Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tape, Glue Stick or Rubber Cement?

At this point in my life, I've been in the workforce for twenty-five years and have witnessed wondrous technological advances.

The fax machine, for example, was still making its awkward debut when I was indentured (I mean hired) by the Moore County Citizen News-Record to work as a newspaper reporter. To say budgets were a little tight at the Citizen would be like saying Ted Cruz is only slightly power hungry. A nickel didn't get spent without full consent of the managing editor, the editor-in-chief and my Mother giving written approval in triplicate. Consequently, the pricey thermal paper of early fax machines was a highly coveted item. You didn't dare scroll a superfluous inch of it unless you wanted to be violently chastised by the office controller.

When the fax machine started clicking, whirring, buzzing and bleeping to life, all activity in the office skidded to a halt. We stood around the fax room -- yes, the fax machine had its own private room -- like extras from "The Music Man" waiting for the WellsFargo wagon to start a comin' down the street.

"A fax came for me! I got a fax! Did you get a fax? No? I did!"

These days, the fax machine is looked on as a quaint and nearly irrelevant relic of bygone days, like the PalmPilot or handwritten thank you notes. The fax machine barely lasted as long as the lifespan of a really healthy cat.

Since 1990, workplaces have moved from clunkily networked computer terminals all linked to an outdated mainframe and one overworked laser printer, to everyone having their own laptops routed via wifi to dedicated Bluetooth printers. And if you needed to touch base with someone back then, you couldn't pull a smartphone out of your pocket for a quick video chat. You reached in your pocket for a quarter and found a pay phone.

Now, I'm not one of those curmudgeons who bemoans the loss of carefree, technology-free days. I like my smartphone, and my laptop, and my Bluetooth printers. I love carrying around eight days of music on a single device and being able to watch Harry Potter movies on my iPhone while traveling by plane from Raleigh to Columbus. If anything, I'm wondering why all processes and functions haven't embraced the advances of the past few decades.

Perhaps my greatest hope is to see technology impact the way I submit monthly expense reports, specifically the turning in of receipts.

At the beginning of each month, I sit at my desk and gather scraps of paper of various sizes that should match up to all the purchases I made during the previous month. At least one is usually missing, and sometimes five or six. In twenty-five years, I've probably submitted only one expense report for which I managed to find all the corresponding receipts.

Once gathered, I take out a pair of scissors and trim the excess edges from the receipts.

Why? Because when you have to tape all those little receipts to sheets of printer paper, you want to get as many on one sheet as possible. Why, you might ask, is it necessary to tape all those little receipts to printer paper and mail a huge bundle of papers halfway across the country? Because the expense report accounting process is stuck somewhere between Byzantine and kindergarten finger painting lessons. Even the antiquated fax machine is too high-tech to be part of this process.

In a day and age when my son can FaceTime his friends using a smartphone connected to high-speed internet via wireless router while sitting on the toilet, it amazes me that I am required to complete an important administrative task for which I have to make a choice between tape, glue stick and rubber cement.

© 2015 Mark Feggeler