I’m old enough to remember the birth of the word processor. They were huge, clunky machines that required the operator to be joined at the hip to an 800-page user’s manual. Some of us took our manuals home to read the dry instructions on weekends. We were the early geeks. The attraction? These new machines made it possible — for the first time — to change a line of text on page 3 without having to retype the entire document. For that we loved our behemoths. But most of all it was the promise of the paperless office that kept us reading our word processing textbooks late into the night. It was exciting to be part of HP’s first office automation test group knowing we were leading businesses everywhere into a cleaner, less encumbered, filing-free world. I even carried computers home on the weekends to become faster at it. You should be impressed. Carrying home a computer in 1982 was no small feat. It involved backing my car up to the rear entrance of the building and hoisting the huge pieces into the trunk.
Fast forward 20+ years and we’re bound more by paper than ever before. It’s true, we communicate increasingly by electronic mail — those endless messages that we dutifully print to carry into meetings or slide into briefcases as a reminder of unfinished work. We can scan almost anything yet we insist on placing hand-signed original documents in our files. Oh the files! Does your office have a box of recycled files, labels half stuck on, waiting for their next essential purpose? Do something drastic. Throw them all away. You’ll have to sneak. The truth is we’re not really ready to let go of our paper.