Paper – a desk space odyssey



For you youngsters out there, there is a great movie from the 60s called “2001 A Space Odyssey” that you should watch. It is a classic.

While you are watching, you will notice something is missing.


Not all paper, mind you. They still have paper photographs and such, but most of it is gone. That was supposed to be in 2001. This is 2014 and despite cell phones, computers, and email, paper is still with us. By comparison, if you watch space movies set in the distant future, there is not a sheet of documentation to be found. None.

We have some work to do.


If we are ever going to go paperless, we really should get started. Because right now, it is everywhere. And it’s not just in the military. I have been out of uniform for a few years now, and my desk is piled high with the stuff.

Mecca for paperwork, of course, has to be the Pentagon. Not only does correspondence pile up, it never goes away. I am sure that there are reports still in circulation that were written on manual typewriters during the Korean War.


Maybe we have a problem discarding things with which we have become comfortable. There is some truth in the theory that reading a traditional newspaper is more soothing than reading the news off a website, so perhaps our aversion to reducing documentation is related to that.

Maybe, but one thing is certain. To get rid of paper so that we can be like those dudes in the space movies, we need to be willing to shed our old habits and move forward.

Starting with my desk.

Open the trash can lid, Hal.


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  1. Under way on the at that time most modern nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy, they tried to deploy their anchor and it wouldn’t deploy. Panic ensued while the crew tried to find the CD with the specs on the anchor windlass. Old Navy, you pulled the pub off the bookshelf and flipped to the right page – problem solved!

  2. We were hosting a Marine general on a visit to NAVO. After showing him our electronic charts, he commented, “Son, a computer with a bullet in it is a paperweight. A map with a bullet in it is still a map.”

  3. During my Pentagon tour in the 70’s, I was put “in charge” of the Navy’s contribution to paper reduction. Of course, there was a required monthly progress report…in triplicate. I’m sure those reports are still in a “file” somewhere…

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