There’s No Paper in the Office and No Film in Your
If you want to get my immediate attention don’t send me an
e-mail. Send me a fax. When a fax arrives, it just begs to be looked
at. And it is so convenient to instantly see what it’s about.
It’s real and something simply must be done with it or it
just sits there in the middle of my desk staring back at me, taking
up useful space. E-mail has no such desire for instant attention.
It arrives – along with dozens of spam messages -- and can
easily be saved for “later.”
“Later” can become “quite a bit later”
as the screen-saver conveniently covers up the offending messages
and any feelings of guilt are thereby also put off until “later.”
As the list of unanswered messages grows ever longer, there does
come a time when one is compelled to generate the expected responses.
For me this is typically undertaken at the end of the day when I
have taken care of the items on my desk, including, of course, any
faxes that may have come in. Thus, the convenience and instant visibility
of the fax seems to win out every time. Even with print quality
not as good as laser-printed e-mail, a fax wins because I did not
have to do anything special to get the printed copy. It just showed
The paperless office seemed so obvious to the technology prognosticators
of a few decades ago. Now, it is almost embarrassing to think that
such wild and off-base predictions were made and accepted as fact.
If the prognosticators were so far off on this topic, can we believe
anything that is being touted today? Well, actually probably not.
I think we, as active participants in the display community, can
do about as well, or perhaps even better, as any of the folks that
try to become famous by making outrageous claims – such as
predicting the imminent demise of the auto industry, or the paperless
office, for example.
I recently read that HP actually abandoned the fax machine business
in 1994 and then got back into it in 1998 when they realized that
the fax machine was not going to go away. Today the fax-machine
business is healthy and growing with sales of over 1.5 million machines
last year in the US alone.
However, I think there is more to appreciate here than just noting
that the paperless office did not happen. The way we generate paper
today is much different than twenty years ago. Even though I like
my fax machine, the reason why it is so useful is often tied to
my computer-generated information. And the reason we have so much
information to put onto those pieces of paper that come spewing
out of our printers and fax machines is because we create it using
compute power and data communications capability that didn’t
exist two decades ago. It just turned out -- to the surprise of
many -- that we found paper to be a very nice container for much
of this information. Because of the visual cues, quick retrieval,
and archival capability that paper documents provide, we are going
to keep using them for the foreseeable future.
In the late 80s and early 90s there was a magic period when the
PC was evolving and we all finally figured out what we could do
with it. And soon thereafter, why we could no longer live without
it. We are now going through a similar period with imaging technology.
Digital cameras are reaching image capture capabilities that are
matching and recently even exceeding the best that film can offer.
And digital cameras are now being incorporated into all kinds of
electronic devices. Surely it is only a matter of time until chemical
photography is only of interest to a few old-time hobbyists or “artsy
types”! Are you really sure? If that happens, such an outcome
will be a diametric opposite to what computers did for the use of
paper. Therefore, let me suggest a possible alternate scenario.
Today, what gives me great discomfort is that the images stored
on my computer will one day abruptly and unexpectedly disappear
– like a permanent power outage. What if my hard disk crashes?
What if my computer catches a nasty virus? What if some other key
component fails? If I were diligent, I would be backing up my files
onto some independent storage medium on a daily basis. But I don’t
have the discipline, the time, or the interest to do that, at least
not on the regular basis that it should be done. Would I even trust
the back-up medium? However, what would work for me would be to
have a film recorder attached to my computer, just as I now have
several printers, that would record all of the images I wish to
retain onto a roll of film. I personally would prefer a 6x7cm format
for the highest resolution and image content. Then I could get these
processed whenever it was convenient for me to take them, or send
them, to a local lab.
A few days ago, I was searching through some of my 2_ format negatives
(and positives) for certain images to put up on this site. It was
comforting to see “real” images that could not be destroyed
by a virus or a computer crash. And the retrieval process was instantly
obvious and comfortable. Looking over page after page of images
was no different than glancing through a printed document.
The advantage of archiving on film rather than simply printing
out a photo, or putting it on a CD, is that film (especially in
a larger format such as 6x7) can archive the equivalent of at least
50 megapixels of information for each image in a compact, long lasting,
and instantly recognizable format. And this storage medium does
not depend on the latest developments in computer memory. I can
just as readily scan images put on film a hundred years ago as those
I would be among the first customers if one of the major film companies,
such as Kodak or Fuji, brought a product to market that, with a
simple save command, captured the images that I have on my computer
onto a roll of film using this specialized “archival image
recorder”. Of course, this film writer could easily be combined
with a scanner so that both the input and output functions are encompassed.
If the major companies don’t want to do this, should we propose
a new start-up company to take this on? Let me know if you think
this would be a product that you would find useful. Perhaps we can
pass these comments on to an existing film company to encourage
them to bring out a product that could just be that exciting new
application that ends up -- saving the film business. You can contact
me directly from this site, by e-mail at
by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by the “attention-getting”
fax at 425-898-1727.