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The Myth of the Paperless Office Hardcover – November 1, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If you wish to read anything at all on office management, read this book." Guardian UK



"The authors approach their subject with academic rigour, observing real organisations to find out how people like to work." Financial Times



"The case for paper is made most eloquently in The Myth of the Paperless Office...." Malcolm Gladwell The New Yorker

About the Author

Abigail J. Sellen is a cognitive psychologist at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Bristol, UK.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1st edition (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262194643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262194648
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,220,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There are copious amounts of research on how people interact with computers or machines. However, there is very little research on all the hidden features of paper. "The Myth of the Paperless Office" brings attention to how office workers actually organize their information needs. In many ways, it's probably a pioneering work in computer usability, even though it doesn't specifically deal with computers, but rather anthropological research on the use of paper in organisations.
This book can be very useful for anyone. Especially for designers of computer systems that wonder why people still stick to yellow labels and printouts, even its technically "inefficient", compared to a digital solution. Its also recommended reading for bosses that plan to implement a "clean desk policy", or employees that are wondering how to get around clutter on their desks.
For an excellent review of the book, read the article "In praise of clutter" from The Economist Magazine (Dec 19th 2002)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What a difference 8 years makes.

In 2002 it looked as though the authors were correct: the paperless office had been a myth. Technology had increased paper usage rather than decreased it. Many office workers still preferred to read and work on paper rather than screens.

But about the time this book was published, the "myth" started to become true. Per-capita paper usage in offices started to decline. In my experience, most office workers have switched from paper-reading to screen-reading in the last six years. And they have switched to screens for many of the tasks that the authors argued are better suited to paper reading. The difference is new technology. For instance, the authors argue that knowledge workers prefer to review, work, and collaborate on paper documents. As a lawyer, I found that argument to be true in 2002 when text-based programs did not include useful tools for collaboration. But developments since 2002 in programs such as MS Word and Adobe Acrobat have made it much easier to do tasks such as collaborative editing on a screen instead of paper.

Selen and Harper's argument does remain relevant and thought-provoking in one important respect. They explain the unique functionalities of paper to argue why paper is better for certain tasks. In the last 8 years, some technologies have been started to compete with the functionalities of paper. But some tasks remains more useful than screens for some tasks. Selen and Harper's arguments at least give us the analytical tools to think about whether certain tasks are better suited to paper or computers today.

This book was ground breaking in 2002. As a lover of paper, books, and libraries, I wish Selen and Harper had been right. I would be interested to see an updated edition that addresses the usage of paper today. But as technology has advanced, the argument of the current edition has become outdated.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book from Amazon in 2005, and would recommend it to anyone with a professional or personal interest in the ways people use paper and other types of information display surfaces. It continues to provide a valuable perspective on the uses of paper in the workplace and personal life. I especially appreciate the authors' approach to studying the way office workers (in their case studies) were interacting with paper documents, in ways that were not readily supported by available computers, screens and software.

As another excellent reviewer said, in 2010: "What a difference 8 years makes. ... Selen and Harper's argument does remain relevant and thought-provoking in one important respect. They explain the unique functionalities of paper to argue why paper is better for certain tasks. In the last 8 years, some technologies have started to compete with the functionalities of paper. But [paper] remains more useful than screens for some tasks. Selen and Harper's arguments at least give us the analytical tools to think about whether certain tasks are better suited to paper or computers today."

Today, more than a dozen years since the book was published, many office workers have had computers since childhood.
• Some have very large screens, and some use two or three screens at a time.
• Some office workers (and many travelers) get by with a tablet or smartphone, for many tasks – including reading books as well as email.
• People are indeed using computers more, and printing paper less.
• So we could call it the “paper-less” office …

However, paper still provides useful functionality, e.g.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This bold and insightful analysis by two Microsoft employees into the psychological and practical reasons why certain business processes continue to rely on paper remains relevant even a decade after its publication. The book is especially helpful for records and information governance consultants more intent on providing their clients with a true understanding of the nature of their processes than selling them software solutions driven by buzz phrases including "The Paperless Office." Companies should certainly move toward imaging and digitization when feasible but the best solutions always require a sophisticated approach to rebuilding processes that recognize both opportunities, limitations and human nature.
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