Paperwork Explosion

This video created by Jim Henson in 1967 for IBM makes a great first post. So much anxiety, so little time, if only there was someone to help…like IBM!

Ben Kafka discusses this video in the Conclusion of his book, The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (2012), and also in this online West 86th article:

The “paperwork explosion” expresses both a threat and a wish. The threat, of course, is that we are being overwhelmed by paperwork’s proliferation, its explosion — a threat that historian Ann Blair has recently traced through the early modern period. The wish is to convert all this cumbersome matter into liberating energy, which is exactly what explosions do. From Chaptal’s “electric fluid” to IBM’s “Machines Should Work, People Should Think” to’s “Government Made Easy,” we remain attached to the idea that someday, somehow, we can liberate this energy, put it to other uses.

The “liberating energy” that Kafka speaks of also requires containment, it needs direction and control, services which IBM is ready to supply.

Two other aspects of paperwork which I’m researching are: (1) the degree to which IBM is instigating the “paperwork explosion” itself, where is it coming from, who else is worried about it, and (2) how the militaristic response to the demands of paperwork figure into the Cold War environment.