Computers Rule the World

By Sandra Sylvester | May 02, 2012

Remember when we were all afraid that computers would take over our jobs? In a way, that happened to me. Before I tell my history with computers, I’d like you to read this clipping I saved from the Hartford Courant, November 25, 1979. It comes from the AP in London:

Computer Might Fire Poor Errant Humans

“A union leader has warned secretaries not to annoy the office computer or it might decide to give them the sack.

“Roy Grantham, commenting on a report by his union on the effects of new technology, says some offices now are using computers which measure a typist’s performance and issue disciplinary warnings if the work is not up to scratch.

“He says the machines can even time tea breaks.”

Can you even believe that? How do you “annoy” a computer? Did offices then have only one computer? Who hires “typists” anymore? Typewriters are fast becoming extinct and collectible as antiques. I think I had nine or ten of them before I finally got my first computer.

As for keeping track of your performance at the jobsite, I’ve had experiences in that department at my last job. We had something called a “covalent.” Every time you picked up a page of an ad to read you had to record it at your covalent site on your computer. All my work, proofreading and whatever else I did during the day, was recorded this way. At the end of the day, I printed out this “covalent” and put it in my boss’ inbox.

I was supposed to clock out on this “covalent” every time I took a break, “tea time?”  or even bathroom breaks or when I went to lunch. I put my foot down there and only clocked out for lunch. Enough is enough after all.

In a way, computers did me in when I worked at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center. I was hired as an assistant to the publications director. I did paste up, some writing, and typeset all materials used at the Center for publicity.

 At first I used a typesetter in which you could only see one line of type at a time. If you made a mistake you had to retype the whole line. Then I graduated to a bigger typesetter with a computer-sized screen to look at which I could edit easier. It was about five feet wide and three feet high. I had to set it up with a special keypad every time I did a job. I could really make that thing sing. The picture here shows me sitting in front of it.

Picture of typesetterIt had two cylinder wheels accessed by a top-opening door where you changed typefaces. You could put two strips of film on it at a time which meant about eight typefaces of each particular type. Not exactly the computer we are familiar with today. I expect that machine is stowed away in some corner at this point gathering dust along with Raymond Anderson’s hand press and Brother Ted’s linotype which they both used to make sing at the old Courier. They all may end up in a museum of printmaking some day if they haven’t already. I must say I miss the sound of the old linotypes. They sounded like music boxes gone wild, but it was always a comforting sound to me.

Samuel Clemons went broke trying to invent a computer. He was way before his time. He ended up with what can be described as a very sophisticated linotype. It takes up most of a wall in the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut. They’ll show it to you if you tour the house. I assume a volunteer does dust it from time to time.

There came a time at the Center when like many non-profit organizations, staff cuts had to be made. As my department was only a two-woman operation, I obviously had to go. My boss was allowed to purchase a new computer in which she could do many of the tasks I used to do. She didn’t need to do hand paste-ups anymore and she hired a part-time typist to type in material for her. As I didn’t yet know how to use a computer and couldn’t survive on a part-time job anyway, I was let go.

With the generous severance package I was given, I took a short Macintosh computer course. I did quite well and found I really did enjoy using it. Therefore, when I applied for my last job in which I was required to use a Macintosh as a big part of my job, my course helped me to get the job. Although I didn’t know how to use all their programs, it didn’t take me long to catch on. I then became one more “computer” worker in a new computer world.

The 80s and 90s saw a big surge in computer use. No office today exists without a computer on every desk. We use it to socialize; to communicate with other computers; to do research; and to do so many other things. Not many homes exist without at least one personal computer on hand.

Science fiction was fast to pick up on this phenomenon called “the computer age.” Remember “A Space Odyssey 2001” and all the other movies where computers take over the world. I also enjoyed the TV show starring Jessica Alba, “Dark Angel,” which took place in Seattle after a world-wide computer meltdown. The country becomes a police state and exists as a third-world nation.

The year 2000 was supposed to bring on such a catastrophe, but it never happened. Computers are becoming more and more sophisticated and, unfortunately, they feature an overload of advertisements which continually get in your way while online. Sometimes you can avoid these “pop-ups” and sometimes you can’t.

I’ve had a few personal computer “melt-downs” of my own. I end up running to Geeks to fix it and save my documents. I now keep paper copies of everything I write because I really don’t trust the back-up systems available. Call me old-fashioned, but paper never goes away at the click of a mouse.

I am now on my third or fourth computer, I forget, plus I also have a laptop. My phone is computer accessible, but I don’t use it at the present time. I have a couple of other devices I just acquired which are also computer-capable. When I learn how to use them, I’ll probably carry them with me on trips instead of the laptop.

Do you believe that computers have taken over the world? If so, how do you think we’d do without them? At this point in time, that is a scary question.

Thanks for listening.

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