Dead Technologies Walking

by Don Friedman on March 6, 2017

I’ve written repeatedly on the topic of the effect of changes in technology. Here I go again…

Part of the process of switching the office to as paperless a state as we can make it is scanning our old files so we can dispose of the paper. The files cover the years from 2002 to the present, but there’s very little after 2015 because of the effects of the ongoing switch itself. It’s interesting looking at my own work from ten to fifteen years ago, not because the engineering has changed but because of the changes in the way the engineering information is transmitted.

Things that were common just a few years ago that we hardly use anymore:

  • staples
  • microfilm
  • comb bindings
  • multi-part forms*
  • and faxes.

A few others are still limping along but on their way out:

  • paper clips
  • loose leaf binders
  • and hanging files.

These are all paper technologies used in offices in general, not just engineering or design offices. And they’ve disappeared for us as suddenly as blueprinting did. For example, if you’re not sending or receiving multipage letters on paper, there’s not as much reason to staple things. The link between these dying technologies is that they are all details of information management using paper. Large drives, the stability of the PDF format, and increasingly more capable programs for marking up and sharing PDFs have moved information management entirely to computers. As late as 2009 we had a word-processor document template that combined a memo and fax cover sheet in one document because we were still faxing a lot.

The most interesting part of this topic is that paper and pencils are still meaningful. They could be used for information management but they can be used for anything. They are quite handy for schematic design sketches** and for fast and simple calculations. This sounds like an old man’s brag***, but I can use the method of sections to get an estimate of truss stresses faster than I can make a RISA model in the computer. Because paper and pencil are so flexible, they’ll survive the shake-out where specialized technologies like multipart forms will not.


* A number of our clients used to use multipart forms for transmittals and in a lot of cases we received not just the top white copy but one or more of the color-paper copies as well. Somewhere, an old file is missing its goldenrod copy of a drawing transmittal to us from 2007.

** AKA scribbling.

*** And probably is.

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