TECHNOLOGY – WILL I BE REPLACED BY A ROBOT? From Andrea Medd, PA to Dame Kelly Holmes

Over the last few weeks I have made a start on my Pitman courses, Social Media for Business and Blogging for business.  I have loved learning again.   I did my PA course quite a long time ago in 1998 and since then have done first aid courses and a one-year Reflexology course at weekends.  I like finding out more about subjects that interest me and adding skills to my CV.

Doing my social media course has highlighted how much things have changed over the years, particularly in the area of technology.

My first mobile was known as ‘the brick’.  It was just a mobile – all it could do was call!   Now my phone connects to friends, family and colleagues instantly with text and gives you the internet at your fingertips.  My phone helps me to check train times and live running times for Kelly and to book her cars in London on the Green Tomato app.

Then there were typewriters…anyone remember?    My secretarial lessons at school involved the use of typewriters and to make copies of your documents you inserted carbon paper between each sheet.  There was limited access to photocopiers and definitely no scanning.  (I’m feeling quite old right now!) There was no spell check…oh well there was a secretary with a dictionary.  It was down to you as the PA/Secretary to double check everything before sending out letters/documents.

Then in my last year at school I owned a word processor (very advanced at the time!) and documents were saved on floppy discs, so at least we could print copies and throw away the messy carbon paper.

There was still no way to e-mail your work or use internet sites like ‘WeTransfer’  – instead there was the facsimile machine (fax) which sometimes had it’s own dedicated operator.  Now we all send documents flying around by e-mail and often cc other people.  I’ve just realised the cc on e-mails still refers to ‘carbon copy’ though it is electronic.   I wonder how many PAs starting out today would know that?

Working with Kelly 20 years ago would be very different.  We would need frequent meetings, a lot more phone calls, a paper diary, images for approval would be sent by post or faxed.  There would a slower turn around for everything except maybe face to face decisions.    Meetings were  Powerpoint  free and instead we used overhead projectors where you prepared your presentation on acetate sheets and projected them on a screen or a wall!

Technology has come on leaps and bounds not only changing the way we work, the speed at which we work and our expectations for near impossible deadlines but also the language we use.  Typewriter, fax, telex, carbon copy all defunct!       I’ll text you, poke you or wave, Skype or facetime you, follow you or link and read your Blog!

Instant communication is the norm.  Businesses reach out to their customers using social media and promote their company via ads on other people’s social media sites.  Communication in business is key and for Kelly and I Whatsapp is invaluable for quick questions and updates and shared electronic diaries  are instantly updated.

With all the positives there are some negatives.  The Inbox can sometimes feel at bursting point and I tend to receive between 30 and 80 emails a day, some can get a quick response and others might be more time consuming , so you have to manage the expectation of that impatient person who expects things to be right and fast.

There is huge danger in e-mailing the wrong Tom, Dick or Harry when you choose quickly from the helpful Ms list of your email contacts.   You dread being the one in the press who sends the horribly wrong email to the wrong person or shares sensitive content with the whole company!  There is the one recently about someone intending to send her CV but instead sent a Jamie Oliver recipe, not sure if she got the job!

My tactic is to attach a file to an e-mail and then open it immediately in the email to check it is the right document.  Mistakes happen but my own rule is when a document or info could be sensitive in the wrong hands – check and double check before hitting the send button.

With so much change in technology over the last 20 years will my job be in the hands of a robot 20 years from now?   It’s quite likely, but if so I will be sitting on a sunny beach communicating.    I can’t see that the robot replacement will be able to talk to someone like I can or build relationships.   Nor, when the chips are down, will it care like I do?

What’s your own old-tech memory or your favourite retro office equipment?


  • Maggie says:

    Well, sitting on the beach and having your work done by robot doesn’t sound so bad! My good old-tech memory? I sometimes long for the old Roladex filing system. We had little cards on a rotating frame to add your clients and contacts details, and update them every time you talked to them – this was your database! Simple and it never broke down. But like our digital databases it was only as good as the info you put in!

    What I would hate to have back is the stencil duplicating system. We typed up the document for copying on a special ‘skin’ which we inked and attached to the drum of a Gestetner (or Roneo??) machine. Then we rolled the drum, taa raa! and a copy came off. We kept rolling for lots of copies. They came out dark to start with ink blots, specially on the letter ‘o’ and gradually faded as the ink used up. Messy, time consuming and not great copies, so no regrets there!

  • Sue Wood says:

    Does anyone recall the size of a phone handset in the 60’s or the dolls eye switch boards that gave you little electric shocks.
    No option back then to leave a voicemail. The calculator had a handle which you turned clockwise to add and anti clockwise to subtract., how I now wish I had keep it. Manual typewriter’s with carbon paper for copies (oh those black hands).

  • Liz Taylor says:

    Looking at old technology and favourite retro office equipment the old fashioned telephone gets my vote, OK so not so fast as today’s super speed dialling but I really liked them. Least liked was the typewriter/stencil……..and to blank out mistakes you needed the bottle of Tippex – or Snopake as it was then called. Definitely going down memory lane and back a few decades.

    What do I miss most? Letters, actual physical letters.
    What do you miss?

  • Liz Davis says:

    I can remember using a VDU, you had to type in instructions so the VDU knew what you wanted to do. I also remember the old floppy disk, they were huge. Once you had finished with the data on the disk you had to format them to get rid of the data to use again. Gosh that was a long time ago…… Oh for the memory stick now…. Much smaller and holds much more….

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