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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Still a desktop essential, and a new use for the paper clip

By Dick Hirsch
I have a pretty good memory when it comes to recalling significant expenditures, and according to my best recollection the last time I bought a box of paper clips was in 1991. Then the other day I discovered my clip supply was precariously low. I didn’t have a single one in the drawer space usually reserved for them, so I had to go into the file cabinet, find one that was in use, and appropriate it for a new assignment.
That’s never a good idea. It is a transition and it requires a decision on whether to toss the papers that were previously clipped. If it seems untimely to discard them, it means I have to search further for an itinerant clip or else find another sheaf of clipped papers and see whether they can be trashed and the clip put to a new use.
These days are complicated enough without additional pressure such as that, so at the first opportunity I stopped at the nearby office superstore to buy a box of paper clips.
It’s embarrassing to walk into a huge store like that to make such a small purchase, but I did it anyway. As I began prowling around the aisles, looking for clips, I suddenly began to wonder how come my supply lasted so long, 16 years by my calculation. Then I decided that one reason is obvious: I must not be clipping as many papers as I formerly clipped. I know there has been a lot of talk over the last 15 or 20 years about the approach of the paperless office. I even know some people who claim to have a such an office and who have desks that appear barren and unused.
I am not one of them. I am still generating as much stuff as ever, and when somebody e-mails me something, a message that is of even modest importance, I have a tendency to print that document. I suppose it is a bad habit, but I do it. A few of those items are lengthy enough to require clipping.
I should explain that I have a lifetime supply of staples. I use staples, but only in select situations. I enjoy the decisive sound of a stapler stapling, but staples have a negative side: being semi-permanent, they are difficult and messy to remove. Of course, paper clips have a downside, too. They can either become disengaged and slide off or else inadvertently attach themselves to nearby papers that are totally unrelated. On occasions when that happens, the office becomes even more confusing than usual.
The other reason my 1991 clip supply lasted so long is probably because circulation is down. In the old days, clips endlessly circulated. I sent some around, and others did the same. Hardly a day went by that some papers didn’t land on my desk with a clip. I read the papers and saved the clip for future re-use.
This won’t surprise you, but finding a box of paper clips in a superstore is only slightly simpler than finding a needle in a haystack. I had to ask for directions.
“Aisle thirteen,” she said.
There they were, just down the row from the pens, the pencils and the staples. A box of 100 of the #1 clips, the regular size, was 69 cents. I read the box: “All of our products undergo third-party independent testing and are guaranteed to be free of defects...,” it said, causing me to wonder what defects could be found in a paper clip. I bought that box and also a box of 100 jumbo clips for $1.29. I bought the jumbo clips not because I am anticipating any big deals, but because I would have been uncomfortable in the checkout line with just a 69 cent item.
The world was a different place when I last bought paper clips, but the clips haven’t changed much. They are still among the most versatile appliances a person can own. People have written testimonials to paper clips, citing all their various useful applications, from cleaning fingernails to replacing the busted pull tab on a zipper.
The high-tech age has produced a new use for such a low-tech item. You’ve seen those teeny holes on the back of some gadget or gizmo, the hole that says “reset?” Whatever resetting is needed, a straightened paper clip does the job. So whether you are clipping or resetting, check your paper clip supply today. You’ll be glad you did.



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