The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper (MIT Press, 2002) is about creative thinking and how paper catalyzes it. (Or more precisely, as a chronic quibbler I would say that it's about how symbols on inexpensive easily-manipulable physical objects possess a magic that goes far beyond what can, currently at least, be done in a virtual on-screen world. But who would buy a book with a title built upon that monstrosity of a sentence?) The Introduction begins:

As we write this book, we have paper all around us. On the desk are stacks of articles, rough notes, outlines, and printed e-mail messages. On the wall are calendars, Post-it notes, and photographs. On the shelves are journals, books, and magazines. The filing cabinets and the wastebasket are also full of paper. Among all this sit our computers, on which the composition takes place. Yet, if the computers is the canvas on which documents are created, the top of the desk is the palette on which bits of paper are spread in preparation for the job of writing. Without these bits of paper ready to hand, it is as if the writing, and more especially the thinking, could not take place in earnest.

I borrowed a copy of Myth from interlibrary loan but only had time and energy for a fast skim through it before I had to turn it back in. It's well-written but a bit low in information density; worse, its graphics are pedestrian, far less useful than they could be (see TufteThoughts (18 Dec 2000)). Fortunately a Malcolm Gladwell review of the book (in of all places the New Yorker, 25 March 2002, pps. 92-96) summarizes Sellen and Harper's thesis in a powerful and engaging fashion. The challenge now is to go beyond observation of the paper phenomenon and into quantitative understanding of it. (see ScienceVersusStampCollecting (20 Jun 2000))

TopicThinking - TopicScience - 2002-04-12

(correlates: FactorAndFactotum, MagneticStuds, WhatPhysicsIs, ...)