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APPROXIMATELY 10 YEARS AGO I GAVE MY first talk on the replacement of print on paper by electronic publication. Since that time I have given many talks, as well as publishing two books and several journal articles more or less exhausting the subject. Recently, however, I was asked to reassess my various predictions in the light of what has actually taken place in the last decade. I propose to do that here; but before I proceed, it may be helpful if I summarize my earlier observations.
What I predicted
In my early writings on the subject, I described a completely paperless communication system. With a hypothetical scientist as the user of this system, I outlined its general characteristics. The scientist would use a terminal to maintain electronic notebooks, compose reports for subsequent electronic publication, access sources of information in the form of databases, index and store information, and communicate with a geographically dispersed network of professional colleagues. Publications would be electronic. For example, a scientific report would be accepted into a database rather than printed in a journal, and all communications among authors, editors, and referees would be through electronic mail.
I expected such an electronic system to emerge, first because of opportunity--the fact that computer terminals of one kind or another would be commonplace in the office and home and would be used for a variety of purposes. Second, I pointed to the soaring costs of distributing information as physical artifacts--books printed on paper--and suggested that it would soon be economically impractical to continue this form of publication. Moreover, I contended that information was becoming less and less accessible in its print-on-paper form.
I also claimed that a fully electronic system might offer many advantages--improving accessibility, selectivity, and speed …