Origins of Secondary Paper Activities

The concept of the paperless office started around 1975 and certainly taken it’s time to progress into a more active and useable system that in real terms due to it’s technology advances should be in every office and certainly a lot more advanced than it is at the moment

When I started to research this concept one of the main areas that stared to point out was the non acceptance of the concept in general. One of the books I was reading was the well know book Myths of the Paperless Office , by Abigail Sellen and Richard H.R Harper, although the book was entitled Myths of the Paperless Office the book was with a slight undertone  towards the investigation of new insights about how humans handle and process information.

Part of there research progressed to a conclusion that both the authors realized that paper and digital technology each has certain central “affordances” the other lacks. That is, one “afforded” capabilities, functions, and conveniences that the other could not.

To break this down into a more understanding term, then you could state in general terms that one action must have a reaction that meets the first action.


If a square peg is traveling towards a round hole, at the point of when it starts the square peg already knows that it will not fit into the round whole. The so called “affordances” area is what the other lacks.

Another way of looking at this is in a slightly different way. If the square peg is a motor car and the round hole is a motor bike, this is what you would call a total opposite reaction, because as the motor car will not push or drive out the motor bike another example of this would be the typewriter has not pushed or driven out the pen.  

So how I did I come to the conclusion of SPA, I had to look what was in the “affordances” (the middle bit that keeps moving from the peg to the hole) and totally forget about the square peg and also the round whole.

One of the research was that at  London Air Traffic Control Center where there was so many pieces of paper floating around the air traffic control tower that in theory it would have been difficult to transfer this from of communication and transfer it through a electrical devices or a connected networked system, not to the extend that software application capabilities could not be written but the social and human interaction would be difficult to copy and the human intervention would cause the affordance to ripple even more.

After examining various other areas most of which blamed and looked at  technology stating that it was not quite designed for the paperless office, this of which I totally disagree, with there theory, technology will never be ready and never be acceptable for the Paperless Office.

Having a closer look at the bit in the middle “affordances” area and trying to understand what the are the problem areas one certainly came to my mind, that was the section with regards to the air traffic control room, not because its mentioned in the book, but for various reasons, there will always be some request for paper in the respect that it will be required as a communication tool, SPA is certainly an area that will be questioned with regards to how to small notes can be transferred into any electrical device and also connected into a network system not as a  answer to the paperless system but an area that if this could be answered the overall design could be a lot easier to understand.

From my surveys with Bradford University it was noted that SPA can be calculated up to 34% of activities within a typical office environment so the remaining % has already started to fit into a system that has stared to be accepted.

So a truer understanding of the middle area will be better understood and in time the investigation of the peg and the round hole will be looked at in more detail.


About martin smith

A degree in Engineering Management ,who is just trying to make life a bit easier, for anyone who wishes to read these articles. View all posts by martin smith

2 responses to “Origins of Secondary Paper Activities

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