THE SECRET LIFE OF PAPER

Still here to haunt and help us

Decades ago, we used to joke that the paperless office would arrive about the same time as the paperless toilet. And to be sure, we’re still using paper centuries after it was invented in ancient China.

For hundreds of years, paper has been used to communicate, to record information, to store it for the future, and to convey secrets. Paper was the earliest conveniently portable technology to become information-enabled, and one of the most versatile.

Right from the start, paper was used for secure communications and confidential information. Letters were sealed with sealing wax, and watermarks used to authenticate the source; writers used ‘invisible’ ink and secret codes to maintain privacy.

And then paper became the preferred method of transferring value; from bonds, promissory notes and certificates to banknotes; accepted symbols on worthless paper became value as well as information enablers. Paper was the dominant medium for sharing and storing value and data.

Until the digital age. Suddenly vast amounts of data could be crammed into silicon and magnetic media, and information that confers value could be transmitted electronically around the globe in the blink of an eye. Encryption was automated, and paper lost its appeal in the face of email, ebooks and internet information.

Now paper is making a comeback, thanks to 3D printing. Embedding microscopic OLED pixels and memristor circuits on real paper fibers turns a sheet of paper into a digital device. Coating the other side of the page with solar ink means you don’t even need a battery. Just a swipe of your finger brings the page to life, and all the valuable, secret information is revealed.

Will digital paper create a fresh problem of cluttered boxes and filing cabinets full of seldom accessed, but vitally important records and data? Or is it the best of both worlds; to have the convenience of thin, flexible, light pages that also contain huge amounts of information, digitally secured and easily accessed?

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.