Why we'll never be paperless

Subject: Why we'll never be paperless
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 26 Jan 1995 15:05:10 EST

"William J. Hartzer" <William -dot- Hartzer -at- EMC2-TAO -dot- FISC -dot- COM> writes:
>Four Reasons We'll Never Be Paperless
>by Dr. Keith T. Davidson, Ph.D.
>Of those champions of the paperless office, there's good news and there's bad
>news about the next 10 years; paper's scope of dominance will shrink, but its
>size will grow.

While I agree with this basic thesis, I had some problems with the
four reasons given.

>First, paper is permanent. No other method of information storage and
>retrieval is as permanent as paper. Not those hard and floppy disks. Not
>CD-ROM. Not micro-film.

Maybe I'm biased by the fast turn-over of information in my personal
experience. What information do you _need_ to be that permanent?
Even paper decays, after a mere generation or two (unless it's printed
on real nice expensive paper, which almost nothing is). How long does
a CD last? They haven't been around for generations yet, so it's hard
to tell how fast they become unusable, but it seems reasonable to think
they might last as long as a normal computer printout (what with the
ink fading and the paper becoming brittle). If you want true permanence,
go for stone tablets. Is it worth the hassle? Probably not. Is
paper worth the hassle? How much does it really buy you? How about
ten years from now?

>Over the years, we've developed a cultural bias toward paper. We're

This is true. It is also true that cultural biases change. As soon
as we get one full generation growing up with ubiquitous electronic
information, the cultural bias will be gone.

>comfortable with paper because of its dependability. Ask anyone who hashours
>of creative work on the computer screen when the lights flicker. Anytime you
>can lose hours of work because of a cranky air conditioner, you'll want a more
>permanent backup.

Personally speaking, I do _not_ do a hardcopy printout every four hours.
Maybe I'm just naively trusting, but I find a save to hard-disk to be
enough back-up. I don't consider my air-conditioner to be a real threat
to the integrity of my hard disk. And, as long as I backup my hard disk
on floppy once a month, I've got redundant levels of (electronic)

>Second, paper has a presence in our legal system. It's been built into our
>common law. It's why you need an original instead of a copy. In a contract
>dispute for anything more the $500, you need a signed agreement if you want
>the judge to rule in your favor. The need to have it in writing is the law of
>the land.

This is true. Assuming the law never changes or evolves in any way,
I will continue to have legal documents on my desk. But how many?
Unless you're a lawyer, I doubt there's that many legal docs in your
office. There's about three in mine (counting the catering contract
for the office christmas party last month, which I haven't thrown out

>Third, paper is built into our traditions and is part of our society's
>institutions. Most of our daily newspapers, including U.S.A Today and the
>Wall Street Journal, ar the size they are for a reason - an historic reason.

Paper was an integral part of such institutions as banks and accounting
firms. Electronic transfer of funds, and spreadsheet programs, changed
those traditions as fast as it was convenient to do so (which turned out
to be pretty darned fast). When there are electronic channels of
information as ubiquitous and cheap as the corner newspaper stand, then
I would not be surprised to see newspapers (broadsheet format and all)
change in a similar way, probably within the next ten years, at least
in N. America.

>Fourth, paper is the ideal human interface. Through centuries of use, we've
>evolved human information management systems all based around the use of
>paper. It's the way we learn, we teach, we communicate.

Paper is anything but ideal. It's hard to update, it's hard to keep
all versions of the information at the same level, it's bulky, it's hard
to search, it requires immense resources to create and distribute....

The information management system where I work is electronic, and works.
Even at a library, haven of paper, the information management system is
most likely electronic (it has been at my local library for about seven
years). It _may_ be the way we learn, teach, and communicate, but I
doubt the same will be true of our children.

>Fiber optic networks? CD-ROM? Microwave telecommunications? My candidate
>for the information processing invention of the decade is the Post-it note.

Don't use 'em. Email is too convenient to bother. Plus I can search,
sort, and forward my notes.

>Keith T. Davidson is the executive director of Xplor International. Questions
>or comments may be directed to him at Xplor headquarters, 24238 Hawthorne
>Blvd., Torrance, CA 90505-6505; phone 310-373-3633 or 800-ON-XPLOR; fax

Too bad there's no Internet address....

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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