As a species, we seem to love paper

I was reading an article on the BBC website recently that reported that the demand for paper from office based businesses has never been higher. Ever since I was a child it was always predicted that new technology would eventually introduce the paperless office.

Of course, some paper can never be replaced. As Mrs Brown of Mrs Brown's Boys once noted, "whoever thought computers would replace paper never tried to wipe their backside with a laptop!".

But it does surprise me that we seem to rely so heavily on paper with all the technology that surrounds us.

I am a web designer based in Nottingham and because of my love of technology I try to run my business as paperless as I possibly can.

I needed to send a document to someone recently and in view of the urgency I asked if I could email it to them. They refused saying that they required the original. I then asked if I could fax the document and they responded that this was fine. How on earth is that more reliable than a scanned document?

If I had emailed the scanned document they would have received a colour high resolution image of the form which could easily be examined for any dodgy changes or amendments. A fax is very poor resolution and could easily mask any changes that were made to the original document.

Psychologically, I think it is because they receive a fax as paper and people through the years have learned to trust paper.

There is some merit in this thinking as paper is permanent and electronic images are editable. However, because of new technology paper content can be so easily faked that the trust these days is somewhat misplaced.

So can we ever have the paperless office?

I do not think it will happen until there is a much needed shift in people's deep seated psychological reliance on paper. In 1996 I was a manager of an insurance department that made a real effort to be paperless. All incoming correspondence was scanned and work was distributed to the staff electronically. However, so many of the staff would simply print the files out to examine them. So much so that we ended up using more paper than a traditional office because one set of papers would often be printed again and again.

I fought against this because I liked the ideal of a paperless office. However, I was fighting a losing battle because there is something about the paper document which people love so much. Until that changes, I fear many more trees will be lost in the world.

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