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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Paperless Office Was Delusion of Early Technology Age

In the early ’80s, with the arrival of the Apple IIe and the IBM PC on just about everyone’s desk, the pundits began writing about the paperless office.

You may remember that the paper manufacturers and stationers were destined for the dustbin of history.

It never happened.

Three decades later, we’re still dealin’ with paper. Literally barrels of it.

Here at the Business Journal we’re drowning in dried tree pulp, enough to fill several large recycling barrels each week the detritus of our daily pursuits in the office.

In an age when e-mail, instant messaging and texting reign supreme, I have to ask, “Why?”

Well, I have one answer: Our editorial staff is still getting lots of marketing and PR material that could be easily digitized and sent over the Internet.

What’s the point of paper stuffed into envelopes? And some of it is just senseless waste of words.

When I arrived on the job 15 months ago, I pointedly pointed out that I was getting mail addressed to my predecessor three and four times removed.

The situation has gotten a bit better, but there are still a few too many pieces of mail arriving addressed to a predecessor.

Mailing Lists

Does anyone update their mailing lists? Why use postal carriers, anyway? Isn’t that 20th century technology?

With all the concern about the environment and global climate change (it’s no longer chic to call it global warming), I’m surprised we haven’t really tackled the problem of paper waste.

Not that I am a true believer in global warming, but I am a believer in treading as lightly as possible upon the land. Waste not, want not, is a maxim we should all live by. Leave no trace.

Why chop down a tree if you don’t need it?

I am proud of our own paper’s effort to cut out waste.

Our reader surveys show that our weekly print product is passed along many times to different folks in the same office before ending up in the recycling bin.

What’s more, we now have as many digital newsletter subscribers as we do in print, a number that is growing by leaps and bounds each month.

While I am on the topic, let me offer a few words of advice to those trying to pitch us, such as PR and marketing firms.

Shift gears, and think in terms of bits and bytes rather than 20-pound stock letterhead.

There is no longer a need to send out elaborate news kits, or presentations, to grab our attention.

Just send us the pitch via e-mail three or four sentences will do, with a snappy headline in the subject heading.

While I am on the subject of subject headings, I’ll mention one pet peeve of mine.


Many of you in the PR profession send e-mail missives labeled “For immediate release,” or “News release” in the subject line.

That’s a no-no.

Put the headline of the release in the e-mail subject header, and paste the release into the body of the e-mail. And, no attachments, please.

Remember, too, we’re looking for news content, not presentation styles.

Releases should never be more than 500 words. If we want more, we’ll ask for more. And we rarely ask for more. (Where’s my smiley face now that I need it?)

We like e-mail. We can respond promptly, or send messages to the appropriate staff member with a few clicks of the mouse.

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, e-mail didn’t exist.

Now it’s a question of how did we live without it in the past? And how do we live with it in the future?

While pondering that big thought, I am trying to figure out what we could do with the office printer.

We go through several reams a week feeding the old reliable in the editorial department.

I suppose we need that comfort level of seeing words on paper, and holding a sheet of paper in our hands.

Still, I am troubled by the use of so much paper.

At least we can print out only what we need, a process that limits some of the waste involved.

Technology has brought big changes to the modern office, but we’re still years away from one that does without paper.

Tom York is editor of the Business Journal.


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