The paperless office predicted by futurists decades ago never materialized. As the digital era emerged, people were exchanging ever more information but technology and behavior lagged behind as emails were printed for archiving and word documents for editing by hand. A 2001 book, “The Myth of the Paperless Office,” summed the situation up nicely.

This article notes, however, that the year this book was published was the very year when demand for office paper finally peaked and began its steady decline. A paper expert at Info Trends estimates that office workers in developed countries will continue to reduce their office paper consumption for the foreseeable future.

Another expert quoted in this article believes that this is a generational phenomenon, noting that older people still prefer a hard copy of most things while younger workers are increasingly comfortable reading on screens and storing data on PCs or even online. Digital information after all reduces office clutter and can be “tagged” and therefore filed into many folders instead of one physical folder. It can be searched by key work and shared instantly across the office or across the world.

Increasingly firms are creating documents digitally at corporate headquarters , digitally distributing them and only printing as needed. Paper sales are rising only for high-end paper offering superior color contrast as people are demanding more beauty in the things they still print.

The market for beautiful, high end paper is growing at better than 8 percent per year, causing one visionary to note the curious parallel between office paper and horses. When cars came along the number of horses in the US dropped at first but is now back where it was in the late 19th century as they are valued for special occasions, sport and their beauty to the eye.

Source: The Economist (US); October 11, 2008, v389 i8601 p79

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