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If you have not seen the 07 May edition of Forbes Magazine, I urge you to look for a copy. It's their 90th anniversary and the issue is devoted to networking. There are 28 guest articles on the subject.

One that I found particularly fascinating was written by John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems. Allow me to quote a few excerpts.

"The last 15 years have brought advances in communications technology far surpassing those made in the previous 5,000…"

"In a little more than two years worldwide Internet traffic will hit 9 exabytes per month. That is the equivalent of 9 quintillion typed characters, enough for 4 trillion novels. It is nearly two times the letters you'd need to write down all the words ever spoken."

"It took 200-plus years for the Library of Congress to build its collection of books… The same equivalent in digital information is now created every 15 minutes."

What I find fascinating about these statements lies in what the future holds for us in the pulp and paper industry. On the product side, I've said for a long time now that our industry will become dominated by hygienic and packaging grades. It looks like I got that one right-—but even when I first said it over 10 years ago people were skeptical.

The more interesting vision is what is happening on the peer-to-peer communications side. We can communicate faster and more economically than ever before. Within a company, a problem at mill A can be diagnosed near instantaneously by all the internal experts in mills B, C, and D. Within our industry, the same can happen, restrained only by legal and competitive issues.

Let me give you a couple of experiences here within my company, little old Talo Analytic International, Inc. Coincidently, I have been a private consultant for 15 years (see the first quote above). Fifteen years ago, I had never heard of the Internet. This year already, I can safely say that 15% of our gross sales will happen solely because of the Internet. I expect that number to hit 50% within two years, on a growing base. Last year, we started a peer-to-peer network (http://www.cellulosecommunity.net) which one can join for free. It has members in over 30 countries around the world. Why free? It is so cheap to operate that there is no reason to charge for it—our opportunity to give something back to the industry. Yes, information is free now.

There have been a number of pronouncements in recent times about significant percentages of professionals retiring from the pulp and paper industry within the next five years or so. These pronouncements have been couched in alarmist's terms. The alarmists are wrong. For if you go back to Mr. Chambers' quotes, it is easy to see that today's and tomorrow's pulp and paper graduates are going to have unprecedented resources to do their jobs.

Example: this spring's graduates, nominally 22 years old, have been exposed to the Internet since they were seven or eight; incoming freshmen, since before they started school. Networking via the Internet is as familiar to them as breathing. They don't have to have everything in their heads like the isolated graduates of 40 years ago. They will walk into their first job with an established network of peers, mentors, and teachers that they automatically know how to tap when they have an issue to which they do not know the answer. And that network, through its diversity of experiences, will be far richer than just walking down the machine aisle to old Bill's office (where old Bill is supposed to know "everything" despite the fact that he has never been in another mill in his life).

Note to managers: yes, this infers that you will have less control over your employees than you were used to in the past, but the upside is when you hire one of these network-savvy graduates, you are hiring the brain-power of, conservatively, 50 or 60 professionals.

There are many other fascinating matters in this issue of Forbes. Probably one of the most interesting comments in another article (I am paraphrasing) is that the next 15 years of Internet development will be more dramatic, far reaching and impacting on society than the last 15. I say, bring it on!


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