Some time ago I was a business drop-out for more than a year in order to write a book. During this period of nine-to-five solitary confinement I was asked what I missed most about the office world besides money coming in: Interaction with people? Variety of challenges? Expense account? Secretary? Maybe even tension and crises?

I knew the answer at once. The Xerox copier.

Having the nearest copier across town instead of across the hall was practically a lifestyle change in itself. And it made me realize that personal use of a company copier may be one of the costlier fringe benefits of our time. It probably beats out expense-account padding and office-supply theft as the most expensive unauthorized one.

Think of the cartoons and articles and dirty jokes that are disseminated this way. The recipes. The counted cross-stitch and needlepoint diagrams. The musical scores. And (Oh sin compounded!) the resumes.

Let him who has never copped a nonbusiness copy dispute the prevalence of this practice. Let him also think of how often he's encountered someone at the copier who obviously didn't want him to see what was being copied.

There are countless clubs and neighborhood associations that publish newsletters, notices, ballots, membership lists and more by means of "free" copying.

But the past observations are prologue to another: Our illicit copier dependency is nothing compared to our overall addiction.

A friend of mine who works for a major copier manufacturer swears he's seen offices that came to a standstill when a changeover from one type or brand of equipment to another interrupted copying for a day or two. His livelihood depends on these seductive machines, but he can still hardly believe the position they've achieved in our lives.

But we can all bear witness. In fact, younger employes may find it hard to conceive of life before copier.

I can -- and I'm certainly not calling for carbon paper to rise again. But its faults had one virtue: They forced people to limit their "cc" lists. One of the biggest costs of our copying mania is time. Time spent reading unnecessary interoffice mail.

Perhaps you should circle the last paragraph. Copy this column, and copy everyone in your office.