Whatever Happened to the Paperless Office?


The concept of the paperless office was imagined decades ago, when technology was expected to eliminate the need for printed materials. And while digital media has become ubiquitous, businesses continue to rely on paper. In fact, paper use continues to grow — according to the “2013 Annual Review of Global Pulp & Paper Statistics” by RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, global paper and board production advanced 0.2% to reach a new record level of 400 million tons in 2012. Despite the ominous predictions to the contrary, the printed page lives on. And will continue to do so.

So, whatever happened to the long-predicted paperless office? While the benefits of digital media are many, paper still has a place in the modern office.

For starters, using paper to print is cheaper and easier than ever. Paper is affordable, and technological advancements have made it even easier to access and print materials, from a wider array of devices. Combine that with there being more things than ever for us to print – emails, web pages, etc., which simply provides us with more we feel the need to print out – and it’s easy to see why we still embrace paper.

And while digital documents are easier to file and search, paper documents possess the advantage of being tactile. A piece of paper can be grabbed, held, folded, carried, handed out, written on, and is a far more personal and intimate medium.

Finally, printed materials are more permanent – digital media can’t ensure that information, and history, can be kept forever. With technology always evolving, digital media is constantly changing, and a document stored electronically today might prove difficult to access 20 years from now when that technology is obsolete. Additionally, digital documents can be modified or altered at any time, eliminating their originality and authenticity. Printed materials cannot be altered or changed, and therefore are trustworthy sources of information.

While the concept of the paperless office was an innovative idea, it is still far off from becoming a reality for most companies. Businesses are best served by using a combination of both digital and paper. Paper documents remain necessary – as do electronic versions – and maximum efficiency comes when both mediums are used together in concert to optimize your office.

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