Despite the soaring popularity of computers, BlackBerries and other electronic gadgets, Canadians are using twice as much paper as they did two decades ago, a new study suggests.
The Statistics Canada study released Friday concluded that paper has remained in demand across the business world, with paper consumption more than doubling in Canada between 1983 and 2003. "We (found) that the consumption of paper, for printing and writing, has increased significantly in the last two decades," said Heidi Ertl, a Statistics Canada analyst.
But Brian Sharwood of the SeaBoard Group consulting firm said things have changed even in the past three years.
"There’s been much more of a paperless office since 2003," he said in an interview. "I think it had to do with people’s comfort level with computer and data storage. … IT departments are more comfortable with the concept of digital document storage."
In his role as a technical consultant to businesses across North America, Sharwood shuns paper, preferring instead to use e-mail and compact discs to share information with clients.
He revels in the fact that a room formerly filled with file cabinets now sits empty, and that five years of reports and presentations have been converted into handy electronic files.
He does not recall using regular mail for personal correspondence since sending thank-you notes to friends after his wedding two years ago.
Sharwood said the study reflects a trend he often sees in his consulting work.
"It takes a long time to get rid of what people are comfortable with," he said. "The past gets integrated into what newer people are doing."
Ertl agreed, saying the study highlighted the fact that technology complements existing business practices.
The study, which touched on various trends in technology, also revealed that e-commerce sales do not justify fears about the demise of traditional retail trade.
While total private-sector sales over the Internet more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2004, they still only accounted for about one per cent of total sales. The number of traditional retailers, the amount of retail space and the volume of retail employment all increased over the same period, the study found.
Volumes of postal mail – snail mail – have been rising, although its composition has changed. And couriers and local messengers are proliferating even as Internet and e-mail use is soaring.
The study calls the "talkative society" one of the most visible results of new technologies.
"People have never spoken on the telephone more," it says, "and particularly at a time when they also send and receive massive amounts of e-mail and other electronic communications.
"As people communicate more and in different ways, they are choosing to expand their associations, moving from geographically defined communities to communities of interest."
They are also willing to pay for their choices, the agency says. The study shows that spending on information and communications technology (ICT) is rising.
Between 1997 and 2003, average household spending on computer equipment and supplies rose to $326 from $299 – even more significant given that computer prices were falling during the same period.
"The willingness of people to pay can also be seen by the fact that many low-income households choose to spend a relatively higher proportion of their income on ICTs," said Statistics Canada.