Back in the seventies, when I was but a teen, I recall watching an episode of Tomorrow’s World concerned with ‘The Paperless Office’. It predicted, in confident tones, a day when computers would be so much a part of our lives that we would no longer have the need for printed documents. Like an episode of Space 1999 it showed healthy, modern people using personal computers, faxes and mobile phones whilst inhabiting a white sanitised world.
It all seemed a world away from the forest killing, ozone depleting period that I grew up in; if they had added a jetpack and a Sunday dinner in the form of a pill it would have seemed like the complete sci-fi deal.
Here I sit three decades later, my desk full of paper and my most used computer function the print button, wondering what happened to the promised paperless world. In theory it could be a reality today but I fear that the TW producers forgot to consider one ingredient when they made their prediction. Namely: the human inability to truly trust anything.
Think about it. I receive an email from a dear friend in the USA. He tells me all about their latest offspring and I receive this news merely seconds after his fingers have danced over the keyboard. I now have two choices, I either call my wife to come from the lounge and get her to read the missal on the screen, thereby saving a twig in a rain forest south of the equator, or I print it out and let her read the hard copy. I choose to print so that it frees up the screen to show how much I can buy several reams of A4 paper for on-line.
Similarly at work I have a need to print whatever I see on the screen just to double check what it looks like when I hold it in my hands. Perhaps that is part of the problem; we have grown so used to the idea that we use our eyes AND our hands in the reading process that to merely sit and look at a screen feels like second best.
I am sure, however, that there is a deeper reason for my failure to resist the print option. I have become so accustomed to my computer crashing that I am compelled to make a hard copy and keep it in a file in my desk, just in case. I wonder how many acres of vegetation have been lost due to our 'just in case' moments. The ‘techy’ guys and gals in the depth our building don’t offer any comfort. They are all top quality people but their confidence in using computer jargon to deflect awkward questions dissolves into apoplexy whenever they are faced with a printer fault.
They seem to adopt the adage 'if in doubt, give it a clout' like the rest of us when reading error messages on the full colour, 3 function machine. My logic is simple; if they are not believers, then neither am I. I am therefore left to print every document just in case.
When I arrive at the printer I am greeted by a queue of weary office travellers who have all come in search of the comfort of hard copy documentation. Some gaze at the printer with once hopeful eyes. Others press buttons and peer at the display screen hoping that their job is the next to be fulfilled. Some, however, who printed but then got distracted before they could retrieve their work, search through that pile of paperwork that sits next to every machine in the land. You presume that at some point these were all wanted by someone but now they sit like puppies in a dog shelter waiting for someone to consider them as important.
With the advances in technology the promise of a paperless office is now back in vogue. Infrared, Bluetooth and wireless technology mean that our laptops, PC’s, mobile phones and palm tops can all communicate with each other without any help from us mere humans. I may well continue having this urge to print but perhaps the future is more likely to be a ‘peopleless office’.