As computer users, I like to think Chris and I were on the early-adopter side.
In 1980, at my very first – and very short-lived - job out of college, I was trained at McGraw-Hill Publishing to use a Macintosh computer. Several Macs were quarantined in a room high above the Avenue of the Americas, and as I recall, you practically had to know COBOL to efficiently operate the things. We were constantly sending SOS’s to the McGraw-Hill equivalent of Joan on Mad Men to untangle the problems we had created. (She didn’t look like Joan, but she was most definitely the Boss Lady). Because codes with dozens of slashes and colons were required to do the simplest tasks, all the administrative assistants much preferred to use the easy, familiar IBM Selectrics that sat on our desks in the bullpen.
At my next jobs in Washington and Philadelphia, everyone was still using typewriters. I’ll never forget one secretary at J. Walter Thompson making a bet with her boss that she could not produce a perfect, error-free letter. He didn’t want to see any wite-out or carbon correction marks. Over and over, the secretary tried and failed. Finally she came and begged me to try – and I too failed. The pressure was too much.
In 1983, I joined a small ad agency in suburban Philadelphia that got a computer only for the secretary. With this, she was able to order type for our ads and publications, which was then overnighted to us from the typehouse in Virginia on shiny scrolls of paper. This innovation put an end to the tradition of scruffy delivery guys (they were all fat, as I recall) who used to ride Amtrak through the Mid-Atlantic region, hand-delivering type to agencies in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.
In 1987, Chris and I started our own firm. One of our first purchases was a computer – giant and beige – which used the DOS operating system. Pale letters on a grey-blue screen. Disks that were made of hard, brittle plastic. Paper that came in huge connected piles, with punched out dots that had to be threaded properly in the printer.
When the internet came along, we hopped on board. Some clients hired us because (they admitted) we were the only agency with a website. One newspaper hired us to promote them because we were the only PR firm sending news releases via email.
All of which brings me to my major point. When trying to go to google, which I do a hundred times a day, or to any website, I still type “www” in the search bar. Apparently this is no longer necessary, but nobody told me until last year. It’s a habit that is nearly impossible to break.
Last summer, our intern would notice me doing this. He would smile and say nothing. Ian and Hugh, if they happen to oversee this embarrassing display of fogey-dom, will kindly remind me that the w’s are history. Malcolm just snickers.
Last season on 30 Rock, Tina Fey obviously felt the pain of all of us who are stuck in the old days. She and the teenage assistant were trying to track down some information online. By the time Tina had painstakingly reached the third “W” on her laptop’s search bar, the impossibly young secretary had thumbed her way to the answer on her blackberry. Or iPhone. Or whatever she uses.
Just another reason I love Tina Fey. She’s only 40, but she pretends to have the same problems of uncool middle age.Am I alone in the Cretacious period of computerdom?