Tag Archives: Instant Messaging

All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.


Death of the Postscript?

Oh, BTW.

Just an afterthought

Do you remember the postscript? You know, that extra thought preceded by a PS, usually appearing after the signature in a letter. I’ve come to the realization postscripts are a thing of the past, a relic of the days in which we would actually write letters, cards, and notes and send them to others. When using pen and ink, one had no choice but to put an afterthought in a postscript. The computer has put an end to that. Regardless of the medium, any afterthought you have can easily be inserted in the body of the main message prior to sending. Even when instant messaging or texting, there’s no longer a need for what used to be the fairly ubiquitous PS (sometimes even a PPS). Just keep adding to the thread.

This came to me the other day when, after posting something to Facebook, I realized I wanted to add another thought. Of course, it was too late to edit the original post, but I was able to comment on my own post, which is exactly what I did. In fact, I even preceded the comment with a “PS”. It dawned on me this wasn’t quite the same usage as those of us who can remember actual written communication were used to. In those days, if you didn’t include the PS you were forever barred from adding – and let’s not forget commenting, texting, etc. are virtually instantaneous – the afterthought.

I have no clear idea how this affects our ability to communicate, though I suspect it’s an improvement in clarity of thought. Given some of the lamentations I’ve read over the decline of the English language and proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in today’s rapid-fire communications, I assume there are those who would disagree with me. Nevertheless, that’s my story.

PS – I’m sticking to it!

Older People Aren’t as Dumb as you Think, Kid

Whenever most people talk about technology and people my age, it amazes me how many assume we can’t set the time on a VCR (remember those?) or that our view of IM is that it’s a tool primarily useful for young teenagers to plot their escape from under their parents’ watchful eyes. Perhaps, as a generalization this is somewhat true, but it’s not really a correct depiction of how we more “mature” folks use and view technology. The reality is far more complex.

As someone who struggled for well over two decades to bring the latest technology into a large, ponderous, and eminently cautious aerospace company, I have encountered all types of people, from foot draggers (lots of them) to early (and enthusiastic) adopters. Obviously, my favorite is the latter but the challenge really presents itself in the former. One thing I found is that things aren’t always as they seem either.

For instance, I was working with a person who was the Director of a newly formed organization. He was nearing the end of his career, which had been very successful. He was a wonderful person; friendly, helpful, and full of joy and excitement for his job and the work of others. He was very supportive of using newer technology yet, despite continuous efforts to engage him in instant message conversations (our offices were quite a ways apart), he never responded to me. Frustrating!

One day I happened to be in his office to talk with him for a while. As I was sitting there he was composing an email. It was then I realized why he wouldn’t answer my IM communication attempts. He used what an old friend of mine used the call the “search and destroy” method of typing; what most call “hunt and peck”. Carrying on an IM conversation for him would be like talking with a very bad stutter and it just didn’t leave him with a warm fuzzy, so he did the best thing for him. He opted out.

So be careful how you categorize or pigeonhole people. This very successful individual had spent a long career doing just fine without IM. As much as I believe it was a superior tool for communication and that it served to enhance our ability to share (I sometimes now think of it as a stunted form of micro-blogging) information and knowledge, virtually all of his career had proceeded rather nicely without it. I knew I had to accept this and make adjustments.

He retired within a year and I, for one, was very sorry to see him go. Keep in mind there are many more wonderful people in your organizations like him – to one degree or another. Don’t shortchange them or your company by selling them short just because they don’t see the use of technology exactly like you do.

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