Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

A few more ways the world has changed

Posted by shannonclark on August 11, 2008

After I posted my last post on how the world has changed in my lifetime already I have thought of a few other major ways the world has changed around me.

  1. Smoking. As a child my father smoked a pipe in our house, at least one pipefull most evenings, the smell of his tabacco remains a childhood memory. He stopped, cold turkey, when I was in high school on the advice of his dentist. But as a child there was smoking everywhere, smoking sections on planes, smoking inside of buildings. Every house still had ashtrays and every building’s lobby had many receptacles for cigarettes in the building lobbies and inside of offices. Until just a few years ago smoking was still allowed in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Chicago. But this has changed quite rapidly in my lifetime. Smokers used to be the ones who were accomodated, I distinctly recall that people said that smoker’s couldn’t survive a cross-country flight without smoking so the other passengers would just have to continue to accomodate them.
  2. Payphones. On a trip during college to Boston I recall distinctly that I could take the T and make two phone calls for a $1, payphone calls in Boston at the time were just $0.10 which I thought was quite the bargain, they were closer to $0.25 in Chicago. For most of my life payphones were a very common sight, you needed them to call anyone when you were out, I carried change with me then later on memorized a calling card number. Nowadays both are unnecessary, almost everyone has a cellphone, I have in fact given up on giving out my landline number to anyone. It is only when my parents are visiting that I am reminded what it was like before everyone had a cell phone – my parents for some reason have refused to get a cell phone, so when they are traveling they have to either find a payphone or borrow someone’s phone to call me.
  3. Travel Agents and paper airline tickets. As a child my father traveled frequently for work, he had a subscription to the OAG (Official Airline Guide) but for the most part he also had secretaries (next entry) who booked his travel for him with the corporate travel agencies. For our family trips my mom would organize our travels with a local travel agent and she would go and pick up the paper tickets. In the 90’s on my own I would for the most part book my travels myself, when I worked for a company even as recently as the late 90’s I was told a travel agent to use when I needed to arrange travels. Even just a few years ago I had a problem as a result of having paper tickets for a complex trip I had booked for a business trip which I then had to change. Something which almost never happens now just a few years late as paper tickets have pretty much ceased.
  4. Secretaries. Except perhaps when I was very young and my father was a college professor, for most of my childhood my father always had a secretary, sometimes one he shared with other executives but mostly a private secretary, who typed for him, who booked his travels and managed his appointments and schedules. Today without anyone exactly setting it down secretaries have become increasingly rare, fewer and fewer people and businesses have secretaries, or if they have any they are shared amongst many people. When I took time off from college in the mid-90’s I actually worked as a temp for Kelly (well not as a Kelly “girl” guess more a Kelly man), I knew how to use office software with a very high level of proficiency and I typed almost 100 words a minute, as a result I earned the highest rate, over $20/hr (and this was when I was 20 so pretty decent money) and in my brief employment there I saw what secretaries and receptionists did for a wide range of companies. Today most people in business handle their own tasks which were previously done by secretaries – book their own travels online (or via a corporate website) and prepare their own documents and presentations. I suspect this has meant a pretty major change in business, a change that was fairly slow in coming but a very big one.

I suspect I’ll think of even more changes after I post this.

One Response to “A few more ways the world has changed”

  1. Good to note the disappearance of the secretary.

    I worked in a Red Cross local office as a secretary (volunteer) one summer – the general round of typing, filing etc. They had an old electronic IBM Selectric typewriter which I managed to coerce into automatically printing donation thanks letters with a few simple inputs instead of a lot of keyboarding.

    The one world where secretaries appear to still be ubiquitous are in legal firms and in larger organizations in management. The name has changed, though; these are “administrative assistants” or “admins”. Naturally they wield an enormous amount of unspoken power, and woe betide thee to not treat them well – they do things like keep calendars, negotiate schedules and appointments, and otherwise handle communications flow.

    There’s an industry of the “virtual admin”, the outsourced, shared person who does these tasks remotely; I guess I’d wonder how that works out in practice.

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