The realization of the paperless office began with the introduction of personal computers and word processors into the workplace, back in the 1980s. The benefits quickly became apparent, not only were electronic forms easier to generate and manage, but they eliminated storage issues, freed up resources and reduced costs. As time passed and technology improved, computers began to take on typical business operations, organizations began to transition to paperless accounts payable, time reporting, purchasing and more.
But the concept of the paperless office itself isn't new or even recent. Its origin can be traced all the way back to the 1940s. Like other predictions about the future, the paperless office envisioned in the pre-PC days was equal parts scientific speculation and Flash Gordon fantasy.
Dr. Vannevar Bush, the author of As We May Think in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic, described a device presciently close to the modern PC, which he called the "Memex".
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
To his credit, Dr. Bush showed uncanny vision in describing the key functions and benefits that computers would offer business, even the concept of working remotely, all through a byzantine system of knobs, gears, pulleys, photoplates and microfilm that was the "Memex".
Too bad we all had to settle for these silly laptops and smartphones.