Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Myth of the Paperless Office

For at least a decade we've been hearing about the paperless office. I'm a girl who spends practically every waking moment connected by one or more devices and uses technology in almost every aspect of my life. I've been shopping online since we could, paying my bills electronically even before banks started offering "bill pay" services, and signed up for a account while it was still in beta. So why am I surrounded by paper? Some might say drowning in paper?

At Thanksgiving, when I was packing up my "virtual" office to go spend time with my family three states away, it occurred to me that I was sure lugging around a lot more than a laptop. Shouldn't it seem that would be all that would be necessary in this paperless world? After all, I'm backed up to the cloud. In fact, to two different services. But I was carrying something heavy - what was it - oh yes, paper. Paper filed in paper file folders. Why would I need a single piece of paper? Much less enough to need folders?

Well, today the answer dawned on me as I was sorting through stacks of paper on my desk, looking for a note. Because the rest of the world isn't paperless. And until it is, I can't be either. And neither can you, unless you only interact with others who are. Is there any paper at Google? Yahoo? Ebay? I'm betting there is. I bet they have file folders, too.

What I was looking for today was a note to myself that I wrote on paper because I was in an environment where it wasn't convenient to use technology when the information came to me. Why? Because the world isn't paperless. By a long shot. And we have to stop pretending it is going to be. I don't know, but I'm guessing sales of file folders and reams of paper are still quite steady. Perhaps we print more now that we can easily click the printer icon on any webpage.

Let me be clear and say, I'm a big fan of paper. I love paper in all its various permutations. I have many thousands of pages of journals I've filled over the years. I don't want my world to be totally paperless, but my office area should be mostly paperless. We generate things on the computer, email them to people, and then we both print them out and file them. There's something quietly insane about that. And  I think it's ridiculous that I ever have to write a check for anything. But, we do. Why? Because we need a paper trail.

Yes... a paper trail... the very phrase tells me we are a long way from having paperless offices. So, I suppose I'd best get back to dealing with the paper in my supposedly paperless office.

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