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A wastepaper mountain or information goldmine?

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martin pawley

Being informed means keeping cuttings files, but over the years these files swell and shrink. Sometimes the trend is for separate folders to multiply like fruit flies so that you can no longer keep track of their names. Other times every scrap of information seems to make its way into one monstrous folder because - as a great revolutionary once said - everything is connected to everything else and all human life belongs in one file really.

Somewhere I have a file called 'Lego' that has only one piece of paper in it: a press release announcing the victory of the PSA in the national Lego competition of 1987. Much more easy to find is the file called 'Community Architecture', which is at least a foot thick but it hasn't been opened in years.

The last stage of filing is information chaos. Victims simply allow huge heaps of cuttings to accumulate, initially separated 'for filing', but later lost in a single mountain wherein even the rough chronology of publication has been lost as a result of the periodic need for laying out space. Eventually you are forced to approach the heap and half-heartedly try to separate things out again, but you soon give up and the heap remains. This is because one of the golden rules of cutting (apart from the absolute necessity of identifying publication and date, and the pointlessness of prolonged searches for lost items because they are always disappointing) is never to throw anything away because it is certain to become vitally necessary within 48-hours of the men emptying the wheelie bin.

This is a partial list of contents of one heap of cuttings. The top item is a year old magazine article about Salvador Dali's collaboration with Walt Disney. Next comes a news item about graphite bombs short-circuiting power stations. Next comes a letter to The Times protesting about the inadequacies of 'keyhole archaeology'. Then there is a piece about the drastic changes Sir John Egan has made at MEPC. Then a piece by Rowan Moore saying not all tower blocks are bad. Then comes 'Bulldozers move into Paternoster Square'. Then 'Today's babies can expect to live to 130'. Then a mammoth survey of famous product recalls. Then 'The £830 million library where you can't find a book' (no, it's the Paris one). Then 'Call to turn derelict buildings into housing'. Then 'Call to embrace nuclear power'. Then 'Frankfurt goes for skyscrapers'. Then 'Millennium celebrations will threaten wildlife'. Then 'Death of suburbia'. Then Tesco CEO Terry Leahy talks about growing up in a prefab ('It was made of tin'). Then 'Buxton dome could go for £1'. Then 'Retail boom in Glasgow' (annotated 'Last hurrah'). Then 'Nazareth to become Biblical Theme Park'. Then a treatise on the working of the hedges and ditches presumption. Then 'Has Britain got too many MPs?'.

Then 'Aeroplanes for salesmen' (an item from 1930). Then 'Must London be more provincial than Bilbao?' Then 'Shortage of graves', followed by 'Historical re-use of graveyards' and 'High-rise answer to shortage of graves'.

Then 'A history of Decimal Time'. Then 'Sony in giant networking overhaul'. Then 'Gates questions earning power of Net firms.' Then 'End of the paperchase?' and 'Day at the office: a survivor's guide'. Then 'US Storm Paralyses Air Traffic'. Then 'History of the Westinghouse Time Capsule.' Then 'Library bars mobile phone pests'. Then 'Welsh Assembly a load of old Spheres'.

And finally there is an item about Ola, a chimpanzee who beat a team of international stockbrokers in a share-tipping contest in Sweden, being found 'downcast' in a cage in Thailand. What, asks the author, happened to the stockbrokers?

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