The paperless office and officeless papers

Via John Quiggin at Crooked Timber, the startling news that U.S. office paper consumption has been dropping about 1% annually since 1999. He says his paper use has dropped to almost nothing.

I still use paper. Like any academic, I have to have access to lots of journal articles — most of these can be downloaded, but I’m often not at a screen. In fact, to keep my eyes away from my unanswered e-mail, I often sequester myself in a coffee shop with a bunch of printed-out papers and a spiral notebook, but no computer.

Even when I have my computer with me, I don’t have a good analogue of “the stack of papers I’m currently carrying around in my backpack” — the “officeless papers,” so to speak. Is there a natural way to identify some small set of .pdf files on your laptop as the ones you are currently “carrying around”? The problem is this — at any given moment there are probably a hundred papers I feel I really ought to look at. But a hundred papers would make my backpack too heavy, so I’m forced to select five or six really urgent ones, which means that I actually do get around to looking at them. If I made a directory called “Papers I really ought to look at,” I doubt I’d have the willpower to keep it below a hundred papers; and then I’d never look at any of them. Do any of you paperless people have a solution to this problem?

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