Monday, May 14, 2007

Paper versus computers

The paperless office has been an IT dream for decades. But despite huge leaps in technology, it's still permanently a few years out, and most people prefer to use both, depending on the scenario.

In order to understand why, and figure out whether, why or when this will ever change, I've listed the pros and cons for computers and paper.

FeatureBest mediumAutomated
Distribution costsComputer1990s
Marginal costsComputer1990s
Document CopyComputer1990s
Validation (spellcheck, form values)Computer1990s
WorkflowComputer1990s
Document Editing (delete, move sections around, etc)Computer1990s
Store & searchComputer2000s
AccessibilityComputer2000s
CollaborationPaper2000s
DoodlesPaper2000s
HandwritingPaper2000s
Reading qualityPaper2010s
FoldablePaper2010s
DisposablePaper2010s

You can convert formats from computer to paper by printing, and vice versa by scanning. This helps you gain the benefits of that medium, but the conversion process is not perfect.

Recent changes

  • Accessible - search engines can now crawl documents and automatically extract important data, because of open formats such as HTML. Browsers can display data according to the user profile (e.g. large fonts).
  • Store & Search - search engines have made a massive difference to tehe ability to find documents, and online services such as Photobucket and Google Documents enable online storage of information

Likely to change in the next five years

  • Doodles - via pen / touch interface and standard vector graphics (Flash, Silverlight or SVG formats)
  • Handwriting - via pen / touch interface, with OS support
  • Collaboration - office suites and content management applications will be integrated with new collaboration features such as Wikis, Blogs, and Voice over IP.
So, soon you will scribble much fewer notes and diagrams on bits of paper as it becomes much more natural to use computers for these scenarios. However, you'll still need to print documents out to read them in high quality, since I can't see display technology getting as good as basic paper.

Paper is still better than monitors in many ways. When was the last time you quickly doodled a diagram on your computer? Or scrunched up your monitor to fit in your pocket? But videos, hyperlinks, storage, and search are all much better on a computer. With the advent of wikis, blogs, instant messaging, and other technologies, it's getting easier to work together on computers too.

Paper will only be eliminated when computers have the edge for every feature and every person. This is not likely to happen soon, and in any case most people are very happy working in a world that combines the two.

1 comment:

stelt said...

Often you scribble/draft on paper and then start all over again on the computer.
This will change a lot in the coming years. I won't overload your page with my ideas on the matter.