I remember the first job I had after high school. I worked in a shipping department and when I got done packing various industrial items in a cardboard box I would take the paperwork and walk across the room to type out a shipping label. The old typewriter had to be 60 years old then but it did just what it was designed to do. It could have worked for many more years after I left but I am sure it was replaced by some kind of label maker or a printer connected to a corporate data system that spit out labels (if the company was still around today the label maker/word processer/computer workstation next to the pile of cardboard boxes would be linked via satellite to the printer six feet away). Now there is no expectation that a machine will be replaced when it wears out. Now a machine is replaced when the company moves onto a new system that is not compatible with older components or when supplies are no longer available because so few people continue to use that ancient five year old machine.
It has not been that many years since fax machines were considered high tech, state-of-the–art, can’t live without office equipment and now here I am reviewing my phone bill and looking at eliminating the line for the fax because I just don’t use it much anymore. Nothing wrong with the machine, nothing wrong with the service it provides, but other than receiving offers for $79.00 5 day/night Caribbean cruise vacations it doesn’t get much use.
I remember how excited my manager was when the company offered him a chance to head a special project. It was a big deal, very important to the company and “we wish Al all the best as he helps our company move into the new century” except that special project was cut short as the company streamlined, downsized or whatever other buzz word was current at the time, and old Al was left hanging out since his new job was done and his old job had been redesigned and reassigned. Now it was, “I am sure that we all want to give Al a big thank you and wish him all the best as he pursues other interests”. The look on Al’s face was, “what happened?”
This isn’t to say there was or wasn’t a conspiracy to get rid of Al. I don’t know. I heard he did a very good job on that special project which did improve the company but the problem was that he was a fax machine when he left and an older fax machine when he came back and the company had moved on.
In the early nineties my company had a headquarters group come to town. The conversation was about job security and more than one person thought that we were being set up for downsizing but that wasn’t the case at all. I remember the head of the group telling us about the strength of the company and what a good place it was to work and we all agreed. The point that was being made was that nobody knew what the future held, that we did not know if the company’s strengths and success would make it a takeover target which could change everything and everyone’s place within the firm and that we had to be prepared.
About a quarter of the people in attendance got mad by what they saw as groundwork being laid for job elimination and another quarter were thinking about the upcoming weekend. Half of the group however, listened to the discussion group tell us to improve ourselves and not build and rely on company specific skills that were only valuable within our company because there were no guarantees about whether it was going to be around.
A few years later the company was merged with an Asian company. The people who were convinced the company was out to get them saw that they were right. The people who weren’t paying attention at the meeting didn’t know what was happening but decided that the news should not ruin their weekend. Those who had updated their skills through further education or by transferring between departments to increase their overall knowledge were sought out and employed by other companies.
And what is the point? Just that it’s not your choice on whether or not you can be a fax machine but it is your choice whether you want to remain a fax machine.