As much as I like new technology, I have a quaint interest in old technology. A few years ago I began purchasing vintage office equipment. From antique shops and swap meets I acquired typewriters and candlestick phones. But one interesting piece that I found was an Ediphone. An Ediphone is a dictating machine from the early 1900s and at that time was used for recording dictations on wax cylinders. As the latest piece of office equipment the Ediphone could record a good few minutes of dictation. It connects by way of a hose looking cord to a syphon looking microphone and came with a large rack for holding wax cylinders and recording upon. What I found interesting about it was that as I began researching my new purchase I discovered that I could purchase, today, newly made wax cylinders that I could record upon!
Technology Does Not Disappear
Not only can I purchase freshly made wax cylinders for my Ediphone, I can buy new rolls of tape for my vintage typewriters and replacement crank handles for my wall mounted phone. I then made an interesting discovery: that almost every vintage item can be bought brand new today. By way of example, every item from the Sears Roebuck Catalogue of 100 years ago can be purchased today, new! Not just limited to this period of time either. I could pick any other time period and I can today buy, brand new, every item. You can see this if you go along to a medieval fair where you can purchase goblets, hoes, and bone sewing needles. It seems that no technology ever really disappears. Sure, we don’t see Ediphones or ink wells upon our desks anymore but they are all still used in some capacity. It might be that that capacity is out of novelty for using an ancient device or even (as I have used them) as amusing ornaments in my office. All have a purpose. Technology may not disappear, although it might become much more niche.
A Mix of Technology In The Modern Office
When we are told that some new technology is going to replace some old technology we should not understand that in its literal sense, but more that the intention is to relegate the old technology to some particular niche. This can easily be seen in the various forms of communication that we might have with our clients. Email was intended to be a letter killer. We still get letters. I mean this differently from saying that there are some people who have not adopted new technology. I must say that I find it anachronistic when lawyers print off letters sign them and then scan them in to send by email. Instead they could have simply written it in an email, or created a pdf out of the Word documents without first printing it and signing. I am going to discuss my loathing of lawyers and government departments that still use fax machines. In that there is a particular place for different forms of communication. Email is convenient and instantaneous. But if I wish to send somebody an original document I might still post it or if I wish a beautiful note of thanks I might use elegant stationery and handwrite a short thanks. Or send a text message to someone that I am communicating with constantly. I use Microsoft Teams for all internal communication so that messages are filed within relevant channels and there is no clogging of inboxes with short messages that must be filed in some way. I have half a dozen video and messaging services such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger. I also have encrypted messaging and email platforms. And I think each of them has been billed as a replacement for all those that have come before it.
The Office of Tomorrow
For the office of tomorrow and adopting new technology you should plan that new technology will not replace old technology but will instead fill some specialised role and perhaps relegate the older technology to a niche. As convenient as instant messages are, they’re not suitable for writing lengthy opinion letters. If you’re getting a new filing system you should plan for it to sit along side several already extant filing systems. Document management software that is supposed to hold all of your client documents and correspondence will inevitably sit alongside the filing system of emails in your inbox, documents saved to local or cloud drives in Microsoft, documents shared by Drop Box, notes in OneNote, text messages, voicemails, faxes received, handwritten notes, and faxes received (from those lawyers and government departments still operating in the 1980s). In work that I’ve done with Ailira setting up private research systems for clients it’s not uncommon to come across larger organisations that have files stored across literally hundreds of storage and filing systems. The benefit is that Ailira, as a semantic search, reads through the text of these and doesn’t need the documents to be stored in any particular filing system. So how will we use artificial intelligence like Ailira in the office of tomorrow? Alongside a dozen (or a hundred) other systems to fulfil a particular requirement that the others do not — find things wherever they are stored. Maybe my next development should be a module for Ailira to be able to read wax cylinders for my Ediphone.