There have been profound changes in how people work in an office.
My introduction to “office work” was in tenth grade typing class, behind a black machine with keys that had no letters or numbers. I managed to earn a passing grade, nothing more.
Two years later, at college using a portable Royal typewriter, my freshman English papers had so many errors the teacher began taking a half grade off for each. Somehow, I got a B in the course, but only because this penalty was not applied to the final grade—otherwise I would have received an F minus.
I needed a typewriter next in my last year of medical school. My wife, our “breadwinner,” teaching second grade decided her students should make a cookbook for Mother’s Day. A non-typist, Barbara, turned to me. What could I do? With her teacher’s salary our only income, I needed to do my part.
This required a stencil for the school mimeograph. Anyone who has done this knows the agony of reaching the bottom of a mistake-free page and then see “majw” instead of “make” because you got one key off for the last two letters. The embossed master is nearly impossible to correct neatly. I finally finished typing and the book though not perfect delighted the mothers.
My next encounter with a typewriter was six years later in my last year of training. I would prepare a paper that would represent my year’s work. My mentor took pride in precise communication and his exceptional command of a second language, English. I spent many hours typing at the institute because I did not have a typewriter at home. Seeing this, a colleague asked me if I was doing a fellowship in typing!
Finally, assuming a regular job I had a secretary. This was my first and I was her first “boss.” This meant no more typewriter for me! Instead, a handheld mini-cassette recorder captured my words on tape to be put on paper by the typist.
After a decade I returned to a keyboard using a newfangled Commodore computer. Nearly everything I wrote was accidentally erased or irretrievable.
Next came a TRS 80, Radio Shack computer, and a twenty-one-year-old who would be my new secretary. This computer may have started something, because this young woman has worked with me in some capacity for thirty-three years.
My secretary’s initial task was to figure out how to make use of this new gadget. She did that as a virtual beta tester while working with a printer that was so loud it required a separate case for sound dampening.
Over the next three decades workload in the office has changed dramatically. The new method of digitization, based on the simple on-off system of bits and bytes developed by Claude Shannon, has made possible a vast array of improvements in the way we communicate.
• The handheld mini-cassette dictation machine (obsolete)
• The FAX (anathema)
• Text messaging
• The internet (worldwide web or www)
• Google (for research and just “looking things up”)
• Document scanning
• Smart phones
• Digital-video recording
• Virtual meetings (Zoom)
• Apps for just about anything
• Records maintained securely and shared as needed
These innovations have also changed the relationship of the “boss” to the traditional secretary. The scope of work, efficiency, and responsibility has expanded for both. For example, personal correspondence is now mainly through the phone, email, and text messaging, done personally and limiting the involvement of a secretary. In this relationship, the secretary assumes new responsibility and opportunities, especially for increased initiative.
Storage of material on the computer and increasingly in computer banks (the Cloud) has reduced the need for hard-copy storage (file cabinets) … and the list goes on.
Does this make a “secretary” less needed? My answer, based on more than fifty years of experience, is NO! I believe the more we can accomplish using all the innovation available, the more we need a dependable, smart, loyal, and creative team (you decide the titles) to share the load.
By Savvy Senior
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