WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE PAPERLESS OFF.?

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WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE PAPERLESS OFF.?

 user 2006-01-27 at 11:14:00 am Views: 46
  • #13990

    What Ever Happened to the ‘Paperless Office’
    Slowing Paper Sales Show Offices May Finally be Turning the Page on Paper Use

    For office innovators,
    the unrealized dream of the “paperless” office is a classic example of
    high-tech hubris. Today’s office drone is drowning in more paper than
    ever before.
    But after decades of hype, American offices may finally be abandoning
    their paper obsession. Paper sales used to grow at a faster rate than
    the U.S. economy, but the past two or three years have seen a marked
    slowdown in sales — despite a healthy economic scene.
    Analysts attribute the decline to advances in digital databases and
    communication systems, employment trends, and a generation of office
    workers who are more comfortable with the new technology. Escaping our
    craving for paper, however, will be anything but a cold-turkey affair.
    “Old habits are hard to break,” says Merilyn Dunn, communications
    supplies director for InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, a market-research firm
    in Weymouth, Mass. “There are some functions that paper serves where a
    screen display doesn’t work. Those functions are both its strength and
    its weakness.”
    The Digitally Savvy Workforce
    In the early- to mid-’90s, a booming economy and improved desktop
    printers helped boost paper sales by 6 to 7 percent each year. The
    convenience of desktop printing allowed office workers to indulge in
    printing anything and everything with little effort or cost.|
    But now, the growth rate of paper sales in the United States is
    flattening by about half a percent each year. Between 2004 and 2005,
    Dunn said, plain white office paper will see less than a 4 percent
    growth rate, despite the strong overall economy. A primary reason for
    the change, she said, is that for the first time ever, some 47 percent
    of the workforce entered the job market after computers had already
    been introduced to offices.
    “We’re finally seeing a reduction in the amount of paper being used per
    worker in the workplace,” says John Maine, vice president of RISI, a
    pulp and paper economic consulting firm in Charlottesville, Va. “More
    information is being transmitted electronically, and more and more
    people are comfortable with the information residing only in electronic
    form without printing multiple backups.”
    Maine also pointed to the lackluster employment market for white-collar
    workers — the primary driver of office paper consumption — as a cause
    of the downtrend in paper usage.
    The real paradigm shift may be in the way paper is used. Since the
    advent of advanced, reliable office-network systems, data storage has
    moved away from paper archives. The secretarial art of “filing” is
    disappearing from job descriptions. Much of today’s data may never
    leave its original digital format.
    Paper Industry Notices Trend
    The changing attitudes toward paper have finally caught the attention
    of paper companies, says Richard Harper, a researcher at Microsoft and
    coauthor of the book, “The Myth of the Paperless Office” (2002). “All
    of a sudden, the paper industry has started thinking, ‘We need to learn
    more about the behavioral aspects of paper use,’” he says. “They had
    never asked, they’d just assumed that 70 million sheets would be bought
    per year as a literal function of economic growth.”
    To reduce paper use, some companies are working to combine digital and
    paper capabilities. For example, Xerox Corp. is developing electronic
    paper: thin digital displays that respond to a stylus, like a pen on
    paper. Notations can be easily erased or saved digitally.
    Another idea, intelligent paper, comes from Anoto Group. It would allow
    notations made with a stylus on a page printed with a special magnetic
    ink to simultaneously appear on a computer screen.
    Even with such technological advances, the improved capabilities of
    digital storage act against “paperlessness,” argues Paul Saffo, a
    technology forecaster at the Institute for the Future, a think tank in
    Palo Alto, Calif. In his prophetic, metaphorical 1989 essay, “The
    Electronic Piñata,” he suggests that the increasing amounts of
    electronic data necessarily require more paper.
    “The information industry today is like a huge electronic piñata,
    composed of a thin paper crust surrounding an electronic core,” Mr.
    Saffo wrote. The growing paper crust “is most noticeable, but the
    hidden electronic core that produces the crust is far larger — and
    growing more rapidly. The result is that we are becoming paperless, but
    we hardly notice at all.”
    Business Travel Increased, Too
    In the same way that digital innovations have increased paper
    consumption, Saffo says, so has video conferencing — with its promise
    of fewer in-person meetings — boosted business travel.
    “That’s one of the great ironies of the information age,” Saffo says.
    “It’s just common sense that the more you talk to someone by phone or
    computer, it inevitably leads to a face-to-face meeting. The best thing
    for the aviation industry was the Internet.”
    As buzzwords go, “paperless” has been bandied about for a long time
    with little or no result. The term “paperless clearing houses” was
    probably first coined in a 1966 Harvard Business Review article in
    reference to the emergence of digital data storage.
    But “paperlessness” did not enter the public’s imagination until 1975,
    when a BusinessWeek article entitled “The Office of the Future”
    predicted that by 1990 “most record-handling will be electronic.”
    The article quoted Xerox’s George Pake, who rightly predicted a
    “TV-display terminal with keyboard” on office desks by 1995. “I’ll be
    able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a
    button,” Pake told BusinessWeek. “I can get my mail or any messages. I
    don’t know how much hard copy [printed paper] I’ll want in this world.”
    Overestimating the Demise of Paper
    Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the term “paperless” came to embody
    technology’s promise to permanently change the way people do business.
    The exuberance sometimes took on a life of its own, with the trendiest
    companies demanding “paperlessness” long before it was practical.
    In 1993, advertising mogul Jay Chiat of Chiat/Day was inspired to
    “free” his employees from paper — and to make that freedom mandatory
    – by eliminating desks and filing cabinets. The awkward, abortive
    attempt backfired: Employees started storing paper in the trunks of
    their cars and hauling it around the office on toy wagons.
    “You can never go wrong by betting that change will go slower than
    everyone expects,” says Saffo. “We’re still lurching into the paperless
    office future. That’s a little bit of a surprise to me, but I didn’t
    expect paper to disappear completely.”