The Computer Has Ruined Everything

I love email and Google, but I have arrived at the conclusion that for almost everything else in my modern office the computer has ruined things.

I am convinced that paper records and references are more reliable and accessible than computerized data for me. Let me give an example. At Graff-Pinkert & Co., our machinery trading firm, we have long kept a card file of machines bought and sold by brand and size. Since we have sold literally thousands of screw machines in the last 70 years, we have a dramatic trove of useful information that is easily accessible to the people in the office.

Yesterday I was looking for users of 2 ¼” 6-spindle Wickman automatics. By looking through our cards on sales of that size of machine I could locate people who were likely to have one for sale today. But it gave me more depth. It showed the price a client paid for such a machine 25 years ago and what work was done on it. The card showed who we bought the machine from and how much we paid for it. It even showed the attachments on the machine in 1987 along with a pencil notation my father had written about buying spindle bearings. This was more than a record, it was history and it had texture, even emotion. An original and important Graff-Pinkert document was unearthed for me and my son Noah to use. “Is that Grandpa’s  handwriting?” he asked, realizing that he was gripping a piece of lore, a fragment of the past. Was it the Dead Sea Scrolls? No, but for Noah and Rex Magagnotti and I it was a yellow memory that tied us to that old machine that we had bought Hardinge Masters for.

The card mentioned that we paid a commission in 1984 to Roy Hodkinson in England when we bought it. Another wonderful memory rekindled, because Roy was not only our European contact, but a wonderful friend we talked to almost every day.

Computers are cool tools and I love my iPad as a communication device, but it will be discarded in a year or two. But not those “Master Cards” that are the soul of Graff-Pinkert and the Graff family. They are an archeological treasure to me and I’ve allowed them to be neglected in recent years.

The more sophisticated the computer systems like QuickBooks and ACT have become, the more inaccessible and opaque the information seems to be. The screw-ups we have in the office because of lousy data entry and poor access for the people who need the information to make good decisions outweigh the alleged efficiencies of office computerization. Add in all the time we waste on the avalanches of email, Facebook and Twitter litter and it makes me long for the languid efficiency of longhand.

Question: Would you like to go back to paper and typewriters?

Share this post

16 thoughts on “The Computer Has Ruined Everything

  1. Dan K

    No thanks to the paper and typewriters, but I believe CNC machines have put
    a lot of skilled operators out of a job over the last 20~ years.
    One CNC lathe has replaced a row of turret lathes or screw machines.
    Is that really a good thing?

  2. Brooks Paul Jones

    Dad — Jesse H. Jones Machinery – used machines – mid- Michigan – 1950 – 1980
    used the card system with the notchs and the needle to sort the cards — might have been the next step up from yours ? he was tickled pink to show this to the kids – (us)
    If I had your collection of card I would think about a scan to keep the data backup-
    The other side of the data collection and storage is that the old timers could write faster than they could type (old word ) The kids are doing 100 words a minute at birth!
    I get a kick out of your email presentation – thanks, Brooks
    PS — we do rotary swaging with Fenn 4F and Fenn 3F machines to install terminals on wire for sailboat rigging and for architectural railing infills (same basic product) all stainless type 316

  3. Larry A

    I miss some things from simpler times, but I can’t imagine going back to those days. Remember the advent of the Fax Machine? It changed the way we do business. Prior to that, we had to mail things out to be quoted. We could phone with our quote, but we had to mail back a hard copy of the quote also. The whole process took a week. Now with email becoming what it is, the Fax is becoming a dinosaur.

  4. Calvin Sams

    Paper and Typewriters? No, I could not imagine going back. I worked as an tool design engineer for several years before we changed over to CAD/CAM.
    I cannot even think of the hours I would spend in keeping track of CNC programs, parts, fixtures etc if I had to do it all on paper again.
    Today I work as an application sales engineer for a CAM company, everything is done on computers. I hardly think a shop on the cutting edge can say that they manually write and program at the machines today.
    With the complications of part design and manufacturing today the CNC programming must be done on a computer and with good software.
    As for the historical documents in your card file, I agree with the previous poster, scan them and get them backed up somewhere. That data is very valuable, not only for the history of the machines, but for the history of the company.

  5. Richard Rudy

    My company has been in business for over 60 years. During the first 43 years of business we used an index card system very similar to Graff-Pinkert’s to keep track of customers’ purchase and quote history. At the beginning all the records (250!!) could fit into one file drawer. Each set of cards contained a customer’s entire record all the way back to 1946. But as business grew, we had more customers and more cards for each customer. By the late 80’s we had 10,000 customers and scores of thousands of cards Not only did it take a long time to manually enter the information on the cards, it was prone to entry errors, illegible handwriting, etc etc. Plus, cards were always getting misfiled or mislaid. When I needed to check a card it was often on someone else’s desk, sometimes in small piles because that person hadn’t got around to re-filing the cards.

    When we converted to a computerized system in 1989, there was no way we were going to populate it with over forty years of handwritten data, so we struggled with both systems for a while until there was enough history in the computer to render the cards obsolete.

    Notice that I did not say that the cards were “meaningless”; they are certainly meaningful. I treasure those old cards. I can see in my father and mother’s handwritten entries how we started and how far we have come. I see their hard work and their endless worries, their early mornings and late nights. I can feel their tiredness and their appreciation that every day they were putting everything on the line. When I look at those old records, or our old catalogs, I’m reminded that America is a great country for people with drive and determination.

    But,there is NO WAY that we could have grown to the extent we have if we had kept on doing what we always did. Computers make information MORE accessible, not less. If your people are stiff-necked about using the computer properly, reeducate or replace them. If you’re having data entry problems, fix the cause. If your system doesn’t allow you to capture all the information you feel you need or want, or provide access to everyone who needs it, fix the system.

    Stop following people on Twitter and forget about Facebook. They are monumental wastes of time, dreamed up by people who believe that what they have to say, or what they’re doing or thinking at any given moment, is just SO interesting that everyone else should be just as enthralled. Tell your friends to stop forwarding dumb jokes and rumors. Or get a new email address, give it only to people from whom you really want to hear and cancel the old one.

    Just don’t kid yourself that those old records are useful for anything other than sentimental reminders of what once was. Your father and uncle also probably did their sums with stubby pencils on pieces of paper — do you really want to go back to that, too?

  6. Bob

    Paper is waste, if it’s nostalgia your looking for, take a digital video of yourself explaining the card on your iphone, record the data from the card in a database, then throw all the paper away, it’s taking up too much space and no one uses it. In 20 years, your grandkids can stumble across your video, see grandpa in living color talking about how dad used to do it… and that’ll stick with them more than some scribbles on a card. Nostalgia is great and history provides a good measure of how far we’ve come, but pen and paper is no way to run an efficient business. If grandpa would’ve had the technology at his disposal he would have had a database with a lot better information… pictures of the equipment, contact info., dates, times, invoices, video of the machine running, etc… Don’t let “the way we used to do it” serve as an excuse to fall behind, there are, and always will be, better ways to conduct business as long as your able to keep up and stay in the game.

  7. Ben Guthrie

    I just looked through some paper tool drawings from a corporate ancestor, the J.J.Tourek ball joint company of EGV, IL, yesterday. Touching the pencil drawing of an index fixture dated 12/31/1941, only 3 weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, fascinated me; I thought about the person whose hand created those curves on New Year’s Eve, and then faced down the challenges of 1942. I doubt that a spreadsheet from the fall of 2001 will connect somebody to me so well in 2080, but that generation will connect with us in ways that I can’t see coming. I do keep a hand-written daily journal, though…

  8. Noah Graff

    In response to your comment Ricky (Richard): You make some good points, however there is a difference in the volume of product shipped in your business and Graff-Pinkert which makes the cards for us less obsolete. I am a believer in computers and organizing things digitally. However, in addition to that, it is useful and quite practical for us to use cards for the machines we sell because we may only sell 50 to 100 machines in a year.

    My dad likes having the cards because he only uses an iPad for his computer and iPads don’t lend themselves to looking through databases. Databases aren’t his strong point. Making deals, and writing, and pissing readers off are. So why make Frank Sinatra move pianos? as he would say.

    And from a philosophical standpoint: While I believe in having the most modern powerful technology working for our business, you have to remember that PAPER lasts a hell of a lot longer than BYTES. Hard drives go bad in a couple of years so you have to keep backing them up over and over. The Cloud is nice but what if the Cloud which you have no control over goes down or is hacked?

    There are paper documents that are thousands of years old! In the Vatican there are records on paper that are 2,000 years old! Paper lasts, it will be a long time until paper records are obsolete.

  9. trashcup

    When computers first came out, my old boss said we have to get one! I asked him if he was going to get rid of the old card system and rely on the computer for the historical information. He said: “we can’t get rid of those cards, they have everything on them!” But he was the boss so instead of giving everyone a raise, he spent $40,000 for a Wang computer, another $5000 to program it and we ran parallel systems for the next 5 years. Double the work – had to hand write it on those cards, and then enter it into the computer.

    FINALLY when he saw he could print out reports that summarized hundreds of what each individual card had on it, he relented and then the computer became just as valuable as the old card system. Only difference? We could manipulate the data and get far more information out of it and that made us more more intelligent. It allowed us to develop this information way more quickly than going through 150 individual histories recorded on each card.

  10. Bob Albaugh

    You need to be introduced to excel from Microsoft. Its been around for 20 years and can do all the sorting you discuss. I’m 65 and keep up with the times. Do your customers a favor and get into the 21st century.
    Otherwise, keep up the good work.
    Bob Albaugh

  11. jax thomas

    your not upset with your computer, your upset with the lousy software you used to replace the cards. i can tell you how many parts and how many hours we ran on any job back to 1984 in about 2 seconds. to find 2 1/2 6 spindle buys would take about the same amount of time. if you want to look through 40 years of cards, go ahead and waste your time. the problem isnt the computer, its you and your software.

  12. Val Zanchuk

    Scan the cards, give each scanned image a few keywords, and the info will be at your fingertips. However, don’t get rid of the cards! The real history of your company is on those cards. Not the deals, but the people involved with the business. The people who put their hearts and souls into their vision. Keep the cards and pass them on to future generations, so they may appreciate the efforts of those who came before them and helped build their world.

  13. Rich Wachter

    I’m hearing “Lean Manufacturing” in your post which we started around 4 years ago now. It says everything hand written and in prefferably pencil but we are finding there is also a place for the computer at least for us at this point. Excel is awsome for charting a monthly rollup of Day X Hour data that drives the Lean tools we use to make improvements. S.M.E.D. / 6S / T.P.M ect. So I’m finding I agree with you half way because without the “Lean Manufacturing” we would really have been behind the 8 ball with the current economy. It is truely amazing the progress we have made using the Lean Manufacturing concept. We are currently listening to the “Gold Mine” CD which walks you through a company and their journey to “Lean Manufacturing”. Us Managers get together and listen to 3 to 4 tracks as a group once a day Monday – Thursday (1/2hr max). We then have discussion and are continually finding parallells with the problems we are having in our plant. It is almost funny, but not. To see some of the things we where doing before accepting “Lean” that we were oblivious to. I think kinda like “not seeing the forest through the trees”. At my point of learning Lean now I don’t know if true Lean is actually capable or just a ongoing goal. We are finding parts of it very difficult to grasp and agree upon while other parts seem so easy it is like why didn’t we see this before. Which is another book “Learning too See” I could go on and on but to me somewhere between “Lean Manufacturing” and computers is where too be but I’m still learning. One of the hard lessons is getting everyone on board, when the plant first heard of it their first thought was Lean oh no their going to start cutting people. This is the exact opposite of Lean it is Learning to use your people. We are learning they are the experts at what they do and have gone a long way too help solve problems and save money.

  14. Jester

    I am so glad that I have things on computer – I would need a staff dedicated to file managaement otherwise – and a fecking big office.


Comments are closed.