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?