Friday, May 24, 2013

Real Men Don't Type

I was just listening to a segment of NPR's Science Friday on teaching seniors how to deal with computers, and a man named Andy called in with a story about his 80 year old father, who is an accountant, and who has for thirty years refused to learn to use computers.  He still does accounts on paper.  Andy complained that his father is underemployed for that reason, and he couldn't understand why all their efforts to convince him to change had failed.

In the late 1970s I worked for one of the (then) Big Eight accounting firms.  I was their office librarian and records manager.  And I remember a phenomenon that may explain Andy's father's reluctance, which he may not have thought of.  This was when personal computers were just coming in; I remember "borrowing" the Apple IIe that the consulting arm had bought, so I could put my department budget onto Visicalc instead of 17 column ledger.

The consultants, as you may gather, were perfectly happy to play with this new toy, but I remember that the older accounting partners were very very reluctant.  And it was obvious then why:  in that era, businessmen did not type.  They didn't use keyboards at all; the closest they came to a keyboard was a 10-key adding machine (and you haven't seen fast until you've seen one of these guys adding a column!).  They dictated or wrote notes to their secretaries, and the secretaries typed, and brought the documents in for review and correction, and retyped if needed.

So these men wouldn't use computers because they couldn't type, and it would have been a major loss of face to try to type and fail.  Andy's father is about the age of the partners I'm talking about, they were in their early 50's and up. He may not want to use a computer for the simple reason that he never learned to type and at 80 years of age, he may not even have the manual dexterity to learn any more.  Andy, he's 80; just leave him alone.

1 comment:

  1. When I first worked for the government as a claims processor, each of us had our own secretary--known then as a CDC (Claims Development Clerk). The CDC's main job was to type, follow-up on follow-up dates, answer the telephone, file, and open and process the in-box (mail).

    Then the government decided we didn't need secretaries anymore, because everything was going to be "automated." Or downsized. Or streamlined. Or squeezed. Ever had your head in a vice?

    Anyway, eventually everything we'd been doing by hand or on typewriters got done on computers. They got rid of the secretaries, and then they got rid of the data technicians.

    Pretty soon, the Claims Processors did all the interviewing, all the clerical work, all the technical review, and all the computer tasks. They'd managed to squeeze the jobs of three or four people down into one.

    My mother was a professional manuscript typist for many years--after she'd been a photographic retoucher--until computers made that work obsolete. At the end of her life, she tried to learn to make a living with computers, but it was too difficult.

    Nowadays, long retired from the government, I make a living as an independent self-employed rare book dealer. My brother trades in rare collectible LP records. We both do this on the internet.

    Executives who once thought they could just sit back and give directions to people are being phased out. Who needs middle management when you can hire "secretaries" to do all the menial computer data work?

    Even better, send the clerical jobs overseas. Kids in Bombay answering your phone call. Teenagers in Haiti pushing packages under bar code readers.

    "It's a blue world, Rip." --Lizabeth Scott to Humphrey Bogart in "Dead Reckoning" [1947]