Page the Millenium!

In this article, Charles Lee Swem opines on how technology will affect the job of a stenographer in his future. He concludes by making a rather big caveat about his reasoning. Little he knew about the substantial changes that would lie ahead.

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  1. I work for the State of New Jersey at a university. And Civil Service has kept the stenographer title alive. However, no one–not for a good 15 years or so–has had the shorthand skill necessary to fill the title. So we fudge it with a non-steno stenographer title for those jobs where the stenographic aspect of the job needs to be waived.

    I still say the executives here (and everywhere else for that matter) could be so much more efficient and productive WITH a good stenographer than they are now. Before I got involved in this massive data conversion project, I was going to teach shorthand just so our employees could learn the skill and move up to the higher, better-paying stenographer title. But this project is dragging on and I just don't have the time to teach, unfortunately. Not now, anyway.

  2. Based on my experience, the best administrative assistants are those from the old school, those that knew everything: filing, typing, answering the phone, do a balance sheet, shorthand, meeting minutes, mail sorting, etc., and can run an office without the boss even being there. I'm not sure how many of them are still around. Nowadays, in big corporations, from what I've seen, they do not do much typing and document preparation: most of the assistants' work is calendaring, answering the phone, and preparing expense reports. So the stenographer has become in essence a receptionist. The boss does meeting minutes, and a writer or the same boss does his own letter and document writing. I'm not sure if it is lack of preparation from the schools, or lack of interest, or division of labor, or whatever other reason, but the current crop really doesn't cut it, in my opinion. When I have to teach an admin how to do a simple function in Word or in Excel, I sense there is something wrong … Heck, sometimes not even a smile!!!

  3. A receptionist without a smile? Horrors!

    Temporary work has its drawbacks, but one of the things I like about it is that I do get to learn and use a wide range of skills, sometimes even on the same assignment, if the office is small enough.

    Mr. Swem's comments about the machine's inability to use judgement are borne out by SpellCheck, and even GrammarCheck. They are useful tools, but no substitute for language skills. As for the software functions, my impression, based on the questions and requests for help I field, is that people are afraid they might break something if they start clicking on the menus without knowing exactly what to do.

  4. I've babysat my share of new computer users, often after the computer guy is convinced they know. He showed them once or even twice.

    My greatest successes came from being busy. I'd do it once from their seat (reading from the manual in front of me), then they'd do it once (with the same manual in front of them and me in the guest chair doing my own work), then I'd be too busy to help immediately the third time. They'd call me in 30 minutes saying they did it all by themselves. (And, yes, if they didn't call with success within an hour I'd go over and repeat stage 2 as often as necessary, as long as they truly wanted to learn.)

    Many bosses didn't put the same emphasis on spelling and presentation as good secretaries did. We've all seen the letters "typed by the boss".

    Then there's the company that combined afternoon-shift reception with the unionized job of tool-crib. Understandable accent wasn't in the list. Nice, helpful guy, but he couldn't leave his post to find people and we couldn't understand him over the PA.

  5. It's rather sad to see the way most offices are run today with no Administrative Assistant/Stenographer to run things, take notes and prepare minutes of meetings like the old days. Is it truly progress to see the poorly written and misspelled copy in advertisements and manuals which confronts us daily?Although I agree with Mr. Swem's article, in present businesses with the emphasis on cost savings and profit, it's fairly clear that management fails to recognize how useful shorthand skill could be in making output and work effectively efficient. Certainly reporters would find shorthand helpful in many instances. However most people under a certain age have no concept of how shorthand was used until several decades ago. Students graduating from high school and college usually find proper grammar, to say nothing of when to use "its" or 'it's", totally incomprehensible. JMHO.

  6. Yes, it's more cost-effective to pay 100 fully-qualified high school teachers full wages to spend an hour fighting through the report-card software, rather than one secretary to learn it once. Or executives to fight through making travel arrangements. Or…

    Admittedly, the software has gotten much better. It doesn't crash every other time you try to save, or tab through the fields in an order other than on the screen, or not tell you when you exceed the comment field length, or make you start from scratch to change one option.

    Back in 1988 I was an engineering co-op student at Ontario Hydro. Word came down that the typing pool was being reduced. Anything under 10 pages had to be done by the engineer. The 5 engineers in my department had one computer between them, and no typewriters. The printer could emulate other printers — and had to, since each program had been configured to use a different printer. Only one of the engineers could type with more than 2 fingers. A real cost-saving move, that.

    Something we are losing, though, is the ability to use historical documents. I'm a storyteller — as in live performances. One of my colleagues finds old diaries in the national archives and brings them to life. It's amazing the things she uncovers — and then finds other views in other diaries. I wouldn't know where to start, and my kids think everything they'll ever need to know is on wikipedia.

  7. Totally agreed!

    Back when we were small, coming back from a trip we'd just hand our receipts to the bookkeeper, tell her when we left and when we came back, and we'd be out of her office with the reimbursement in a couple of minutes.

    Now the engineers get to fight with some software ourselves, then we send the receipts abroad (cheaper labour in Eastern Europe) and a couple of weeks later, we get a reimbursement.

    And this is cheaper for the company than having one person who does this often, quickly, and efficiently?

  8. Grandpa's accountant convinced him to use the shoebox method of fling. Absolutely everything went in the shoebox for the year. It was easier for the accountant to trust that everything was in the shoebox and have his own assistant sort it than redo Grandpa's sorting and hope he hadn't thrown out something important.

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