Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

The Paperless Society: Myth or Reality?

CBS syndicated columnist Dave Ross recently said “The best thing about the Internet is that there is no paper.  The worst thing about the Internet is that there is no paper.”  I think Mr. Ross has succinctly captured the essence of the dichotomy.

Several years ago, the Aetna Insurance Company hired IBM to do an extensive $3 million study with the objective of reducing paper handling throughout Aetna by 10%.  When the study was completed, and recommendations made, Aetna management rejected it, concluding that the trauma caused by doing things differently would cost the company far more than the anticipated savings!

In 2004, FedEx paid $2.4 Billion to acquire 1300 Kinko stores.  What services does Kinko (now called “FedEx Office“) provide?  Primarily printing and copying paper.  Kinko’s also provides shipping services.  What do they ship?  You guessed it, mostly documents.  Is FedEx nuts?  Probably not.

The US Post Office is on the ropes because its paper shipping business has declined to the point where the existing infrastructure is bigger than it needs to be.

The Kindle, the Nook and the iPAD have obviated the need to read books on paper.

Several years ago, I visited the Head of HP’s Workstation Division.  When I asked him how they were making any money given the current competitive situation, he replied:  “Every morning, before office hours, we all gather in the parking lot, face Boise, bow down and utter a prayer of thanks.”  If you didn’t already know it, Boise is the HQ of HP’s Printer Division!

The newspaper business is on its last legs, given that an increasing number of people get their news over the Internet or on TV.

Visit Costco, Staples, Office Max and Office Depot and see rows and rows of paper for sale:  Copy paper, printer paper, card stock, colored paper, envelopes, etc., etc.

Reading a Magazine in a Barber shop

Who among you men can imagine waiting in a barber shop reading Playboy on a tablet?  Who among you women can imagine reading Vogue on a tablet while waiting for your manicure.

Although paper consumption in North America has declined by 25% in recent years, demand is on the upswing due to improvement in the economy, the introduction of new products and huge growth from Asia, especially China.

Here are oft-repeated statements: “Finding specific information in a stack of paper can be time consuming and often frustrating. Finding specific information in digital data is quick and easy.”  My response to that is a big MAYBE.  The statements may be true IF the data has been organized efficiently and the reader knows the right keywords to search on.  But suppose you are reading a lengthy document and want to refer back to something you read earlier.  If you are sitting in front of screen, how easy is it to do that?  Often, it is much faster to riffle through the pages of a paper document than to do a computer search where you might not even remember searchable keywords.

So what is one to make out of these seemingly contradictory observations?  I think it is safe to say that paper and electrons will coexist for a very long time.  Paper will be replaced where it makes sense, and used where it makes sense.

According to, each person in the United States uses 749 pounds of paper per year!  (Yes, that includes toilet paper).  We are not going to see that consumption decline significantly for a very long time.


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One thought on “The Paperless Society: Myth or Reality?

  1. Wow, this is really interesting reading. I am glad I found this and got to read it. Great job on this content. I like it.

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