Friday 5 February 2010

Paperless Or Just Less Paper?

In the 1980s we were promised a paperless office. I am not the best at technology but I have some of the tools and make an effort. Nevertheless, I have just spent 2 days sorting through some of that stuff that has accumulated. In the old days there was a pile on the end of the desk. ‘That’s interesting, I’ll read that later’ sort of pile. I have a pile like that and I have the equivalent in e-newsletters and emails as well.

When it comes to reading masses of text on screen I hunch up and eventually go to sleep. I need to make notes to keep myself awake and interested. So I still have masses of paper…
My Bank wants me to accept statements on line, others email invoices and bills to me or if I order anything I can print off the invoice. And I do. I still maintain a paper based accounting system. It is actually easier as I don’t have dozens of entries. You can write on it, tick things off, make sensible notes in the margin.

There could be good reasons for a business going paperless. Computers list and re-sort things very well and adding up vast numbers of numbers doesn’t phase them a bit. Then there are environmental reasons for going paperless if you are in a business with a rampant demand for paper records. Not just in the manufacture of the paper but in the disposal.

Cost is difficult to justify, because paper is still a cheap resource but ease of communication across distance and varied sites is a good reason for looking at the technology more.
Cultural anticipation is a problem. Still a large proportion of the population did not grow up with computers and is not intuitive in their use. Computers do sort things exactly. You can’t flip a few cards either way to pick out what you need. Then there is something nice about paper. The Folio society still secure a section of the buying public with well crafted books at several times the cost of a cheap paperback edition.

Fliers and leaflets are best in paper. The distribution is different. We have the technology to push out an advert for offers when a mobile phone owner walks past the shop, but who wants that?

In the business world we all have seen people losing their data on a failed hard drive and we don’t exactly trust it all that much. You can lose a piece of paper too but you know how to look for it. Plenty of people print off those important emails. ‘Keep a copy for the file...’
Preparation of reports, documents, letters etc. is so much better on the computer if you can type fairly fast. You can change things and alter the presentation easily. All good. No more carbon paper, tippex strips under the typewriter keys and blue and green copies.

Dual monitors on your desktop computer would enable you to spread out your work so that it can sensibly be seen side by side. More cost, and more energy but better in some cases.
I believe we print more paper now than we ever wasted typing and filing. Some suggest that
our paper-usage is 4-5 times greater now that we all have our own computers and printers.

The truth of it is the opportunities with computers are fine but sometimes it has to be paper for all sorts of reasons. Apple’s new I-pad attempts to close the gap (as have several page readers beforehand) but still doesn’t exactly get there entirely. We just have more alternatives now. That means more communication, more information overload and less defined ways of reaching your target audience. You now have to check your emails, your SMS messages, your ansafone messages, on your phone and then pick up the ansafone in the office, the fax, the post. Information comes in by post, by email, by various phone systems, by fax, by post, and indeed in person, by courier, by messenger, by notes left on the desk, sticky notes on the screen, as well as the calendar, the diary, outlook or similar, with whatever you have managed to synchronise and so on.

Lucky you if you have a PA. No wonder I have a pile building up. If you want direction and feel you can't see the woods from the trees seek help with Bob Shepherd Associates @

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