Paper trail getting harder to navigate

Despite our best efforts, the idea of the paperless office seems to have remained just that - an idea. Our increasing capability in terms of automation and computerisation has exponentially increased our ability to produce paper.

Yet another busy fortnight has just slipped by, though to be honest, not all of my busy-ness has been strictly business. I’ve just spent the weekend — and two days preceding it — shifting house. What a heinous business that is.

On this occasion it was made doubly so by my dodgy knee, which is still on the way back from surgery and, as a result of haring up and down the two flights of stairs in our new place for four days, has regressed.

Part of this particular shift was a major downsizing — going from a regular house with a big garden to a terrace house with a courtyard. That meant we had to shed some stuff, which meant a garage sale.

The best thing about garage sales is the interesting (and positively kooky) people who come to them.

Imagine how I felt arriving at the old house on Saturday morning to be greeted by dozens of ghoulish individuals who, according to the neighbours, had been gathering on our rain-swept front lawn since about 5am. It was like something out of The Twilight Zone. Fortunately the ghouls were armed with cash so by about 11am, the old house and garage were empty and my back pocket was full.

Now back at work, my brain, just like the family’s possessions, seems still to be rather disorganised. I mean, everything is here somewhere — it’s just that I can’t actually find anything when I need it.

Apart from the fact I’ve misplaced my Palm, my biggest problem is paper. It’s absolutely everywhere. My new garage, my car and my office are all swamped and almost every centimetre of my desk space is covered with it.

I admit I love to read — I’m a media junkie — and, while I enjoy reading IdgNet, Granny Herald and a variety of other publications online (while listening to 95bFM’s MP3 stream), there’s nothing in the world like a genuine, old fashioned, made-of-actual-paper book, magazine or newspaper. Once my laptop can provide the tactile and visual gratification of the genuine article (as well as stand being rolled up, stuck under my arm and carried off to the, um, small office) then I’ll consider properly converting to digital media.

The other more insidious source of paper is the letters, time-sheets, notes, memos, receipts, invoices, bank statements and other minutae that seem to infest my life.

Even becoming an avid Palm user (when I can find the damned thing, that is) doesn’t seem to have got me much further ahead of the luddite masses.

The scariest stuff of all is the piles and piles of articles, white papers and reports that I, myself, have printed and bound for posterity or a rainy day or something. Despite our best efforts, the idea of the paperless office seems to have remained just that — an idea.

Our increasing capability in terms of automation and computerisation has exponentially increased our ability to produce paper. Being creatures of habit, we use that capability to the fullest. I have spent many happy hours downloading PDFs and sending them off to the printer. Now I see the error of my ways.

Please, learn from my mistake — next time you go to hit the print button, think: “If I was shifting next week, would I want to carry this lot up two flights of stairs?”.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send email to Jim Swanson. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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