I went on my last business trip nearly three years ago. Web meetings, along with old-fashioned email and phone calls, have effectively replaced the need to meet people face-to-face. I recently spoke with someone running a small-scale ice-fishing operation on Lake Winnipegosis in Manitoba, part of a small aboriginal community in a remote area (she wanted a carbon footprint analysis of her fishing operation). She had high-speed Internet access and a phone, and the remoteness of her location made no difference to our live conversation. I am amazed at the ease with which I can sit in my Portland, Oregon, office and interact with people in different countries and continents. This is the promise of telecommunications finally becoming reality.
There is an ongoing debate on the relative environmental impacts of print and electronic media (see Don Carli's The Mediavore's Dilemma). The old print medium uses up resources and services such as paper, print, transportation, and waste management. The new electronic medium uses energy every time you read or view something on your personal device, depends on a huge high-speed communication infrastructure and data centers, and then there is the e-waste to contend with when the devices and machines go obsolete every few years.
I am rarely dazzled by new technology, notwithstanding my 20 years in the electronics and semiconductor industry. I don't own an e-book reader, iPad or even a smart phone. I am the only one that I know without a smart phone (a friend wondered how I managed to check after-hours email, and the answer is I usually don't). I still like a physical New York Times with my breakfast. I am currently reading (a print copy of) Bound to Last in which 30 authors write in passionate defense of the printed book -- this sits well with an old-fashioned book lover and book collector like me.
I would be willing, however reluctantly, to use more of electronic media if there is conclusive evidence that print is significantly worse for the environment. But I do think that the real comparison should be between telework and telebusiness on one hand and the old-fashioned way of physically hauling people from one place to another for conducting business face-to-face. Looking at how clogged our highways are morning and evening and how many people still get on airplanes for business trips, there is clearly a huge amount of energy to be saved and greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced (not to mention human energy and time) by utilizing our existing communications infrastructure for everyday work. The potential savings here might well swamp out any difference one way or the other between print and electronic media.
It seems to me that our high degree of connectedness hasn't translated to lower environmental burdens -- if anything, energy use is going through the roof with all the active and passive power drawn by the billions of plugged-in and charged devices. There are surely some low-hanging fruit here that are waiting to be harvested, as well as as a significant risk of further proliferating all the technology without managing the consequences.