trends towards electronics

Joseph Laferriere josephl at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Mon Oct 30 11:43:45 CST 1995

Within the last few days, two distinguished scholars have expressed the
prediction that the current trend away from paper toward electronic
paper will inevitably continue to the complete exclusion of paper-based
publishing. How in the devil's name do you know that? What crystal ball
enabled you to see what the world will be like 200 years from now?
Predictions of the future (whether of future social trends or tomorrow's
weather), are based on assumptions. The most common (and easiest)
assumption is that present trends will continue. People making
predictions often assume the continuation of trends that cannot possibly
continue. I've seen the statement that "If present population trends
continue, some day people will be piling up on each other so fast that
they'll be leaving the Earth at the speed of light." This is downright silly.
    I am not saying that the trend toward electronic publishing cannot
continue. I am saying that we should not make blind assumptions that this
trend must inevitably continue with no chance of reversal. New
developments (either in technology or in the wider political world in
which we are doomed to operate) can make any prediction made today look
foolish years from now.
  My own prediction is that paper will never disappear completely, although
electronic publishing will become more and more important. I read in a
prediction in 1980 that the advent of the word processor would render all
business offices completely paperless by 1990. Just the opposite has
happened, because people print innumerable drafts of documents and make
photocopies of them. Thus there is more paper being used rather than
less. As for  taxonomic publishing, my vote would be in favor of
coninuing to require paper publication as a proven long-term method of
data storage, while at the same time utilizing electronic media as a
method of distributing the information more widely and more rapidly.

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