Think Before You Print – Why The Paperless Office Hasn’t Happened

A decade ago the office cartoon Dilbert said that the future promised a paperless world, and that pointed out that of course that didn’t happen. In fact, as Dilbert showed, the electronic age has actually had the opposite effect.

Why is this? How is this? We live in a world where people don’t often send letters; we send e-mails. As a long time journalist I can tell you that print magazine sales are down, and online communities such as this one are on the rise. So again, why haven’t we been freed from paper?

Well, the short answer in the 1990s is very much true today. It is so much easier to print. Before computers arrived on every desk, letters and even memos were written by hand, and then taken to the secretarial pool or even the data processing department. Here someone would type it up, changes were made and after some time a final draft was approved and the document was finally printed for good.

As computers become desktops it was soon possible to print out a memo to all your employees with such needless information as “I’m taking the day off tomorrow.” This was a common paper waster in the early to mid-1990s. But then e-mail, both Internet mail and inter-office intranet mail made the paper memo a thing of the past. No one needed to print out “I’m taking the day off,” and instead they could just e-mail their colleagues.

However, the network printer also made it easy and convenient to print out everything! Upper and even middle management was used to the system of paper memos and making revisions on paper, instead of the annoying “tracked changes” offered by programs such as Microsoft Word. Likewise, some revisions just can’t easy be done digitally. It is easier to print something out, write “move this paragraph here,” and hand it off.

For small and home offices, the price of printers has fallen to prices that frankly surprises even the manufacturers. That makes it so easy to have a desktop printer to go with every desk.

And while GPS devices are catching on, it is still way too easy to print out the directions from Map Quest or Google Maps. Bought an item from eBay, you can print out the page to save as a hardcopy receipt. Going into a meeting, well you can’t bring the desktop so everyone brings a copy of the documents.

Basically the bottom line is that we don’t think before we print. Web pages have “print” buttons and most browsers have added print functionality. In other words it is too easy to print. So think before you print, and spread the word. Add a line to your signature that says, “think before you print.”

And don’t you dare print out this article!