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The Quest For The Paperless Office

PCs, e-mail, PDAs--these miraculous technologies were supposed to deliver us from the evils of paper use. What happened to the quest for the paperless office?

"I can't budge it, boss," said the mover as he gave my filing cabinet the evil eye. "What do you have in there?"

"The paperless office," I laughed under my breath. And it was a good thing the mover didn't hear me because he was noisily pulling out the drawers so they could be carried individually to the truck for transport to my new home. Otherwise, he might have angrily dropped the obese drawers on my foot because-quite plainly and, to my movers' backs, painfully-the paperless society hasn't happened. Computers are everywhere, and for 20 years we've heard the paperless office was just 'round the bend, but, "We don't seem to be moving any closer to achieving the paperless office. My guess is we never will," says professional organizer Stephanie Winston, author of Getting Out From Under.

"We actually have more paper than we used to," adds organizer Barbara Hemphill, author of Taming the Paper Tiger at Work.

Yep, says the American Forest and Paper Association, which reports that from 1990 to 1998-the very years when the computer, the alleged key to paperlessness, became an office staple-annual consumption of paper rose from 80 million tons to 96 million tons in the United States.

We are drowning in paper-witness my backbreaking filing cabinet-and, says the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development (a Paris-based global research arm for world governments), in the United States, we each use about 730 pounds of the stuff in a year. Do the math: That's almost 14 pounds a week, two pounds a day.

There's a reason why, nowadays, our piles of paper seem to be growing, says Lisa Kanarek, author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success and HomeOfficeMag.com's "Get Organized" columnist: "There now are more sources of information than ever before. We have faxes, e-mail, snail mail."

Then, too, the printer by your desktop gives you a remarkably cheap copier. For many years, I operated a home office without a copier-they were expensive and this was a technology easily sidestepped. But now we all have printers and that means we have the ability, at the touch of a button, to make multiple copies of everything that crosses our computer screen.

And make copies we do-of e-mail, Web sites, articles on the Web and lots more. The result? Sooner than we ever might have dreamed, we find the paper piles around us growing...and growing. "I own three printers now," says Joe Brancatelli, the frequent flying columnist for BizTravel.com. "There's all kinds of stuff the Internet brings in that I would never have had access to [before]-and sometimes I print it out."

Sound familiar?


Robert McGarvey covers the Web-and plays with the latest cool gadgets-from his home office in Santa Rosa, California. Visit his Web page at www.mcgarvey.net.

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