From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
Myth of the Paperless Office

March 20, 2002 3:19 PM

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting piece about The Myth of the Paperless Office, a book by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper.

Paper is used today in a much different fashion than most people realize. It's very effective in enhancing the collaborative process. People mark paper up, dog ear it, write notes in the margins, spread it across the conference table and pick it apart. Yet, it's very ineffective as a storage mechanism. That's where the computer is quite effective, since things can be organized and searched easily.

This is very intuitive, and how I've always worked. Even though I grew up with computers, I still use and discard a lot of paper. According to Alison Kidd, the piles of paper strewn about my desk are "ideas which [I] cannot yet categorize or even decide how [I] might use." It's simply a sign of many unresolved ideas fluttering about in my head. Recently I've begun scanning and organizing the important documents that I know I will have to keep forever in my computer. Everything from tax returns to family pictures.

I even do a similar thing with music. All my music is stored digitally on a computer. I can easily listen to all this music on my home stereo, but if I want to listen to something in the car, I just burn a CD of it. It doesn't matter if the burned CD melts in the car, or I lose it, or it gets scratched. I've probably lost interest in it by that time anyway, and I can just throw it away. Usually, the more recent stuff that I've yet to decide whether I like or not, makes its way into the car, where I tend to listen to music more critically than at home.

It's reassuring to know that all the people with clean, orderly desks have either resolved all the ideas fluttering about in their heads, or have empty brains.

More from the archive in Tech.

Myth of the Paperless Office (03.20.2002)

Next Entry: God Changes Everything (03.21.2002)
Previous Entry: Con Man (03.19.2002)

Jim Gilliam
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