How did we ever manage to look busy when the boss walked by before we had desktop computers?  A rhetorical question to kick off a reflection.

Some people reading this may not know a world without personal computers, certainly a work world without them.  For many, they’re a feature that has to be contended with – perhaps work instructions come from one or results have to be fed into one.  For many others, the PC on the desk is their main contact with the business.

When I first left school, the only people who had direct contact with a computer were those in the “computer department”, caring for the monstrosity in the large air conditioned “computer room”.  In there was were these rows of cabinets with switches, flashing lights and spinning reels of magnetic tape, often spinning backwards and forwards in a weird dance – an incredible tango (IT?).  And I mustn’t forget the punched paper tape clattering through readers, the reams of printout spewing from the line printers and the stacks of punched cards.  Nor should I forget the army of ladies in the punch room, whose job it was to transcribe written and typed data onto the punched cards. I dare say the total computation power of the beast I can still picture from my first job (one that managed the accounts for one of the UK’s largest chain of department stores) is surpassed by that in my mobile phone.

We still have our air conditioned “computer rooms” but they tend to focus on storage.  Sure, there are servers who process data but most of the processing is now done at the desk.  Data input by the person who needs the result.  Going back to my first job, computers were for repetitive calculations and associated data processing.  Each had a specific and well defined purpose.  Word processing was the realm of typewriters; communication was verbal or typed or handwritten letters and memos.  Nowadays, the computer has become the communicator as well as the calculator – and, whilst it does the latter to serve the former, communication is often the prime role.
Finally, with the rise of the smartphone, the talking part of communication seems to be taking the back seat – text and email first, phone and speak as a last resort.

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