Rundles wrap up: Better technology?

You gotta love technology. It makes so many things easier to do, and it makes every individual unquestionably more productive. In the old days, if we reporters needed to check the spelling of someone’s name, we’d have to make a call; if we needed background, we’d call an expert or go to the public library, or check with out-of-date reference books. It was very time-consuming, but at the time, seemed normal.

Today we can just go to the Internet, check the website and find thousands of references in seconds. We’re generally much more prepared for interviews and can report much more in a fraction of the time. I wish I could say that it has enhanced quality, but it is a fact that quantity is way up (per-person, at least).

I remember more than 20 years ago I heard that a prominent 17th Street “silk stocking” law firm was going high-tech with a new computer system – although what they put in would look like the Gutenberg press to 20-somethings today. In any case, I thought it would make a good article – more productive lawyers; what a concept – so I called the head man, attorney John Moye, to see what impact the technology was having on his practice of law. He said it was making the lawyers more productive, but because they were turning out more work in shorter periods of time it also had the effect of energizing the clients to demand more for the billable hour.     

Technology, obviously, raises expectations, if not results. It has completely transformed long-standing traditional businesses and industries, and it creates, at an accelerating rate, new ventures and opportunities that our pre-technology selves could never have imagined. Who, 25 years ago, would have foreseen Google, Facebook, or hand-held, immediate and comprehensive contact with competitive pricing, product reviews, inventory and much more – all, as they say, in “real time?” It is truly an unreal time.    

But it’s not all good. One morning last month I went to my computer, as usual, to check my email, make contact with my colleagues and clients and get my workday going. I was waiting for a few, highly important, deadline-pressing communications that I had been up late working on the night prior, and I was looking forward to completing my tasks and moving on to the next batch.

Brick wall. For some reason Comcast was “experiencing service interruptions” in my area and I was essentially out of business. No email, no internet, no business lifeline. At first I thought it was a local issue, as in my personal connection, so I spent a frustrating couple of hours checking all my connections and attempting to diagnose the problem. Finally I called Comcast, told a mechanical attendant I was experiencing “no Internet,” and while I waited on hold for nearly 15 minutes a voice came on about a thousand times to recommend that I visit their website for more immediate help. How considerate.

What it made me think about was the manual typewriter, dial telephone, notepad and ink pen that used to be the tools of my trade. Not even a power outage would shut me down if I had a window or a flashlight. I never had to talk with someone in India or at the “help desk” to change the ribbon, and if we needed to consult a co-worker we didn’t text or email, but rather – quaintly looking back – walked down the hall. I planned my day and week out taking into consideration that I might need to call certain people, and catch them at their desk or office, and that I probably needed to visit a library or court docket room once in awhile. It was all so genteel.

Now I am more productive, have more information at my fingertips in seconds than I could have tapped back then in a month, and quite often my frustration level is off the charts.

Is technology worth it? Probably. But it’s instructive every now and then to remember that more isn’t necessarily better.