June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011

Speak Softly

Last week, I was asked to purchase a dictation machine for a co-worker.

The act itself isn’t so strange: I’m the one with the corporate card, so I get asked to buy all sorts of interesting things. What was unusual this time was the item in question. A dictation machine, really?

To be fair, I myself learned how to use a dictation machine as part of a class in legal office procedures. Never did determine whether that was because my teacher was old or because our legal system is run by people who went to law school during the Great War. Either way, arranging the machine, the tape, the headset, and the pedals was always a bit surreal.

Wait, I guess those of you who’ve never used one have no idea what I’m talking about. Okay, check it:

The pedal lets you fast forward, play, or rewind the tape. Similar to how a car or sewing machine works, but bi-directional. In school, we would type documents taken from dictation: memos, briefs, etc. It was all jolly fun listening to things like “We expect to present the findings tomorrow comma June 15 comma nineteen ninety-nine comma but the date of the proceeding is subject to change period new paragraph thank you comma insert signature block.”

Frankly, I expected to be cast in an episode of Law & Order at any moment.

Once you get into the real world, though, you realize that a great many things you learned at school are of absolutely no use. The dates of the Hundred Years’ War. Syllogisms. Sentence diagrams. Oh, and taking dictation from tapes. To the point that they’re discontinuing the machines.

I haven’t had the heart to tell the co-worker that her job could almost entirely be outsourced to a piece of software. It’s fun to pretend that our world hasn’t changed all that much since the days of Mad Men and mimeographs. Until you realize that Don Draper would now be either in his 80s or dead of cirrhosis.

0 Fish in a Sea of Diet Coke: