Technology, What's It Ever Done For Me?

By Bob Cleavely


Chats over a relaxed, yet alcohol stimulated session at Christmas, posed the question of the greatest technology advance I had not only witnessed but had been impacted by.

Drifting back to what seems a previous life, when I was starting on that yellow brick road to project management, I was working for an international company in the (sshhh) tobacco industry. I recall that back then (1975), letters had to be handwritten, proof-read and authorised by your line manager, submitted to the typing pool, returned, checked, signed, copies distributed and then posted. They were then allowed a two week period to pass before a further chaser letter - "Please reference my letter rpc/dac of the 5th etc." - could be similarly constructed and issued. As for copying someone in, each individual needed to be considered as a further sheet of carbon, and paper would be required – c.c. = carbon copy.

The Absence of Technology

Essentially, the closest we got to urgent communication was the use of a cablegram. Drafted by yourself, these were edited for sense and word count by your manager and were as full of “abrvtn” as a teenage text as they were priced by the letter. Handed to a commissionaire, who took it by hand to the Cable Department, who typed and sent to the GPO, who forwarded across the oceans (or probably more correctly under) to a similar postal station in a foreign state.

They were then retyped (or consisted of stuck ticker tape) and delivered by hand to the intended destination. They then probably followed a further hand-to-hand line of command back to the manager. All of this was occurring at a time when Glam Rock ruled the music charts and Monty Python’s Holy Grail was about to be released.


Informal Digital Scribbling

This was followed by telex, a similar system. In no time, you had a machine in each department, but still drafted and submitted for an operator to send. Only then were they centrally received and controlled, rather than straight to your desktop. A few technology tweaks and leaps to now and the time-travelling speed of emails and their built-in expectancy of an instant and accurate response has changed the way we communicate. Emails are loose, informal digital scribbling with no worry over the “yours sincerely” or “yours faithfully” rules and even the most stern of reprimands or demands start with the friendly “hi”. They are generally unchecked for content or presentation and batted out to all that might need to know and often most that don't, which leads to a compulsion to reply and extending the web of contact with confusion.

Ah, I long for the time to consider a reply and being allowed to check, investigate and formulate a meaningful and full response to an individual, rather than a watching crowd. As I type, bemoaning the loss of time and looking over this original draft, I note that it bears the comment “Sent from my iPhone”. I guess that not only can you not beat them...

You don’t always realise you've joined them.