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The Myth of the Paperless Office Paperback – February 28, 2003

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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.

Richard H. R. Harper, currently Principal Researcher in Socio-Digital Systems at Microsoft Research, has explored user-focused technical innovation in academic, corporate, and small company settings. He is the coauthor (with Abigail J. Sellen) of The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT Press, 2001).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (February 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026269283X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262692830
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,180,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Harald Groven on March 12, 2004
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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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robert Dubose on March 22, 2010
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: 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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