The Paperless Office: Why it never happened

March 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials


We’ve been talking about the paperless office for decades, so why is it still just a dream?

The Paperless Office: Why it never happened

Written by Gordon Kelly (for ITProPortal)

In 2012 the global demand for paper is expected to exceed 400 million tons for the first time. Before recycling this equates to 7.2 billion trees, after recycling it still tops four billion trees and eliminates an area the size of Croatia. Remarkably this landmark will be set against a background of flourishing digital media, economic downturn and increasing pressure to live in an environmentally friendly manner. It is a damning situation: try as we might, we just can’t break our addiction to paper.

Nearly 40 years ago this scenario was seemingly unimaginable. Speaking in Business Week in 1975 Vincent E. Giuliano of Arthur D. Little Inc, the world’s oldest management consultancy firm, predicted the use of paper would rapidly decline by 1980 “and by 1990, most record-handling will be electronic.” His comments came in an article entitled ‘The Office of the Future‘ under a subsection called ‘The Paperless Office’. It is thought to be the first time this ominous phrase was used.

A Changing Vision

The notion of ditching paper spread like wildfire and pouring petrol onto the flames was technology. The idea wasn’t new. As far back as 1945 American engineer Vannevar Bush theorised about the memex machine (a portmanteau of ‘memory’ and ‘index’), which individuals would use to store their books, records and communications. It would provide an “enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory… a sort of mechanized private file and library. It would use microfilm storage, dry photography, and analog [sic] computing to give post war scholars access to a huge, indexed repository of knowledge-any section of which could be called up with a few keystrokes.”

Bush famously went much further in his essay ‘As We May Think‘, predicting the concept of the Internet, search and even Wikipedia. Continue reading

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