does. That's why our bosses don't really like it - as it distracts us from them. But it's also why we don't like it either. We cherish the tactile reassurance of something that is physically at our disposal. The myth of the paperless office is yet another example of how those self-important swamis who prognosticate so confidently about the future of American business are out of touch with the human side of the equation.

"The Myth of the Paperless Office" from The Globe & Mail

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