Efficiency and computers

    I neither like nor dislike computers. I suppose I think computers are rather ugly things, useful for doing boring or repetitious tasks quickly, but that is all. I have similar views about washing machines, electric clocks, and lawnmowers: all useful but unlovely tools. Some tools are a joy to use, like a twenty-ounce claw hammer with an octagon hickory handle, a well sharpened knife or chisel, or a jack plane. But a computer is, after all, just another machine.

    In the office (not CI!) where I work, we were trying out a new efficient system that required a computer. Essentially I needed to prepare a list of personnel—a twenty minute process when done with a pen and paper. While my boss was excited about the new program, I had voiced some minor misgivings about how computers always make mistakes. This earned me a reputation of being anti-computer, afraid of new ideas and efficiency—I was a dreamer.

    “You’ve got to realize, Dave, that this new program will make things go much smoother, so we can use the office time more efficiently. We can’t turn back the clock,” he said, being both irrelevant and inaccurate simultaneously. “You really should try to keep an open mind about this.”

    “Okay,” I said agreeably, and I anticipated the pleasure of being convinced.

    Word travels fast at work. When Norm, the technical expert, came to my office he greeted me with: “So you hate computers, eh? I think we can make a believer out of you today. Just wait until you see this thing work!”

    “I never said it wouldn’t work. I said I could do the job just as easily with pencil and paper, that’s all,” I countered, and I gave him my chair so he could plug things into my machine.

    “Sure buddy,” he said, and began the process of producing a work list from the master list. “This will only take a minute pal,” he commented. “It used to be a big deal, taking most of the day, but now with this new computer program we can generate the whole list by a simple push of a button.”

    “Great!” I said, and I got a new chair and sat down to watch.

    After a few minutes, the fellow turned to me. “Heh, chum, call the foreman to come here. He has the password I need for this next part.” I left my chair and brought my boss back to my office.

    “Hiya, Norm.”

    “Hi, Fred.”

    “Give me the password will you? So I can download the program for the list.”

    “No problem, Fred. I’ll just call in Sue (the assistant). She has a sheet of paper with all the passwords. Go get Sue, will you, Dave? And let’s get to work!”

    “Sure thing, hot diggoty dog!” I said, trying to be eager, and I went looking for Sue. Sue was having a coffee break in her office with some of the staff.

    “What’s wrong? Break it already? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Can’t turn on the computer? Ha, ha. Dave’s the guy who is afraid of computers, wants us to do all our work in the dark by candlelight!” said Sue to the amused the lunch crowd. “So what’s the problem?”

    “The password. His nibs needs the password to get into the master list.”

    She told me that all we needed was to go to the website and log in under Mandy’s (the secretary’s) name and look under “passwords” or maybe under “code words.” “Here, get me Mandy on the phone.”

    I handed her the phone and Sue called Mandy to come back to the lunch room from the front desk. Then Sue, Mandy, and some others from the lunchroom went into my office to set things straight. I got some more chairs for everyone—there were four people sitting at my desk doing things with passwords on the computer and a crowd of curious onlookers eating sandwiches.

    “Heh, Dave! Bring in my coffee from the lunchroom, will you?” asked Sue.

    I got her coffee.

    “Great idea. Any left?” asked Norm.

    I got Norm a coffee, and a coffee for my boss.

    Then Norm said, “There’s something not right, hand me that phone will you? I need to call up Computer Services. This will only take a minute. Hi, Joe. Come up here, will you? We need your help for a sec. Great!” and then he hung up the phone. “Joe says he’s coming right up. He’s a great guy. You’ll like Joe. He’s a barrel of laughs. You shoulda’ seen him last Saturday night, a riot. Heh, did I ever tell you guys about my kids’ new teacher?”

    The crowd in my office had broken into small conversational groups so I slipped to the back of the office to get a book that I had been reading from the filing cabinet. Then I went to the coffee shop. As I was leaving I passed three technicians on their way into my office. Over the chatter and laughter coming from inside my office—evidence that everyone was working hard—I heard my boss say, “Dave doesn’t really have a head for technology.”