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In Defense of a Relic

Inc. Technology's editor muses about technology and offers overviews of certain key articles.
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Despite my huge and ever-growing dependence on my computer, I happen to be a big fan of paper. Among the tasks that more automated friends and colleagues have been unable to convince me to do digitally: keeping a datebook; reading a good article; saving newspaper clippings; taking notes; highlighting documents; playing wastepaper basketball; and doodling. I still prefer to carry paper notes into a colleague's office rather than my subnotebook computer. And I'm never convinced that anything I've written or edited is ready to run until I see it on paper--where I often discover problems that escaped me on the computer screen.

I find that most people feel pretty much the same way I do. But there's no ignoring the fact that there is a growing contingency of people--an outspoken minority--who passionately believe that paper is a wasteful relic of our low-tech history. To run an efficient growing business today, they argue, we must completely expunge the last vestiges of paper-based processes from our organizations. Personal affinities for paper aside, could they be right? Judge one case for yourself, via associate editor Joshua Macht's article.

Given how passionate many company builders are about computerization, it should be no surprise that some of that urgency has spilled into one sector of our economy that, while enormous, is often overlooked in such discussions: the criminal element. Reporter Sarah Schafer's article provides a rare look at the automation of illegal enterprise, as well as at the growing response of law enforcement.

A close examination of another mysterious but extremely robust segment of the economy can be found, where journalist Dan Kennedy explores the changing makeup of the World Wide Web's audience. Kennedy's findings may change your mind about what sort of on-line business you do--or don't--want to undertake. And while you're considering your Internet plans, take into account Cary Lu's warning of escalating on-line traffic jams.

If the Internet ends up not working out for you, maybe you should consider moving into the government-contracting field. Does the thought conjure up images of deadly bureaucracies, competition with well-heeled giants, and huge cost overruns? Well, your instincts are right, of course. But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of money to be made, as one technology-wise entrepreneur discovered. Check out Inc. staff writer Christopher Caggiano's story.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to finish folding this paper airplane.

Last updated: Mar 15, 1997

DAVID H. FREEDMAN: A Boston-based contributing editor, Freedman is the co-author of A Perfect Mess, which examines the useful role of disorder in daily life, business, and science.
@dhfreedman




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