Office Slavery

I don’t think I need explain how much I love the world of tech. I love the software and hardware and firmware and wares of all gradations on the digital Moh Scale in between. I love smartphones and watches and ebooks and media players and social networking services and maxiblogs and miniblogs and microblogs. I love audioboo and audiobooks. I love earphones and earplugs and visors and touchscreens and MUDs and HUDs and apps and apple and applets.

And yet. Oh and yet…

Most mornings I have to get up unfeasibly early just to keep my head above the rising tide of emails, direct messages and voicemails that have flooded my various inboxes. For two hours I reply to these and fiddle and faddle and fossick and finagle. This morning it’s been four hours and I’m still owing at least fifty responses. I am not alone in this. It might be that I have more to get through than most, but I’m sure there are others with even heavier caseloads to deal with.

When I watch an old TV sketch or drama set in an office it takes some time to spot What’s Wrong With This Picture. Most business people didn’t have computers on their desks until the mid-eighties. Desks had intercoms, pads of paper, an electronic calculator and executive toys like the Newton’s Cradle and the 8-Ball Decision maker. You look at a busy police incident room, a buzzing news room or any kind of office from the pre-digital age and you realise that there are no computers and you try and remember how work got done back then.

Well, there were people called secretaries. They would file documents, pay and send out invoices and arrange meetings and run diaries. They would type up and send letters that were dictated, sometimes personally, often into recording machines.

“Can I use your dictaphone?” “No, use your finger like everyone else”

The computer revolution that has set us all free has actually come close to enslaving us. Executives who once relied on secretaries to do their typing and their admin now have to do it all themselves. They even have to get their own coffee and pinch their own bottoms.

I suppose it’s good for the soul, but it doesn’t half give one pause.

Oh well. Back to the inbox. And then I’ll have to think of things to twitter. And then it’ll be lunchtime and I’ll come back to another fifty emails.

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58 comments on “Office Slavery”

  1. ecnu says:

    Stephen, if you are having to strain to think of things to tweet and you find the process taxing, then you should not do it at all! Tweeting is about carelessly tossing around thoughts, feelings, anecdotes and ideas – to give the follower, every time you do it, a little piece of you.

  2. Tony Fisk says:

    Wading through all those emails gives rise to an interesting question:
    Who has time to *write* all those @#! emails in the first place??
    (I mean, apart from the ones that offer help in allowing you to use your dictaphone!)
    The issue of not reading spam, on the other hand, suggests that secretaries haven’t gone away, they’ve just been uploaded to gmail

  3. traceychorley says:

    I always knew that secretarys were much missed. I worked as one for 9 nine years and got fed up of being called “just-a-secretary” for a large chunk of it. I wish that people were more appreciative, they might get their coffee brought to them then!

  4. Saffers says:

    Oh how true! I used to be a secretary, years ago, and I was constantly correcting my manager’s grammar and spelling. Now there are fewer secretaries and the standard of written English has suffered too. And no one seems to check their work; I see so many mistakes on the website (I work for a local authority).
    Nice little piece, thanks.

  5. LizzA says:

    My mum’s a secretary. :)
    But that’s because her boss can barely read or write to save his life, let alone use a computer.

    One wonders how he’s a manager… ;P


  6. Ghost Code says:


    Hardware buzzing responses
    The personal revolution
    Relied on to sketch free love

    Enslaving executives with typing
    Police the wrong firmware
    Graduations in the tech

    Arrange the news decision maker
    Direct digital secretaries
    To finagle meetings with an old TV soul

  7. Farrell Grayson says:

    Maybe you need to take a week off from technology. Tweet or blog that you’re going to go fall off the edge of the world for a bit, and then do just that. Let the email sit for a few days, turn the phone off. I am aware that this wouldn’t be a simple thing for you to do…quite a lot of your digital correspondence is work-related and probably time-sensitive. I bet it *could* be done, though, and the time off might be worth it.

  8. jdaldous says:

    Ah, despite you informing me as to why I feel so frazzled right now I actually feel less so. Thanks!

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