What happened to the paperless office?

I remember back 20 or more years ago, when word processors were commonly replacing all those IBM Selectric typewriters, and when computing was beginning to become more the rule than the exception, the term paperless office was thrown around as though it would actually become a reality. However, instead of using less paper, we're probably using more of it, at least it seems that way from my perspective.

We all know the arguments about the lower cost associated by going paperless; and using less paper certainly does cost less money. Then there's the added benefit of having only one copy of something in digital form instead of multiple copies in printed form. Wondering which printed version of something is the most current seems common (unless it's dated somehow), but not so much the case with something in digital form.

We can certainly point to high speed and low cost printers as a culprit in increasing paper use, but on the other hand, we could consider low cost scanners as a technology designed to get paper out of the process. Or is it that scanners only add a digital factor to an already existing paper factor? Instead of digital versus paper, do we now simply rely on both? Banks and other financial institutions, and even the Internal Revenue Service, commonly exchange information digitally, taking the proverbial paper trail out of the picture. Or do they take paper totally out of the process?

At our office, we use wide format scanners to convert older architectural and engineering drawings into digital form, thereby eliminating the need for long-term paper storage. But we still print current engineering drawings with seemingly unlimited liberty, going through rolls and rolls of paper during the design process. We have any number of documents saved digitally in PDF form, but our printers' counters are collectively well into the six or seven digits. How many reams of paper are used by printing a million sheets? The answer is 2,000, in case you're wondering. (But it used to be 2,083 when a ream was 480 sheets instead of the current 500.)

If an office were truly becoming more paperless (more paperless?), it would have fewer printers, not more of them. How many offices have fewer printers today than ten years ago? We used to have about one or two printers per 25 people, but we now have close to a dozen. How can so many printers contribute to a paperless office? And often times, we just print a document to have a copy to file away someplace.

Okay, enough about the paperless office. I've got to think about my next task at hand when I go back to the office tomorrow morning. I've got to figure out why one of my JetDirect cards is registering a device communication error, keeping me from adding this particular printer to my network. And since I don't have the documentation for this device, I suppose I'll have to go to the Hewlett Packard Web site and print out some documents about it to help me troubleshoot the thing.

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