- In 1975, almost everything was done on paper. Bill Gates was a Junior at Harvard about to drop-out to start up Microsoft. Gordon Moore was hard at work in his 8th year at Intel. We all used computers back then but they weren’t very personal. Mostly, we wrote the software we needed; you couldn’t buy much. The Internet had been invented, but it wasn’t much used outside the military & research communities. Email was around, but nobody really knew about it. The Web didn’t exist. Digital music was being invented for CD’s. Digital photography was used at NASA.
- In 1980, most work was still done on paper, but that was about to change. Bill Gates was negotiating the deal of his life with IBM. Gordon Moore was running Intel. The PC software business was very small and pretty diverse. Word processors and spreadsheets were novel. Dial-up service providers like CompuServe and The Source was being devised. Use of the Internet was still highly regulated and restricted. Commercial email ran on mainframes & minicomputers in big companies and in government. The hypertext idea was being developed by Theodore Nelson’s Project Xanadu. CD’s weren’t quite launched yet. NASA was still the biggest digital photographer.
- In 1985, computers started making much of the paper. Apple’s Macintosh and Microsoft’s Windows were making PC graphical. Laser printers made paper generated by PCs look pretty. Gates was thinking of going public. PCs were selling well. Some were connected by networks, but not to the Internet. Email only ran on a very few of these networks and then only inside an organization. The Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML, a precursor to HTML & XML) users group had just been founded. CDs were starting to sell briskly. The graphical PC (and engineering workstations) was getting digital images mostly from scanned hard-copy.
- In 1990, paper use started to shrink – slowly. Microsoft Windows & Intel 486 were about to become a phenomena. Gates was rich and Intel PCs had eclipsed all others. Most were connected to networks and some were connected to a still-restricted Internet. Email was starting to take off. In a physics lab in Switzerland, a British researcher was inventing HTML and the World-Wide Web. Some people were dreaming about a commodity Internet business. CDs had almost replaced analog records. Digital cameras were very expensive, extremely rare and not very good.
- In 1995, a war was declared against paper. Windows Pentium PCs and The Web were everywhere. Consumers buy more PCs than business and government. Gates was the world’s richest man launching Windows 95. The (low-bandwidth, wired) dot-com boom was well underway with the Amazon.com bookstore as the poster-child of e-commerce. Intranets emerged to rid organizations of paperwork. Chat-rooms & online search appear. The CD replaced records rare and the first digital music was online. Lo-res digital cameras started to become consumer items.
- In 2000, paper in the office was passe. The dot-com bubble burst and ICT sector went into a deep slump. Microsoft & Intel fared better than most. Gates launched Windows 2000 but Microsoft was found guilty of anti-competitive behavior. Handheld computers become popular. Broadband got around and email & Web became ubiquitous. Wi-Fi, IM & XML emerged and started to redefine the Internet. MP3 music was made inroads into the recording business and cheaper/better digital cameras sell very well.
- By 2005, paper is an endangered media. Microsoft has matured (to stagnation) and AMD is challenging Intel. Dell sells almost all their PCs online. The Internet gave birth to Web 2.0, which may extinguish all paper from work. Gates & Moore are more philanthropists than technologists. Google’s ad-funded search engine & Apple’s iPod/iTunes are the hot properties. Wireless email, wireless broadband and VoIP Internet telephony are also hot. Cell phones with digital cameras & music players are everywhere. Paper mail volumes are exceeded by levels of email traffic. Digital TV looks to retire analog broadcast within 5 years. Accordingly, the old media conglomerates of print houses, TV networks & film studios are lining up to get digital and online.
The idea of doing work with paper is almost arcane. Paper money – cheques & cash – will soon be marginal & antique. Paper communication – especially documents, mail & news – will almost all be online. A paperless office may be the norm for Generation X. A paperless world may be the norm for Generation Y (or their children).
The personal fortunes from the personal computer business of the last 30 years are now the source of great charity. Gordon & Betty Moore and Bill & Melinda Gates were named as the two largest philanthropists of the last five years in a recent survey conducted by Business Week magazine. The Gates’ shared the front-page of Time Magazine’s "Persons of the Year" edition (with U2’s Bono) for their samaritan work. PCs may end up changing more than the way we work. We’ll have to wait and see.