In the last century, and in many offices today, work is something you do on paper. Forms, memos and reports have been the life-blood of business life. Even the physical environment evolved to match the paper-based economy. Just think about filing cabinets, letter-boxes, pigeonholes, in trays, folders and, yes, the traditional office printer.
In fact, the printer has been the basic output device of the economy ever since the first high-speed computer printer was developed in the 1950s. You might say that we’ve been working for the printer ever since. It told us what to do with order forms, task lists, memos and documents of every kind.
Things are changing. For a start, people don’t always work ‘at work’. Similarly, digital has become the default option for lots of business processes. For example, who writes cheques when you can make payments online? Similarly, email has replaced the office memo. Cloud storage, such as Dropbox, is increasingly replacing the filing cabinet. Even the humble notebook has its digital nemesis in apps like Evernote.
Of course, we still need to print things. In fact, global paper consumption has doubled since 1980 despite the personal computer revolution. Today, the average Briton uses nearly four and a half 40-foot trees a year for paper, according to The Economist. So while printing is sometimes necessary, another pressure for change is the need to cut our environmental impact.