A new report by Statistics Canada smashes the myth of the paperless office, finding instead that paper consumption has doubled over 20 years even as Canadians adopt new technologies.

Per capita consumption of paper for printing and writing from the years 1983 to 2003 rose 93.6 per cent to 91.4 kilograms — about 20,000 pages per person.

"Not only is the notion of a paperless society defeated by existing data, but a visit to any modern office workplace will confirm that printers everywhere continue to spit out massive amounts of paper, and paper recycling bins are full," says the report.

In 2003, Canadians used a whopping 2, 867,442 tonnes of paper, compared with 1,198,100tonnes two decades earlier.

The rise in paper use was accompanied by a dramatic increase in the use of communications technologies such as the telephone and e-mail, the study released Friday found.

Although e-mail and overall internet use are high, Canadians are also setting records for telephone use, and postal and courier mail continues to rise, the report, titled Our Lives In Digital Times, found.

The number of voice-grade telephone lines increased to about 20 million in 2003 from 11.5 million ten years earlier, and call frequency and durations have also shot up, according the to the agency.

Canadians spent 461 billion minutes on fixed-line phones in 2003. In comparison, cellphone use that year totalled 39.4 billion minutes.

The number of pieces of mail handled by Canada Post rose to 10.7 billion in 2003 from 6.6 billion in 1983, Statistics Canada found. And courier mail rose over the same period as well.

The study also found that business travel appears to have increased alongside the popularization of internet and videoconferencing technology.

Technology spending up

Despite the apparent entrenchment of more traditional modes of communication, people are also spending money to replace them, the study found.

Average household spending on computer equipment and supplies jumped to $396 from $299 between 1997 and 2003, which Statistics Canada suggested was particularly significant since computer prices fell during the same period.

Low-income households underscored the trend, with many choosing to spend a higher proportion of their earnings on internet and communications technologies.

The report also found that traditional retail businesses have nothing to fear from e-commerce. Although online sales have quadrupled between 2001 and 2004, that increase still represents just one per cent of total retail sales. During the same period the number of retailers, their employees and the amount of retail space rose in Canada.