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The Paperless Professor

First there was the aversion to clutter—piles of printed papers, bulky textbooks, meeting notes written in longhand.

Then there was the problem of travel. George Dimopoulos needed more flexibility to access his office—all of it—anywhere, anytime. Remote access to his PC was a good start, but still there were papers tucked away in file cabinets and documents that crowded his desk, and when he traveled he wasn’t able to put his hands on the files when he needed them.

So he decided to go paperless. “It didn’t happen overnight,” he says. Little by little, Dimopoulos switched over from print to digital. In two years’ time, he had scanned every document in his office (recycling the paper, of course), adopted online calendars, and acquired the equipment that he needed to stay paper-free. Now his resolution has become a routine: he takes meeting notes on a digital tablet, he scans and recycles important papers, he posts class materials online, and he urges his colleagues to email him instead of printing.

One of the paradoxes of the age of technology is that we print—and therefore waste—more paper than we did in the typewriter era. But, says Dimopoulos, “Paper has a short shelf-life in this office.”

So what does it take to go paperless? Dimopoulos’s tidy trove of gadgets include a laptop computer, a PC at home, a PC in his office, a smartphone with email and internet, hard drive backup systems at home and at work, flash drives, a scanner with an autoloader, and, believe it or not, a printer. (Some organizations still require printed applications and letters.) Two essential elements, he notes, are the laptop tablet, which enables him to write notes in longhand, and his PC’s set of three monitors, which allow him to work with several documents simultaneously without printing.

Now he’s scanning his books. One of his newer gadgets is an eBook system with a paperlike screen. It only consumes electricity when the page is turned, which makes it good company for flights. “I can go on a trip and bring 40 or 50 books,” he says.

Of course, he backs up everything: “I’m obsessed with backing up.” But gradually he’s come to feel secure with his digital life. “People feel that paper is safer, but that’s a myth,” he says. “Digital is safer because you can clone your documents and store them at multiple locations.”

And what does he say to the critics who believe that those stacks of paper contain their own internal organization and creativity? It’s probably true, he says. But one has to consider the trade-offs of having a tidy and mobile against a messy and static office, and now there’s software being developed that allows users to simulate a cluttered desk with piles of papers on the screen.

Going digital doesn’t mean you have to be organized, says Dimopoulos. “If you name your documents in a smart way, you just search for them when you need them.” But the best part about paperlessness, for Dimopoulos, is the mobility and control. “I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t access or remember where I put a document.”

Dimopoulos will soon publish a book that shares his insights into paperless work- and lifestyles. Stay tuned to see if it’s made available in paper format.