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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

Playing Computer Part 1

The first in a series of articles that will expose the ineptitude of the common working man when it comes to his dealings with the pinnacle of office appliances: The Personal Computer.

Over the past few months of car pooling, the subject of what people actually do at work all day has come up more than its fair share of times. It seems like every job that leans in the slightest towards the white collar world, is completely and utterly chained to the personal computer. Sales associates, teachers, accountants, managers, supervisors, receptionists, business analysts, CEO's, and consultants all spend a considerable part of every day sitting behind a computer.

My commuting partner and I deal with many of these types of people on a daily basis, often involving some sort of media exchange and/or something requiring a visit to a website or two. It is apparent from these dealings that despite the countless hours they spend pecking, squinting and clicking behind their overtly square displays, most of them are barely capable of using their computers for anything other that checking email, typing up a document in a word processor, and shopping.

Use Your Computer

When your company gives you a computer to help you do your job, what do you do with it? Most of the people I know seem to use it for everything. At least, that's the way it looks. Every last one of them is hunched over, squinting and clicking their little mice for most of the day.

I use my computer for everything. I send email, do research on the internet, take notes, make to-do lists, schedule meetings, prepare presentations and reports, track expenses and statistics, write memos, edit and organize photographs, and listen to music to keep me whistling while I work throughout the day. All these things are in addition to the specific tasks related to my job, which for the most part is making websites.

I always imagined most people were doing the same with their computers—the common menial things that keep them organized and some specialized stuff specific to their unique gig. For example, a recording engineer uses his computer to keep business moving along, in addition to the actual recording/mixing/mastering of the music. It seems simple enough. Know the basics to stay organized, and the fancy stuff related to your trade.

Numerous times throughout the day, however, I am reminded how very simple it is not.

Take a simple oversight like forgetting about a meeting. An extremely difficult mistake for me to make, because my computer reminds me with little pop-up messages that count down to the time that meeting begins. Someone who genuinely forgets about a meeting is obviously not using their computer to help them stay organized in this respect.

"Oh, yes! I had that report for you laying around here somewhere... I can't seem to find it..."

Again, a simple mistake for someone who is not really using their computer to its fullest extent. I don't know about yours, but my computer has about 5000 different ways to find anything stored on it in seconds. Why print a report on paper for someone unless they specifically request that you do? You increase the chances of it becoming lost or damaged, increase its exposure to people who shouldn't see it, and you must make some sort of contact with the receiving party(s) in order to deliver it. A simple email attachment can be delivered at all party's convenience, and there is the side benefit of a time stamped record that the item was delivered.

I occasionally still hear people sarcastically mention the old notion of the paperless office, an impossible ideal from the turn of the millennium. An impossible ideal that I have been practicing since 2002. Of course you can't be entirely paperless, but you can drastically reduce your consumption and clutter by only printing documents that must have a signature, driving directions or if asked to do so by a colleague or client.

With the exception of signed documents that need to be archived, maps can be discarded after use and printing things for your contacts has the benefit of you giving the paper for them to clutter up their office with.

As a result, I never have more than two or three pieces of paper sitting on my desk, and have had the same, half-used ream of recycled paper sitting under my desk since 2002. Paperless? Nearly. Clutter-less? Absolutely.

The only negative side effect to this that I hadn't realized, is how frustrating it is for me to deal with the countless situations of people pointing to the fuzzy splotches of glue residue on their monitors that were once the post-it note containing the phone number I needed.

Indeed, simple information and document management. Surely something most people think they have a pretty good handle on... Next time we will delve into the über frustrating realm of multimedia.