FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY
It is 15 years since I formed the RMS Disability Issues Consultancy and in an attempt to increase efficiency, I have looked at upgrades to our computer system to try and work towards a paperless office.
However, it is only when you take stock of how your business operates that you realise just how essential technology is to productivity and why there is such a pressing need to keep abreast of changes.
When I think back to my time in the Civil Service, its computer systems were DOS based. There were no graphics to make the screen more interesting, just a black background with a flashing green cursor that gave way to lurid green letters.
I left the Civil Service in 1993, and had lots of ideas as to how I could make my living, but the first thing I had to do was get a computer. Until then, any written work done at home was usually done on an electric typewriter. For disabled people, the electric typewriter was a milestone. In the early years the way I typed came in a number of fashions – not least, the Possum system, that depended on you having enough breath to blow fifty trombones to produce a half decent piece of typing. I then progressed to using two sticks to bash away on the keyboard!
Eventually the time had come to consign the typewriter to the loft, and so my search for technology took me to Genesis Computers. The name of the Company should give you some indication as to the infancy of home based computers when I started my search. For those readers who have forgotten their Sunday School days or Catechism teachings, Genesis is the first book of the bible, and starts with the phrase “In the beginning …” This first visit to Genesis was something akin to the coming of the Messiah. It saw me take my first faltering steps into the world of “WYSIWYG” (“What you see is what you get”) and being embraced by Windows 3.1. Within days, a room at the front of our house was turned into an office, with a desk and filing cabinet. My new acquisition arrived, and was duly installed. The monitor looked rather like the old portable black and white TV’s that were around the in the 1970’s, the hard drive was big and bulky, the printer cranked and groaned, but it all came in a tasteful beige colour that matched the telephone perfectly.
This revolutionary piece of technology saw me move closer to my master plan – and that was to write my autobiography. However, before that, it managed to get my youngest sister through her Social Work degree, whilst allowing me to develop my business in Disability Equality Training and radio and television work, which were to become the backbone of my post Civil Service working life.
The beauty of the computer was that if you made a mistake, you just deleted the error, corrected the mistake and marched on to a printed masterpiece. That was something you could only dream of, having run out of Tippex when using the electric typewriter. Further, because I had to hold the Tippex lid between my teeth to be able to reach the paper to correct errors, the fumes would make me quite light headed!!
The next technological step was a fax machine. Deadlines for written work seemed less daunting and it seemed rather grand to have a fax number added to your letterhead.
But this technology bandwagon is a rollercoaster that gives an adrenalin rush each time a new product comes on the market. Windows 95 was looming. By this time, Steve had introduced a new computer system into his office, four miles from home, and installed a computer of his own in my office. He had the two linked by some wonderful invention called a modem, and this allowed him to access any computer in his office if he needed to work from home. The reliability of the modem was questionable, but in 1995 it was a breakthrough in communication that we take completely for granted today.
Having upgraded to Windows 95 and acquired a colour monitor, the marvel of the internet and its endless possibilities became part of my life. Shortly after that email became the “must have” piece of computer wizardry. Soon I was conversing with people the length of the country and overseas at the touch of a button.
Almost simultaneously I dabbled with the early versions of voice activated software. Literally you can control a computer through voice activation, you can dictate and, as if by magic, the words appear on the screen. On the one hand this new invention was nothing short of miraculous technology in that it alleviated the huge effort of having to type with two sticks. However, on the other hand you needed the patience of a saint to keep correcting the errors and training the software to understand your voice! Even in this day and age you have to be patient and work with the software to make sure that you get the best out of your system.
In 1998, I ventured into the world of Windows 98 and Office 97. These new applications allowed me to develop my Disability Equality presentations and work with PowerPoint. The use of database applications also became necessary in order to keep the business accounts up to date, and the systems that I introduced then, are still being used today – albeit in a more advanced form.
The end of the 90’s and into the noughties, saw my experimenting with different types of laptop that I use for presentations and work away from the office, but I confess there is something comforting about a desktop. It sits in front of you every morning ready to categorise your emails into SPAM and allows you to Tweet without having to worry about whether you charged the laptop overnight.
And so, back to where I started, our current systems are as up to date as they can be, but have advancements in technology made me any more efficient?
Will RMS ever be a completely paperless enterprise? Sadly I doubt it.
My biggest downfall is that I am a hoarder; I hate throwing things away and procrastinate when having to do so. Also, I still yearn for the shuffling of paper (once a Civil Servant always a Civil Servant!), even though almost every part of my working life is now downloaded to my desktop. It may be just flicking through the pages of the Disability Now magazine to see what raucous film or stage production Mat Fraser is currently involved in; or to find out whether Eddie Freeman has overstepped the mark with his witty cartoon humour. Nothing beats the ceremonial opening of the daily post, and I think most people would agree with that sentiment. It’s somehow rather nice to be able to categorise your post and to decide what junk mail is capable of recycling. For just a couple of minutes each day, it is good to be able to determine one’s own destiny without it being totally controlled by a chip, micro-chip or some enormous megabyte waiting to absorb your command from the voice activated software.
By the same token, it is also quite satisfying at the end of the day to log onto Facebook and have a peek at what other people have been doing during the day, before I send Steve an email and tell him I fancy one of his yummy Thai curries for dinner.
And then the final exhilarating daily action, my desktop faithfully asks me whether I should save my changes? “YES” I will save the changes …“Microphone Off” !!