(+) The Paperless Genealogist

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

paperlessofficeToo many genealogists are addicted to paper. In this day and age, that’s sad. I have no statistics about the amount of paper, ink, and toner consumed by genealogists every year, but I am sure we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing printers, paper, and supplies. That’s a huge waste of money, in my opinion. I wonder how many filing cabinets are sold to genealogists for in-home use. I will suggest there is a better way to store personal copies of genealogy records and related information.

The “paperless office” was an early prediction made in the June 30, 1975, issue of BusinessWeek. The article quoted George E. Pake, then head of Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto (California) Research Center:

“There is absolutely no question that there will be a revolution in the office over the next 20 years. What we are doing will change the office like the jet plane revolutionized travel and the way that TV has altered family life.”

Pake claimed that, in 1995, his office would be completely different; there would be a TV-display terminal with keyboard sitting on his desk. “I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button,” he claimed. “I can get my mail or any messages. I don’t know how much hard copy [printed paper] I’ll want in this world.”

The same article also stated:

“Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off. Vincent E. Giuliano of Arthur D. Little, Inc., figures that the use of paper in business for records and correspondence should be declining by 1980, “and by 1990, most record-handling will be electronic.”

Of course, the predictions never came true. In fact, the phrase “paperless office” has become a joke, frequently used in offices around the world, usually in offices that are drowning in more paper than ever before.

The adoption of computers by office workers and home consumers alike has placed a highly flexible tool in the hands of individuals. Computers are flexible in that they can be used either to eliminate paper or to easily create paper – far more paper than ever possible before the introduction of personal computers and networks.

Most people are creatures of habit. Since these people are accustomed to using paper, they use computers to generate even more paper than what might be reasonably required to meet everyday needs.

Younger people who have grown up in the computer age are generally comfortable with electronic documentation and have little need or desire for paper. However, older workers who were reared in an age when everything was documented on paper still cling to the belief that paper is required for nearly everything. In my conversations with those over the age of 50, I find many still claim that they “need” paper documents and cannot do the same things by reading on a screen.

Of course, such “needs” are ridiculous. These aren’t needs at all; they are ingrained habits. I am reminded of one famous saying:

“We do things this way because we have always done things this way.”

Could there ever be a worse reason for doing something?

As has been proven millions of times by the younger generation, there is no “need” to read paper. Reading on a computer screen or an iPad screen or a Nook screen or even a cell phone screen is perfectly acceptable to anyone with an open mind. Millions of people do it every day. It makes no difference if we are talking about an entire book or a one-paragraph note from Aunt Millie: reading text on a screen is as effective as reading it on paper.

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