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Paper Shortage May Stall Fax Boom

November 01, 1989|TIMOTHY H. WILLARD | TIMOTHY H. WILLARD is managing editor of the Futurist, a publication of the World Future Society, based in Bethesda, Md.

Problem-solving innovations often create the potential for a host of problems. Take the fax machine, which greatly speeds up written and graphic communications. The number of fax machines in offices, homes and even cars has grown rapidly in the past several years.

But faxes may not flow so freely in the future. Shortages of the thermal-coated paper used by fax machines are likely to occur in the early 1990s, according to a report by International Resource Development Inc. of New Canaan, Conn. And, as the use of plain paper by faxes increases over the next decade, the demand for toner will skyrocket--as will the price.

Certain types of faxes may flow more freely than others, which will tie up the machines. "Fax flirting" is a likely phenomenon of the 1990s. There is already at least one fax machine-based dating service whose members can send each other photos and even handwritten love notes.

Hunch Playing as a Job Skill

Futurists have a hunch that companies will encourage workers to use their intuition more. In fact, researchers have found that highly intuitive individuals are better at finding new ways of solving problems and often have a good sense of what new products will or won't work.

Futurist and management consultant Weston Agor, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, believes that many businesses in the future will actually set up programs to help employees develop their intuitive talents. For example, "intuition clubs" will show how intuition can be put to work on the job and actually improve workers' job satisfaction.

Ever-Fashionable Cash

The "cashless society," that future world with no paper money or coins, is a myth and likely to remain so--at least according to one financial expert.

Although many futurists and economists predict that cash transactions are likely to be almost extinct by the middle of the 21st Century, Peter Harrop, who has studied the way people pay for purchases, notes that if we were headed toward a cashless society, the number of bank notes and coins per person would already be dropping.

But that does not seem to be happening anywhere, even when low-value coins aren't counted. In reality, the number of monetary transactions that each person makes is growing rapidly--as much as 5% to 10% a year in many countries.

Even with the arrival of the much heralded "debit card" and the increased use of credit cards and checks, there will be many occasions in which cash is most appropriate. And don't discount the power of human habit. Many people will simply be reluctant to deal with anything but cash for small, informal transactions, such as paying a neighborhood child to mow the lawn or buying an ice cream cone from a street vendor.

International Tele-Commuting"Electronic immigrants" using advanced communications and computer technologies may tele-commute to jobs in the United States in the future.

Telecommunications expert Joseph Pelton of the University of Colorado, Boulder, says workers from faraway--and cheaper--labor markets such as Barbados, the Philippines, India and China will be recruited and trained to provide a range of services. Among them will be programming, word processing and telephone sales--all tasks that can be performed at a remote distance from the workplace.

This electronic import and export of services "could become the top international trade issue of the 21st Century," Pelton warns, as well as a source of great labor conflict in the United States.

Another potential impact: As more and more workers travel electronically to jobs in wealthier nations, those developing nations may turn into "tele-colonies" whose politics and finances are dictated by overseas interests.

Making Leisure More Efficient

"Bundled" leisure activities may be the trend of the future.

According to a recent survey by Decision Research Corp., busy people--particularly baby boomers--often feel that they have more money than time. These busy people will increasingly purchase packages of goods and services, cutting down on the time that they spend deciding which leisure services to buy.

For example, they may do business with a firm that will deliver to their door not only a gourmet meal but also videocassettes and a bottle of wine. Or they may choose a travel agent who books every aspect of a vacation--hotel rooms, restaurant reservations, even suggested activities such as an afternoon of bicycling.

And people are likely to feel even more pressed for time in the future. Decision Research notes that 46% of the people questioned said they had less leisure time now than a few years ago.

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