Friday, October 28, 2005

Paperless In Gatesland

Bill Gates has been talking again about the future of information technology. He's predicting a virtually paperless society.
Yeah right.
Remember the paperless office? Whatever happened to that?

I was an early adopter of electronic personal organisers. I found them very useful for my work. I could have also entered my shopping list into one and carried it round the supermarket. But I didn't. Because for low level tasks like a shopping list a pen and paper is unbeatable. It needs no batteries........oh, I'm not going to insult you by explaining why. It's so bleeding obvious.

This morning I was reading some print-outs from my web design manual when I was in the toilet. Printing them on paper gave them this portability. It's true that I could have taken a laptop in with me, if I possessed one. It's also true that in the future envisioned by Bill Gates a micro-computer in the toilet roll holder could project the pages onto the toilet door. But why bother when we have something as brilliant and cheap as text on paper?

As you'd expect, Bill Gates predicts the end of newpapers as we know them. He loves the idea of personalised content. I hate the idea of personalised content.
I already personalise my content by buying The Guardian rather than the Daily Mail or The Sun.
My paper gives me a lot of content that I don't normally read. But sometimes a headline in the business or sports sections will catch my eye and I will read them. Personalised content would probably mean that I would be getting only those subject areas that I mostly read and that particularly interest me. It's the equivalent of the switch in television and radio from 'broadcasting' to 'narrowcasting' and the proliferation of hundreds of channels that cater for a specific interest or demographic.
The technological changes that make these specialisations possible are contributing to two regrettable developments: at the personal level: tunnel vision; at the social level: social fragmentation.


At 3:01 PM, Blogger MatGB said...

I was watching some old Babylon 5 DVDs today (I'm ill, lazing in bed is what being ill is for), one of the episodes opens with two main characters getting the days edition of the newspaper.

You could choose personalised sections if you wanted, and remove bits you didn't, you had to return the previous days issue for recycling, and it was printed on paper.

On a space station in 2258AD. I think paper printouts will be with us for a long time, but I think personalisation will be inevitable. I look forward to the day when I can buy the weekend paper and not pay for the huge amount of supplements I never read; my daily Independent costs 65p, I don't read the extra stuff over the weekend, so why does it cost me £1.20?

Essentially, Bill Gates thinks we can get rid of paper. Bill Gates thought the Internet would never take off. I'm a 'net junkie, I'm online constantly. The big pile of newspapers ready for recycling shows that they'll be with us for some time.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Jane said...

It's like the first siting of easter eggs each November. Someone forecasts yet again the death of paper and we all quite rightly ignore it. Because as you so elequently put it, why bother

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

mat: I agree about weekend newspapers. I've just paid double the price of the weekday Guardian for nine sections, most of which will go straight in the bin.
Then there's the DVD Wars. It costs a paper at least half a million pounds to give away a DVD of a film that many will have already seen either at the cinema or on TV. A shocking waste of money. Admittedly, sales rise but I doubt that many of those people stick with the paper if they just wanted a DVD.

jane: I think two things are at work: doing things simply because they are tecnically possible. And creating a demand for pointless new products to make money. But we all have difficulty discriminating between genuinely useful advances like the internet and things that we don't really need.


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