Technology: it means I don't miss…

InformationTechnologyJaquandor waxes philosophic:

Lots of folks often wax poetic about things we’ve lost in our more technological age, like record stores and big, high-service department stores that take up entire city blocks, but what’s something that we’ve ditched in our techno-era that makes you think, “Yeah, I’m glad we don’t do THAT anymore”?

It occurred to me that I’ve seldom described what it was that I have been doing for a living for the past 22 years. The methodology has changed tremendously, and it’s all about the technology.

The New York Small Business Development Center, started in 1984, now has 24 centers across the state. The business counselors offer free and confidential one-on-one advisement to budding entrepreneurs and established small businesses alike. Since many of the counselors have been entrepreneurs or have worked in banks or other lending institutions, they know a lot of stuff about the business process.

For the things they DON’T know, the counselors contact the Research Network library, which has librarians with access to databases, and even – dare I say it? – books.

In the early days, we’d print out the research from the databases on something called paper. We’d Xerox pages from books. Then we’d put the information in the mail to the counselor. If, for some reason, the package was lost, we’d have to do it over. The search would be in our computers, but we’d still have to reprint. And the copying had to be done over.

Let’s talk about the databases. They were on something called CD-ROM discs. We had a couple dedicated CD-ROM machines, but if I wanted to use the ProQuest database, and someone else was already using it, I had to wait until she or he was finished.

One of the first major improvements in the operation was the implementation of a LAN, or local area network, where we could ALL access the CD-ROMs at the same time, from our own computers, without having to go to the dedicated machine AND we could use a database even of someone else were using it!

As counselors started getting e-mail, we started to save the information and send some of it electronically. This was not as smooth a transition as one might think. For one thing, the capacity of some of the e-mail servers in the late 1990s could be quite limited. Sending all the information we found could mean either having it bounce back to us, or clog things up on the recipient’s end.

Now, we package the data in an Adobe format. It sits on our server, and the counselors get an e-mail notification that the data are there, through a system called WebMQS, which usually works well. It DOES require the recipient to have the latest free Adobe software. Now, if someone hasn’t received the information, the re-sending now takes 5 minutes rather than 50 or more.

At home, my favorite pairing of technologies are the answering machine and caller ID. I hear, or see on the TV, that it’s a call from 800 Service, which the answering machine announces as “eight-zero-zero shervice” – our machine voice has a lisp! and we are oddly entertained by this – we can freely ignore it. But a familiar cell phone number, or an a call identified from someone known to us, we’ll pick up.

But the #1 favorite technological change I appreciate has to be the word processor, which allows one to correct errors things easily, rather than backspace on the IBM Selectric typewriter to use that tape which vaguely blots out the typos. No more Wite-Out, either.

When I was writing my last paper for library school in 1992, I had arranged the topics 1a, 2a, 3a, 1b, 2b, 3b, 1c, 2c, 3c. But as I continued, I realized it should have been 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c. I did a massive cut and paste, but it was WAY easier than retyping 46 pages.

And, of course, the same technology allows me to write this blog every day, even though I am a no better typist than I was 25 or 40 years ago. Because if I had to do write this all longhand, and then type it in a manner that was readable and accurate, this MIGHT be a monthly blog, rather than a daily one.

A quick musing, though on one thing I DO miss as a result of technology: keeping score in bowling. The software won’t let you, and occasionally, it’s just wrong in terms of counting the remaining pins.

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