The idea of a totally paperless office is absurd

So I came in last night to write this column and ended up going home with a migraine.

So I came in last night to write this column and ended up going home with a migraine. I don’t recall ever having one before — it was all a bit strange. There I was staring at the cursor mocking me from its pristine white page, when all of a sudden I saw something flickering in the corner of my eye, looking like a hair caught in the lens on an old black-and-white movie. From there it became a ribbon of light that took out my peripheral vision and then it really took root and started to squeeze my brain a bit, so I staggered home in search of a lie down. Two things have become apparent: firstly, so much for the paperless office. Secondly, I need a good drug-free way of combating eye-bleeding pain. Any ideas? I’ve been to a number of sessions with printer companies over the past few weeks and at each one it’s become more and more clear to me that the idea of doing everything on-screen is just absurd, given the current level of screen technology. Sure, paper’s old-fashioned, but you really can’t sit in bed surrounded by 19in CRTs comfortably working without getting into the odd shouting match with your wife/partner/girlfriend/dog. Even LCD isn’t really the answer — you can’t fold it over and keep one open at the page you’re after without some serious re-engineering going on. No, paper’s here to stay for a while, I think, although it is up to us to try to minimise the damage printing can cause. Kyocera seems pretty much up with the play — its toner cartridges are made of a plastic that biodegrades pretty quickly or produces water vapour if it’s burned, which is good. You lot will know better than me just how much all the consumables cost for printers — be prepared for that bill to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. Printer issues aside, I have been reading a fantastic guide to the future of IT in general and the Internet in particular. It includes a detailed guide to both cable technology and encryption and, best of all, it’s wrapped up in a handy 900-page novel, called Cryptonomicon, by the man himself, Neal Stephenson. I’m not usually given to reviews in this column, probably since it’s not a review column, but this book should be required reading for all IT strategy types. If you’re thinking about the next 10 years then you should definitely buy this book. It’s in hardback at the moment but the paperback will be out in December, apparently. Much of the stuff about cabling comes from an article Stephenson wrote for Wired magazine called "Mother Earth Mother Board". In the hardcopy version it ran to about 10 pages, but you can get the full online version of over 50 pages from Wired’s site (www.wired.com). Recommended reading for the nerd on the go. Also check out his essay on operating systems and the first 90-odd pages of the novel from www.cryptonomicon.com. Try getting it on your training budget — even the Pointy Haired Boss will have trouble declining it. I had an interesting chat with a guy at ACC — Accident Compensation, not Auckland City Council. Apparently ACC has got Fujitsu in to go through all its PCs for "a short-term review of its Intel based PCs and servers" for Y2K. Hang on — isn’t it October 1999? Don’t you think, ACC, that you should have done that about a year ago? What happens if you need to replace a large chunk of them? When are you planning to do that? ACC wouldn’t comment further, but what about the data held on these PCs and servers? What about the networking gear they use? Did you think we were all joking about Y2K or did you think you could get away with doing nothing? ACC is one of the so-called "high-impact agencies" that the State Services Commission thinks is vital to New Zealand’s well-being. Is anyone reading these agencies’ reports or are they just being taken at face value? The clock is ticking. Still. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K  reporter. He can be reached at paul_brislen@idg.co.nz, or phone: 0-9-377 902. For publication copy letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

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