Paper - not just a good idea at the time

8th September 2015

It sounded like a good idea, didn’t it, the Paperless Office?

When computers became the norm, and PCs replaced the typewriter, everyone thought it was only a matter of time before everything was stored electronically, and there would be no need for filing cabinets stuffed with documents slowly gathering dust.

How wrong they were. It seems  that not only has the amount of paper in offices not decreased, but it may even have increased! Think about your own work practices. How many times have you printed a document out again, because although you printed it yesterday, you put it somewhere and now can’t find it? It’s all too easy to make copy after copy after copy.

I was interested to read some comments on the paperless office from Dr Joanne McNeish, a Canadian academic, whose research on paper and digital documents I have always found fascinating. Dr McNeish has been commenting on the paperless office idea for her local TV station, and is concerned that for businesses, digital records may not have the same permanence as paper.

Paper engages other senses, such as touch, which are brought into play when recalling a document, she says, more easily jogging the memory in a way digital information doesn’t. And she also fears that businesses who try to go paperless may find that in several years’ time, they are asked to produce a receipt for tax purposes – but can’t remember or access where it was digitally filed.

She has a point. This year the UK has been marking 800 years since the granting of Magna Carta. That document has lasted! I know it was written on parchment, but the principle is the same – old records exist, letters from earlier centuries can be perused today. But how many of us saved things on floppy discs not 15 years ago, that we thought would be a permanent record, only to see them superseded by memory sticks, CDs, and clouds, all of which will probably have their own short life span?

Give me a paper bill or statement that I can scrunch up, and smooth out, and leave somewhere for years, that will contain the same information as it did when I put it there. Unlike the now unreadable floppies…

Judith Donovan

The Toronto article is available here:



Can you double check granting is the right word?