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Is the Paperless Office Likely to Become a Reality?
The dawn of the computer and internet age was to be the beginning of the paperless office.
We were told it would be good for the environment because we wouldn’t have to cut huge tracts of forest every year. There would no longer be a need for large amounts of storage space for archival material.
So far, it hasn’t happened like that yet and, if you think about it, is it realistic? Paper has been around for about 2000 years. The word comes from the Egyptian – Papyrus – which was actually not paper at all. Papyrus was formed from beaten strips of the papyrus plant. These strips were then overlapped at right angles to form a sort of mat, hammered into a thin sheet and left in the sun to dry.
The resulting sheets were ideal for writing on. Since they were also lightweight and portable, they became the writing medium of choice for Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for record keeping, spiritual texts, and artwork.
But paper as we understand it was invented in China in the 2nd century CE by a Han dynasty eunuch called T’sai Lun.
He experimented to refine the process of softening and soaking the plant fiber until each filament was completely separated.
The water was mixed with the individual fibers in a large tub. Then a screen was immersed in the tank and lifted through the water, capturing the fibers on its surface. Once dried, this thin layer of intertwined fibers became paper.
As societies grew and became more complicated, the need to record significant events, document transactions, agreements and property rights also increased. Papermaking slowly spread throughout Asia to Nepal and later to India. The origins of early mathematical and medical knowledge were India and the Islamic world, and the information was recorded so that the now transportable knowledge could spread westward across the world.
Records in the West were kept on parchment (cured and dried animal skins), which were expensive, handwritten, and illustrated, making documents and texts slow, expensive to produce or copy, and therefore poorly disseminated.
The use of paper for mass communication really took hold in the 15th century, when Johann Gothenburg perfected movable type and printed his famous Bible in 1456.
The rest, as they say, is history and in response to those with environmental concerns:
The main source of raw material for paper is trees and trees are renewable. Manage forests sustainably as they are in Europe, for example, and for every tree felled, three to four are replanted in its place.
It is estimated that there are 25% more trees in the developed world today than there were in 1901 and in Europe alone forests are increasing each year by an area equivalent to more than 1.5 million football pitches and we all know that trees are essential to maintaining the quality of the air we breathe.
And how do you compare the “carbon footprint” of producing and printing to paper with the power used in the zillions of computers, servers and other computing equipment that are turned on every hour of every day?
Today, we take paper for granted. Where would newspapers, authors and artists be without it? Would we have so much fun seeing a work of art on screen? Or read a book online?
Likewise, paper is an essential tool of almost every business you can think of.
Who hasn’t had the experience of a computer crashing, an external hard drive or CD or USB stick disintegrating and the cold feeling of knowing that precious discs have been irretrievably lost? There are times when a printed physical record is still an essential backup
So overall, it looks like we’re not going to go paperless just yet – and that means we’re going to need storage space for the foreseeable future.
From Ipswich to Innsbruck, Illinois to India, wherever there is growing pressure to retain paper records and make economical use of expensive office space, offsite archive storage is a service companies will continue to be needed.
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