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Applied anthropology & office paper

19 December, 2006

Came across this short piece on anthropologist Brinda Dalal working for Xerox laboratories in Canada. Apparently, Brinda spent a fair amount of time ‘dumpster diving’ and discovered that something like 44% of all things printed in an office were discarded the same day. People liked paper documents to work on, to review with others, to take to meetings, and the like, so the days of the ‘paperless office’ forecasted earlier in the age of computers has been slow to arrive.

Check the whole story here.

I’m not sure I agree with the end of the story, however, which does suggest that people are doing more and more of their reading on-line. It would be very interesting to look at the reading habits of younger people, to see if growing up with small screens and home computers made them less likely to print things out. My own experience working in a design office is that computer technology made document production much easier, therefore, we ended up working through some stages of document production on screen, but then would print out several different versions, consuming reams of paper, as we reviewed the documents, checked layout, and prepared them for a final printing. If Xerox does produce a kind of auto-erasing paper that can be reused dozens of times, I think that they might find it does get taken up. If only they can help us remember where we put the paper in our desks…

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