It’s an electronic diary that reminds me of the meetings of the day—mainly video and on which platform. It’s about 10 minutes and I have to get ready for a video meet, and an important phone call is also going on. Somehow I wriggle out of the phone call and request them that I will call back and the lingo use `I am getting into a meeting. This is on video and at home, and I can’t get out of home, because of the lock down in 2020. Normally I would noted this in my diary or a planner, and have been reminded of this by my colleague or a secretary.
Different implements of the office then seems to have converged on to a screen and one has to strain the eye and crane my neck to cope with the office. People seldom carry a pen, writing pad, planner or a stapler, U-clips, pin beads, double punch, for these have almost become obsolete. and personal space that have overlapped to almost disrupt the work-life balance.
Video, Voice messages, Emails, SMS and Voice calls are like carrying an all in one, while for many of you who started your careers in the Internet era, and would find it difficult to fathom how offices would have functioned in those eras of telex, fax, board line phones, and no internet and cellphone! Surely enough, the way we communicate may have changed, but the efficiency remains and did you know that social media existed even then, but in a different form – browse through to find out how?
Communication was mostly through type writers, and there were specialists to do that. As a preparatory skill to prepare for office life, most of us those days were compulsorily sent to a typing institute to learn, even if we did not want to become typist. To boast of a certificate with 40 w.p.m was a great achievement and a requirement in many jobs too.
We typed with eight fingers without looking at the keyboard and were taught that the two thumbs are useless and not to be used in typing. Use them while hitting the space bar only. Today the eight fingers are useless and we use only the two thumbs to communicate.
A type writer was an essential device, where a mistake was a mistake, and you could only rectify it with white ink. One did not have the luxury of back space, retrieval for cut and paste. Little later the electronic type writers surfaced, where you could save about one line before firing the return key. In an email one just sent cc, and bcc and one click sent a message to so many people.
But making copies the was a challenge, as photocopying then was a luxury, so one had to take copies and this was with carbon papers attached to the original. Before you started the work on the document one checked on the number of copies required, so that so many carbon papers could be added. After the signoff, one wrote all the people’s designation and/or names that the copy was being shared with.
A copy had to be taken on a butter paper or trace papers and then had to be double punched and put into a file. There were separate files for inward and outward correspondence, and some separators within that itself. Perhaps the equivalent of being called as # hastags!
Before typing a letter was the dictation given by the bosses, and the person took this down in short hand, such people called as stenographer. They had to submit the document for checking for spelling mistakes, and there was no computer spell check, so a physical one with some correction remarks of the boss to be rectified in the second copy. After getting the final approval, and typing senders address on the envelope, this was posted or couriered. Sometimes letters were generally delivered by office assistants.
Telex, a a customer-to-customer switched network of teleprinters was replaced by fax in the early 80’s, and Internet, an early 90’s phenomenon. Initially when people would say, I am on Internet and that just meant that they had started an email id. It was a pride for companies to have an email id on their own name leave alone a website. The bosses did not know accessing the email and reading things on the computer, so they enrolled the juniors and secretaries for Internet awareness courses, got the print out and instructed these and continued using the computer like a type writer.
Life started with an email id, some who went on to the free email sites of those days – essentially hotmail, yahoo, and some went on usa.net. In the first phase it was all about forwards – jokes, stories. Later on friends had to be instructed on only sending official mails on the official mail id and not jokes and other forwards. Attachments were also a great boon.
Slowly things started to change, and the breed of private secretaries just evaporated from the corporate horizons, as bosses could be accessed directly, if they just had an email id. Brochures, Leaflets, Newsletters soon got replaced with emailer, and with the development of PDF’s, organizations started on appealing to recipient to save trees.
Possessing a card with a designation was called `visiting card’ (the term business card came in much later) and sharing that or getting one from someone was a matter of pride. It was considered a great achievement to also get to know of people’s residence number as this that indicated a second level of friendship. Sometimes it helped in knowing the area the person hailed from. The act of arranging them in a rolodex or a visiting card folder, felt like doing a royal job.
The person working on the document was the search and retrieval expert, and exactly knew which document was located where in the computer and the filing cabinet. They would be more efficient that the search engines and would filter for intelligence on the basis of the query raised. Files is where information was stored as printouts, search and retrieval was considered a key skill, knowing of documents that could be used as a reference for future correspondence was considered as bookmarking.
Writing memo’s were like FACEBOOK wall posts, for the intended recipients had to initial it as a token of having noted the contents. TWITTER was the grapevine, and knowing of vacancies in client places or competitors organizations of positions you were seeking was the LinkedIn then. You connected with the needed references (by becoming familiar with clients who visited your office or people you visited) for the new job and asked them to put in a word.
When the boss said that a particular client had to be called, people had the phone numbers by heart, for having dialed the numbers frequently, maybe it made us commit numbers to memory. Today mostly all have a mobile phone that has a memory In built or can be added, but the irony is that people themselves don’t have any memory. So much so that everything is a function of the phone book, even their wives numbers.
The platforms have changed, but in those days what the bosses spoke were like LIVE VIDEOS, Linkedin Posts or BLOGS (Long and compulsory), what the sub-ordinates responded was like LinkedIn Comments or Facebook reactions (Brief and needing support or replies), to which peers and juniors responded. The trainees and office assistants were only allowed to tweet (speak in not more than 280 characters). Talk of ushering in a more democratic atmosphere!
But lucky there was not Work From Home, as those who carried Work Home were seen as disrupting their Work-Life Balance. Social media existed then too, but in a different way, and things seemed more peaceful then!