Rusting boxes

July 16th, 2008
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Remember the paperless office? Well remember is the wrong word because, of course, it never happened. Twenty-plus years ago, when office memos were still delivered by people called “secretaries”, there was much talk about the brave new tomorrow – one where all transactions would be done electronically and massive tracts of virgin forest would remain uncut.

I guess it sort-of happened. A judicious number of paper memos, transcribed by the aforementioned vanished guild of “secretaries”: have pretty much gone. These have been replaced by the deluge of electronic notes that we’re all drowning under.

Then came the cheap, high volume printer. E-mails and any other documents can be printed off in an instant for review, drafts re-printed numerous times due to tiny errors. Wite-out has become another cultural anachronism.

In offices, like resource companies – where big, hi-tech colour printers are common – huge maps are printed, and printed, and re-printed; again because there might be a small error in one part of the lower right side of a given map or cross-section. The result is literally piles and piles of crumpled plots on high-resolution paper looking like so many sheets of discarded wallpaper.

Back in the day, these maps were typically hand-drafted, either by the professional himself, or by wizened old draughtsmen. These typically had calloused hands, stained by ink and tobacco juice, and looked like they’d been transported out of some lost Dickensian world.

Which brings us to the rusting boxes. With all the paper squandering going on behind closed doors, you’d think that the very public display of paper wasting would upset some people. Not if the corner of Laurier and Metcalfe in Ottawa is any indication.

There, blocking much of the broad sidewalk, are no fewer than 14 metal newspaper boxes. Fourteen. Yes, there are the two commercial dailies, the Sun and the Citizen, along with the give-away “Sun-killers” “24” and “Metro”. The Epoch Times is cheek by jowl with the Ottawa Business Journal.

Then there’s the forest of “service-oriented” pulp: Homes & Land, Real Estate Book, something called HUB Digital Living, Technology Magazine and Ottawa HR (sensibly in the same box). Something called the “Big Yellow Box” contains no less than four publications, Automart, New Homes, Employment News and Renters’ News. And, yes, it is big and yellow.

Last but not least is the “lifestyle” stuff. The G&L Capital Xtra, recently featuring a cover on “pansexualism”. No surprise there. (X)press seems to be some kind of entertainment rag, while the nearby Exclaim modestly dubs itself “Canada’s Music Authority”. It features relevant articles like “Russian ravers blinded by lasers”. This presumably describes the risks of partying with surplus Cold War armaments.

So that’s one corner. Elsewhere downtown you’ll also see equally ugly, rusting boxes containing the Globe and Mail, the National Post; and those peculiar capital creatures The Hill Times and Embassy.

Another tall box, this one white, brags that the six (!) mags inside are all free. But for what? Free insulation for the homeless during the winter I guess. A different corner has a pile of these boxes right next to a huge re-cycling bin – the inevitable destination of most of the contents of most of the boxes.

All this paper just strikes me as odd. Can’t people go on-line? Where are all the protests from the eco-types about all the dead trees? Most cities have these, some even have more “lifestyle” rags aimed at precisely the people who can’t stand waste of any kind.

Presumably putting out the rusted boxes pays, for someone somewhere. Just surprised no one has had them banned yet. Maybe we can unofficially call them endangered?

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By John Weissenberger
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