The clack, clack, clack, ring of the old Olivettis used to inform us how busy the department was.
A pool of twelve or so young women, their painted fingernails clattering over the stiff keys before the bell of a carriage return signified the end of a line, would touch type our output.
The noisier it was, the more work we had on, though in those days, the mid-1970’s, we were encouraged by our supervisors to do no more than was necessary to meet the quotas guaranteed by the unions.
Looking back, it seems so romantic, though my memories are inevitably wreathed in the cigarette haze of our open plan, smoke polluted office.
We were a desk of 8 lost young souls, responding to customer complaints and returns on phone-sized Dictaphone machines whose full tapes we would pass to the Pitman trained typing pool for production, one letter-headed copy to the customer, a pink copy for accounts, a blue one for sales and a green one for filing, each sheet interspersed with the deep blue smudge maker we called carbon paper.
On the top floor of the industrial unit that housed the office, the green archive copies of our work hung in rolodexes, often never to be found again, depending on who was doing the filing that week.
Olivetti, carriage return, union quotas, cigarette smoke, rolodex, Dictaphone, tapes and carbon paper. Vocabulary and ideas that now, 45 years later, seem as dated as the dinosaurs. Odd that only Pitman has outlasted the good old days and stayed ahead of the game, its offering having evolved at a faster rate than the process of change.
But were they really the “good old days?”
Not really. Wages were poor, conditions were awful and work seemed to be a means of stifling creativity.
Today, personal computers, the internet and smartphones have liberated workers, allowing us to add more and more value for our employers and creating space for us to decide how we will approach each banal task from a range of options, and that can only be good for the soul.
Increasing productivity is easier, too, as technology facilitates better and better performance at work.
So I can’t claim to feel nostalgic for the old days, but just because I remember them, does that make me a dinosaur?
Published by Holborn Training.
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