We need a better definition of the paperless office

A literal reading of a recent survey question about a 'paperless society' inevitably to a pair of correct answers: absolutely yes and absolutely not.


A literal reading of this survey question leads inevitably to a pair of correct answers: absolutely yes and absolutely not.

The question: "Do you think the United States will ever be a paperless society?"

Ever? That's a long time, so my answer is absolutely yes; everything happens sooner or later.

But a paperless society? As in no paper? None?

Absolutely not, at least not until someone figures out how to unring the bell; in other words, how to uninvent paper.

All of which is my smart-alecky way of saying I'm not sure how anyone could possibly answer the question - as posed - yet according to a press release from Poll Position, 1,142 registered voters gave it a go when contacted by robocall last month - and at least three of every four had no trouble reconciling my inevitability and impossibility issues. The results:

  • 56% said predictions of a paperless society aren't worth the paper they'll still be printed on - forever;
  • 20% said a paperless society, undefined, is only a matter of enough monkeys writing enough Shakespeare;
  • And the other 24% - otherwise known as the sensible people - either offered no opinion or said they didn't know.

It would seem as though a definition of "paperless" might have been helpful here, at least to me and perhaps a portion of the "other 24%." Wikipedia has a page for "paperless office" - note it's office, not society - and the article opens with this definition: "A paperless office is a work environment in which the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced."

Or greatly reduced? (More fudge, anyone?) By that definition I already work in a paperless office: It's been years since I've had a file cabinet, I surrendered my personal printer without a whimper, and there's a reason I check my snail-mail cubbyhole about once a month, if that.

Yet we still have interoffice mail, right after the holiday I peeled the shrink wrap off a 2012 desk blotter calendar (I have my reasons), and my business card still carries a telephone number for a fax machine they say is located somewhere on this floor.

Paperless? Not by a long shot.

And the paperless office is a piece of cake, relatively speaking.

As for your truly paperless society? I can hear the monkeys typing, but I'm quite confident they'll still be clanging away long after I'm gone.