Technology: What New Age?

High-tech gizmos for home and office are readily available but underused. The Information Age just isn't all it was cracked up to be . . . yet.

About a decade ago, Reliance Insurance launched an ambitious office- automation project with the slogan "Paper Free in 1983." The Philadelphia-based insurer had the words emblazoned on wall posters, coffee cups, stationery and lapel buttons. It invested millions of dollars in information technology, including thousands of computers, an electronic-mail system and a brand-new telecommunications network. Managers waited for worker productivity to explode.

They're still waiting. Today Reliance is anything but paper free. Memos and forms proliferate as never before. Employees shun the computerized mail system. And productivity gains have been nil. While the company has curtailed its spending on automation, it...

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