Dated gadgets can keep their allure
Fred Schiess once made a living repairing and selling machines that created the written word. Now, most of his money comes from repairing and selling machines that destroy words. Paper shredders may occupy the prominent display shelves at Schiess’ decades-old business in Silver Lake, but there is still a place for typewriters. As archaic as typewriters are in the workplace, some people – typically screenwriters and novelists – still use them. Others find it hard to part with Rolodexes, Liquid Paper and fax machines, though technological advances have created products that should have made them obsolete years ago. So why does the stapler endure long after the overhead projector burned out and the slide rule slid into oblivion? “But it’s also a relatively simple device and people know how to use it,” said Aronson, who noted that simplicity and ease of use are factors that keep the fax machine alive, even though e-mail is fully capable of replacing it. That’s why it’s not rare to see fax machines throughout the offices of aerospace behemoth Boeing, a Chicago-based company that prides itself on technological prowess. “We are a technology company that remains at the leading edge … and our business cards have fax machine numbers,” said Dan Beck, a spokesman for the company. Beck said fax machines are the preferred mode of transmission when sending confidential documents within the company. But gone are the slide rules once carried by every Boeing engineer. Calculators are far more productive and easier to use. And what about the BlackBerry, one of the latest hand-held multimedia devices, that Boeing has adopted as its primary mode of portable communication? Beck has carried the hand-held e-mail and telephone device for about two years. But he still uses his cell phone to make phone calls because it “feels better.” Still, the BlackBerry often plays a bigger role in his life than he’d like to admit. “I will say I am guilty of checking my BlackBerry on weekends,” he said. Perhaps the BlackBerry inspires too much productivity, or quite the opposite. It’s possible technology that supposedly aids productivity actually serves as a distraction. The Internet is available at virtually every cubicle in Corporate America. And while it’s an integral tool for myriad businesses, the temptation of using the medium for nonwork activities runs extremely high. So Mike Hickman decided to disconnect the Internet at his office in Colton. “I enjoy gambling online, and I don’t want to gamble at work,” said Hickman, 40, who runs a rent-to-own business. Now that the Internet has been disconnected for several months, Hickman said, he’s able to focus on more important tasks. “I also use an Exacto knife to sharpen my pencils,” he said. As counterintuitive as it might be, some people ignore the potential productivity gains promised by technology and prefer to weave a little nostalgia into their work. At least, that’s how Schiess sums up the motivations of some of his clients. Since 1961, his Silver Lake shop has operated under the Ace Typewriter name. In recent years, Schiess has taken on another name, Continental Business Machines, to reflect his paper-shredder business, which generates a bulk of his revenues. The occasional typewriter he does sell usually goes to a screenwriter or novelist who likes the feel of grasshopper arms thwacking a piece of white stationery. “For these guys, when they see something on a computer screen it’s just not the same feeling you get when you write something on paper,” Schiess said. The amount of time it takes to compose a letter versus an e-mail has almost changed the meaning and significance of writing at the workplace. Among the first lessons Aronson teaches his students at USC is never to shoot off an e-mail that’s emotionally charged. “E-mail is dangerous because it allows people to answer things too spontaneously,” he said. “It would be nice to have something like an unsend button. Or something that would send everything to a draft buffer.” Such a notion is a foreign concept to Yesenia Reyes, a secretary at A T Walters Insurance Agency in Pasadena. Reyes, 18, has never used a typewriter before, only “when I used to play with the one at my grandparents,”‘ she said. Reyes said she’s not troubled by the immediacy of e-mail and that it’s the responsibility of the senders to know the consequences of what they’re writing before pressing the send button. The expediency of e-mail is welcomed by Gary Sterkel, office manager at Pottery Etc. in Canoga Park. He receives queries about products on a daily basis, most of which would be lost business if e-mail didn’t exist. The shop has also transferred its catalog to the Internet, a process that required a bevy of meticulous input. In many ways, e-mail and other technologies have served as life support to Pottery Etc.’s business, especially with the increase in competition, Sterkel said. The people of Enterprise Import Services, a mechanic shop down the street from Pottery Etc., share a similar sentiment. More than a decade ago, factory dealerships had a monopoly on diagnostic technology that could determine specific car problems. But legislation passed in the mid-1990s essentially opened up the diagnostic technology to private garages. “Without this technology, my business would be in trouble,” said Jerry Queza, 56, owner of the garage. “And these days you practically have to be an engineer to work on the newer cars.” A PC now sits in the middle of Queza’s garage, its keyboard stained with motor oil. Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals Academics call it the “productivity paradox.” Essentially, what stays and what doesn’t is a function of newer technologies and whether workers are comfortable using them. Jonathan Aronson, professor and executive director of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, said people will not adopt a new technology unless it improves their levels of productivity. For example, it used to take about nine seconds to dial a seven-digit number on a rotary phone – compared with about two seconds on a standard touch-tone phone. Clearly, touch-tones aid productivity.