Coastal Post Online


May, 2004

My Computer And Me
By Joe Garrett

Everyone tells us that thanks to technology, we're getting much more productive these days.

But if I'm so much more productive, why am I working longer hours?

Voice mail seems to have played a big part of why most of us no longer have secretaries. Sure, I can listen to long-winded messages, and sure, I can jot down the key points. But boy, I sure miss having someone who could screen messages, tell me which people I didn't need to call back, and solve half the problems on her own.

If I'm out of the office for a whole day now, I might have as many as 30-40 messages on my voice mail. And wading through them doesn't seem all that productive.

E-mail? It's a wonderful tool, and a brief one-sentence message can often save a long memo or a longer phone call. Unfortunately, for every important message I get by e-mail, I have to wade through oodles of spam, photos from friends' vacations, and countless jokes and articles that have someone thinks I absolutely must read.

But what about my computer as a word-processor?

Like most people, I think word processing is pretty nifty. I like spellcheck and I love the ability to edit right on the computer. Certainly, this must make me more productive.

I'm not so certain anymore.

When I wrote my MBA thesis thirty years ago, I wrote its 90 pages on my trusty IBM Selectric typewriter, the one with the magic ball spinning around. When I finished my first draft, I got out a pencil and edited it. I then sat down and re-typed the final copy. Two drafts and I was finished.

Now I'm undisciplined in my writing because, well, because I can be. My typing has gotten dramatically faster, but dramatically more sloppy. And again, the sloppiness occurs because it's so easy to correct.

In this post-typewriter era, I'm probably 50% faster but 100% less accurate. And in my calculation, I think that makes me less productive.

A few years ago The New Yorker cited an IBM study which noted that handwritten or typed letters were modified an average of eight times. Letters done with word processors were modified an average of thirty-one times.

Picky writer that I am, I completely believe this statistic. I worry over every word and every phrase. I tend to consider something complete only when the deadline is upon me and I'm utterly exhausted in my search for the perfect word or perfect phrasing.

I'd like to go back and see what I wrote thirty years ago. I somehow doubt I've become at all a better writer simply because I bang away on a Dell rather than a Selectric.

To the best of my knowledge, such writers as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Fitzgerald did not use word processing. Yet they somehow managed to write some pretty good books.

In the ultimate proof that today's technology makes us more productive, everyone loves to cite how today's $1,200 laptop is more much powerful than the mainframe that landed men on the moon in 1969.

That's certainly true, but for me at least, also irrelevant.

You see, I have no current plans to go to the moon, with or without my laptop.



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