The paper chase

DN Staff

January 8, 2001

4 Min Read
The paper chase

The paperless office (an engineer's dream that has unfortunately gone the way of the slide rule) has been discussed ad nauseam, yet we remain inundated with mountains of paper. If you remember back, the government was the leader in forecasting how the computer would lead to the paperless office. At the rate they're generating pages of legislation, tree-less forests might have been a safer prediction.

The harsh reality is that computers (and associated high-speed printers) have increased paper usage ten-fold, simply through their ability to spew out copies faster and more furiously than ever. Need five copies for a meeting? Bring ten, just in case. Got e-mail? Better print that out, too. There's simply no need anymore to curtail office waste when the computer can generate it so quickly.

What we need to do is take a lesson from the anti-smoking lobbyists and wean ourselves slowly off of our paper addiction. By gradually reducing the paperwork, we'll ultimately be rid of the office in-box and be able to get on with business.

The first step is to gain control of our growing paper habit. This can be accomplished by tossing out our office copiers (referred to in the industry as "pushers") and converting back to carbon paper-yes, carbon paper. The number of copies made will be vastly reduced due to the restricted capability of a manual typewriter to pull more than 5 sheets of paper around the roller. The result? It will no longer be physically possible for anyone, anywhere to generate more than four copies of anything. This alone represents a 60% reduction in the typical manager's use of paper.

The second step towards reduction in paperwork involves the installation of a coin slot on every office copier. The theory being, if you need a roll of nickels every time you want to make copies of a report, you'll simply do without them. Legitimate copies at five cents per page would be reimbursed through the company's expense report system. This would also be updated so that employees, as trusted company workers, could simply e-mail expense data to the comptroller. The comptroller, acting in support of the work team, would trust these exemplary workers and would direct deposit the requested funds into their bank accounts. No paperwork required!

The third step requires a technological breakthrough, namely the subsequent conversion of normal two-sided paper to one-sided paper. (It would be only half as thick as regular paper.) Use of one-sided paper would give the appearance that the volume of paperwork has been reduced, and would yield a moral victory in our pursuit of the paperless office.

A secondary benefit of reducing the number of copies is that fewer people will want to attend program meetings (if they don't have the report, there's no reason for them to attend). With fewer people attending these meetings, fewer of them will request meeting minutes. With fewer people, there will also be fewer iterations of each study and report (Anyone think that this would be a benefit to getting work done?).

This plan covers the normal office environment, but we need to draw the line there. Now that the Internet, and all its databases, can provide worldwide access to technical information, the engineering community (and reluctantly the program office) still need to have technical journals and magazines (!) to keep them apprised of these emerging technologies and business trends. Some paperwork is simply too important to even consider doing without!

This report is one of a series of occasional columns exploring the not-altogether-serious side of engineering by Ken Foote, a mechanical engineer at GDLS. You can reach Ken at [email protected] or email your comments to us at [email protected].


A company wishes to take out a loan to buy a new photocopier. The repayment of the $100,000 loan during a 30-year period based on equal end-of-the-year installments, at an interest rate of 15%, requires annual payments which are most nearly:

A) $3,333

B) $13,383

C) $15,230

D) $17,500

E) $20,080

See answer below.

Source: Adapted from the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, Eugene L. Boronow, Prentice Hall Press, 1986.

Answer: C

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