The “paperless office” is one of those catchphrases that gets bandied about for a while, only to disappoint and eventually be used in a purely derisive way. As Wikipedia says, it has become ‘a metaphor for the touting of new technology in terms of ‘modernity’ rather than its actual suitability to purpose’. The death of the phrase was cemented by a 2001 book, by Sellen and Harper “The Myth of the Paperless Office”. Here’s a good review from Kirk McElhearn.

This book wasn’t a snarky debunking but a fairly sophisticated analysis, pointing out that a sensible analysis of task requirements could allow a significant reduction in paper use. But it was the title that stuck. No one would ever again refer to the paperless office with a straight face.

Six years later, though, looking at my own work habits, I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper, in all but a couple of marginal applications.

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s plan to ban alcohol and pornography in indigenous communities has, unsurprisingly, attracted world wide attention. Probably inevitably, the framing of the issue in the international press is largely in terms of civil liberties versus intervention, and this is also the frame preferred by Howard himself.

The situation in many remote indigenous communities, and in camps on the edge of rural towns is so bad that concerns about civil liberties are unlikely to trump any policy that has a serious chance of improving matters. Not only is unemployment high to universal and abuse of drugs and alcohol, with the associated violence and crime, chronic but recent reports have shown high rates of child sexual abuse. Howard’s rhetoric suggests that what is needed is drastic intervention, and a willingness to slay the sacred cows that have dominated policy in the past.

In fact, the situation is far more complicated than that.

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