The Economist has an article on the Paperless Office, and its coming.
The paperless office
On its way, at last
Oct 9th 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO
From The Economist print edition
No longer a joke, the “paperless” office is getting closer
STEPHANIE BREEDLOVE and her husband founded Breedlove & Associates 16 years ago to help families who (legally) hire a nanny with the crushing burden of paperwork that this entails. There are pay stubs to be sent, federal and state tax returns to be filed, pay schedules to be updated and other trails of exceedingly boring paper. Much of the firm’s small office in Austin, Texas, is taken up by 100 paper-filled filing cabinets. An office manager spends 25 hours a week shuffling paper between desks and drawers. At peak times, says Ms Breedlove, the office becomes “a sea of paper,” with colour-coded stacks on conference tables, floors and chairs.
And, part of this change is the arrival of young workers into the work force who are used to a paperless lifestyle.
“It’s a generational thing,” says Greg Gibson, in charge of North American office paper at International Paper (IP), the world’s largest paper-maker. Older people still prefer a hard copy of most things, but younger workers are increasingly comfortable reading on screens and storing and retrieving information on computers or online. As a result, IP has closed five uncoated-freesheet mills in America in the past decade, and the industry is consolidating. IP is investing instead in poor countries, where demand is still growing.
As new generations of office workers leave university—where their class notes and syllabuses are online these days—they take their habits with them. They like digital information because it reduces clutter. It can be “tagged” and thus filed into many folders instead of just one physical file. It can be searched by keyword. It can be cut, pasted and remixed. It allows for easier collaboration, through features such as “track changes”. It can be shared across an ocean as easily as across a desk. Increasingly, it resides in the internet “cloud” and can be accessed from anywhere, not just in the office. By contrast, paper tends to get torn, stained, burnt, soaked and lost.
Myself, I admit to being a print guy. I spent many years working as a program manager on TrueType for Apple and Microsoft, but in moment of insight, I too realized that screen was the answer. Which is a story I've been meaning to tell in a style of Paul Harvey's "the rest of the story". I've bought my Amazon Kindle and read ebooks.
The paperless office will mean bigger data centers and more storage, but this is better than the environmental impact of pulp mills.