The ‘paperless office’ has been the stuff of legend since the late 90s. When I worked as a technology journalist, I was constantly bombarded with press releases claiming the paperless office was only a few years away.
Let’s skip to 2015. The paperless office is no closer now than it was back then. I’ve just moved house and I have no idea where my printer is. So I’ve decided to run a little experiment.
I work from home as a freelance science and technology writer and everything I do relies on technology in some form. I work in a digital world, but can I survive without paper? Can I exist in my own paperless office?
For the last month, I have shunned all things print. No newspapers. No books. No pen and paper. Nothing other than digital copy.
I’ve had to come up with some savvy solutions to work around a paperless existence. Business cards were replaced with LinkedIn requests. To do lists on the back of envelopes replaced by Wunderlist. Sketches were done on whiteboards instead of scraps of paper.
There have been highs and lows. Let’s look at those now:
The paperless positives
I was wrong to assume a paperless existence meant I would read less. If anything, I have read more. Online copy is littered with related articles, which meant I have consumed more news and soundbites than ever before. I’ve read articles on sites I may never have looked at before and relied on some social media favourites to recommend pieces that I may want to read.
I have also shared content and connected far more than ever before. My Twitter feed is full with interesting articles I have glanced online as I am spending all my time online. I’ve made more connections and learnt more about a wide range of topics as a result.
I’ve also been a little lighter on my feet. My bag is a paper dustbin. Articles, press releases, books and other such bumpf seem to collect here but I only had a phone and a Kindle to cart around. And, surely, I may have saved a few trees into the bargain as well?
And the negatives…
It’s not a new argument but I have to bring it up. An ebook is not the same as a real book. I would prefer my children to see me reading a book on the sofa than flicking through an iPad. And many books, particularly rare and older editions that I love to read, are just not available in a digital format.
The benefit of reading more also has a downside. Sure, I read a lot more but with quantity did not come quality. I flitted between articles without really focusing on the copy I was reading in the here and now. I was easily distracted and felt like I didn’t really take anything in.
Lastly, for me there was one deal breaker: interviews. I work as a freelance writer. I interview dozens of people every month and I need to be able to understand and take away quotes on some incredibly complex topics. I usually rely on my shorthand and a notebook, but these were swapped for Skype, digital recordings and a keyboard.
This is where the paperless office failed. Sure, the tech allowed me to record my interviews but navigating through hours of chat to find a couple of quotes wasted a lot of time. As a freelance writer, my time is now my money. It just did not work.
Falling off the wagon
OK, confession time. I didn’t last. I was 3 weeks and 5 days in when I relapsed and called on my trusty business cards, notebook, pen and shorthand. I was tasked with running the sole coverage of the Fuse 2015 event in London. I didn’t want to risk tech failure and career suicide should my recorder fail to pick up on the killer quotes and insightful talks held during the event aimed at building corporate and startup alliances.
As fate would have it, my digital recordings from the event did work. But so did my paper notebook.
Maybe the paperless office isn’t suited to the world of a freelance writer. Maybe four weeks was not long enough to evaluate a paperless existence.
Or maybe electronic books will never replace paper tomes. E-magazines will not replace glossy magazines. But having digital recordings on had to double check my quotes and listen to the context behind some pretty complicated topics did help.
Just as I found during my paper relapse, both will exist side by side. Paper side by digital side. It’s the best of both worlds.
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology