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The paperless office

In spite of the amount of paper surrounding you in your office right now, we are now living in the era of the "paperless office" as imagined in the 1970s. It has been such a smooth transition, and since it's not really paperless, that most of us don't notice it. But it is a revolution.

The idea of the paperless office came from the Xerox Corporation. Xerox, as you know, made its fortune with paper copies. By the 1960s, there was some concern that computers would make paper completely obsolete. What an idea! And without paper, there would be no Xerox. So they set about inventing the paperless office, which is what we use every day on our computers, both Macintosh and PC.

Before the idea of the paperless office, computers were programmed either by punch cards or by someone typing commands on a keyboard. The paperless office was a way of using a computer screen looking same way that you would see a real office. The genius of it was to create files, folders and a filing cabinet just like a real office, only in little pictures. They even had a trash can! What office would be complete with a trash can? To make it all work, instead of typing commands, you rolled a mouse around and pointed and clicked. This was called the Graphical User Interface. Nobody says that anymore, and we just take it for granted.

By the 1980s, Xerox decided that they had been wrong in their panic about loss of business due to nobody using paper anymore, so they shelved the idea of the paperless office. A company called Apple picked up on the idea and invented the first user-friendly personal computer with the "paperless office". It had all of the things that Xerox had invented, a mouse, files, folders, and a filing cabinet (which didn't really look like a filing cabinet anymore, but it did the same thing). And yes, a trash can! All you had to do to use one of these new computers was to figure out how to use a mouse, point and click, and you were in business! I was fortunate to be starting my career in Computer Graphics in the late 1980s when these computers, called "The Macintosh" started becoming popular. By the early 1990s, Microsoft developed their own paperless office interface, called "Windows".

So, real, real old timers don't consider what I do to be "working with a computer". I was the first generation that grew up with the paperless office. To them, it's just like a silly video game, point and click! I like it.