PAPER still matters. The frequent whirring of printers in offices — despite the Internet, Microsoft Word, social media, scanners, smartphone apps and PDF files — attests to that. We may use less of it than we once did, but reading and writing on paper serves a function that, for many workers, a screen can’t replicate.
Paper, says the productivity expert David Allen, is “in your face.” Its physical presence can be a goad to completing tasks, whereas computer files can easily be hidden and thus forgotten, he said. Some of his clients are returning to paper planners for this very reason, he added.
Mr. Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done,” does much of his writing on a computer, but there are still times when writing with a fountain pen on a notepad “allows me to get my head in the right place,” he said.
Paper printouts also serve an important function, he said. For long texts, a printout can allow a reader to better understand relationships between sections of writing. And paper handouts are still a presence at meetings partly because they are useful for taking notes.
Reading a long document on paper rather than on a computer screen helps people “better understand the geography of the argument contained within,” said Richard H. R. Harper, a principal researcher for Microsoft in Cambridge, England, and co-author with Abigail J. Sellen of “The Myth of the Paperless Office,” published in 2001.
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