Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The paperless office

On the issue of the paperless office being as ubiquitous in this modern age as the jet pack and the flying car, Kevin Drum has this to say:
I used to work in the document imaging industry, and aside from a general cynicism about our industry's future ("the paperless office will take over at about the same time as the paperless bathroom," went the usual joke), the most pervasive irony was the dawning realization that imaging and other digital automation actually increased the amount of paper used in offices. Lots of stuff got scanned and stored, but then it eventually all got printed out. Multiple times. And then copied and distributed. And then mailed.
I see this happen constantly where I work, but I have to wonder if it's a generational thing. My boss will print out absolutely everything that comes across his computer screen, and then clutter up our miniscule working space with copies and copies and copies of every paper he sees. He may be a little less organized than most, but I know that a lot of people who are middle-aged-ish really don't trust something unless they see it on paper.

I don't feel safe if I don't have a document saved somewhere on a computer, preferably something networked that can be accessed from anywhere. I pay all my bills online and hardly ever use cash. My assumption is that if I have a piece of paper, I will lose it. There could be a fire or a strong wind, and there goes my novel or my wedding album. For some reason, I find the idea that my information is stored in some ethereal and infinitely reproducible form to be a lot more comforting. And I'm sure it's not just me. Finding a pen or a piece of paper in my house is a difficult task, and it's the same thing with many of my friends.

I work in a large laboratory that is set up in such a bureaucratic manner that samples are shuffled from one department to another, all with accompanying paperwork that gives information about what tests need to be performed on which samples. This all duplicates information that is stored digitally with information that tracks the sample from place to place, but no one is happy unless you hand them the identification papers with the sample. Were I in charge, I'd direct people to look the damn information up with the ID number, and dispense with these piles of paper once and for all. These papers get lost all the time, and are completely redundant.

So, will the paperless office simply take another generation to arrive?

And, while I'm on the subject, what is up with old people and the comic sans font? Is it just easier to read with old fogey eyes? I see all sorts of serious documents written in comic sans, and it makes me want to cry. It is far too ugly and unserious for business material.

Maybe I'm just sensitive.

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