By Amy Grant
■山东泰安二中贾庆文 选译/罗扬 仲志兰 唐辉 校改
Humility is the best policy for technological forecasters. If you doubt that, remember those confident predictions of 30 years ago about the coming arrival of the "paperless office."
The arrival of computers everywhere in the workplace would, we were assured, soon make paper a thing of the past.
And guess what? Paper is still big business. In fact, sales of the stuff are growing. And the biggest beneficiary, it seems, is Canada, the world's largest exporter of office printing paper, which more than doubled its exports in the past 15 years—the years of the information technology "revolution."
Bill Gates's vision of a computer on every desk has been more or less realized. Yet most of the folks working at those desks are knee-deep in paper.
Hewlett-Packard forecasts that North American office printers alone will print 1.2 trillion sheets this year—an increase of more than 50 percent in five years.
Research from an intriguing new book, "The Myth of the Paperless Office," by Richard Harper and Abigail Sellen, suggests our increasing use of paper is due to the introduction of the very digital technology that was supposed to wipe it out.
The case studies on email in the workplace, for example, show that it can lead to a 40 percent increase in paper consumption—and this doesn't take into account the amount of paper used to print information from the Internet.
There's a wonderful irony here, because the personal computer—not to mention the laser printer—was invented in a lab set up by a copier company which was worried by all the talk of paperless offices.
Xerox's core business involved paper, and it was understandably alarmed by the prospect of it going out of fashion. So the research center invented the computing and printer technology that made sure it didn't. Perhaps those Xerox executives knew what they were doing, after all.
But our attachment to paper is truly amazing. An astonishing proportion of email users, for example, print off their messages and store them all in filing cabinets.
Organizations that used to do massive print runs of documents for meetings now circulate them electronically via their intranets. But those attending the meetings generally turn up with heaps of paper hot off the nearest laser printer—a process much more resource intensive and less efficient than proper offset printing.
To the technological rationalist this behavior seems irrational. Why store email messages in paper files, which take up valuable real estate and are effectively unsearchable, when you can keep them on a hard disk and effortlessly look through them for keywords and phrases? Why print off bulky documents whose only fate is to be shredded after the meeting is over?
The answer, of course, is it is the rationalists who are irrational. If people love paper, there must be a reason for it. And there is. It is highly portable, infinitely flexible and embodies very high-resolution display technology, which consumes no battery power. And it doesn't have to be turned on before you can read it.
Given that, the mystery is not that people use so much paper, but that they don't use even more of the stuff. The problem with technological predictions is that they are almost always solution-driven. "Technology is the answer" is their underlying mindset. "Now what was the question again?" It's foolish—and here is the hard copy to prove it.-