28 November 2006

Anthropological study leads to Xerox printing innovation [The New York Times]

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Xerox paper
The New York Times reports on a study by a Xerox PARC anthropologist on how the role of paper in the office has changed, and on how the company then took forward the results of her study to develop a process where printed information on the document ‘disappears’ within 16 hours.

“Today an anthropologist at [Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center], Brinda Dalal, has become a self-styled ‘garbologist’ to assist in a joint effort with chemists at the Xerox Research Center of Canada to develop an ‘erasable paper’ system. The goal is to recycle paper documents produced by the company’s copiers — potentially an unlimited number of times.”

What she has discovered is a notable change in the role of paper in modern offices, where it is increasingly used as a medium of display rather than storage. Documents are stored on central servers and personal computers and printed only as needed; for meetings, editing or reviewing information.”

“The pieces of paper spewed from copiers frequently end up back in the recycling bin on the same day they are printed, she noted.”

“Of the 1,200 pages the average office worker prints per month, 44.5 percent are for daily use — assignments, drafts or e-mail. In her research, scouring the waste produced by office workers, she found that 21 percent of black-and-white copier documents were returned to the recycling bin on the same day they were produced.”

“Her research is part of a three-year-old technology development effort to design an add-on system for an office copier to produce ‘transient documents’ that can be easily reused. […] The printed information on the document ‘disappears’ within 16 hours. The documents can be reused more quickly by simply placing them in the copier paper tray. The researchers said that individual pieces of paper had been printed on up to 50 times, and the only current limit in the process appears to be paper life.”

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