Master gardeners have an expression regarding invasive species of flora and fauna: Sleep, Creep, then Leap. The first year of invasion the species sleeps, the second year it creeps and by the third year it leaps! Looking back on how technology has firmly rooted itself into our lives, it’s amazing to see how its progression mirrors that phrase.
Technology sleeps: It started innocently enough with a tone-only pager. Then along came voice pagers that permitted a few seconds of vital communication with the answering service: “Call in for an emergency call.”
It was probably that crazy radio-phone I bought in 1979 that did me in and hooked me on technology. A two-way microphone housed a phone keypad on its back for sending the tone via radio waves to the touch-tone dialer at the tower. It was a party line, too, so traffic could be busy at times and if the conversations strayed into personal areas instead of business, you were likely to find yourself interrupted or jammed by others keying their mikes.
Remember when you exchanged your analog volt/ ohm/ammeter for a digital unit? Or that miniature milliamp meter for setting thermostat anticipators that fell by the wayside because your new digital meter could do that too? Or the mercury pocket thermometer as it, too, went digital?
Technology creeps: “I will never have a fax machine. They’re nothing but a waste of ink and paper.” I had the misfortune of making that bold statement in front of witnesses several years ago. I’ve had to eat those words more than once.
The moment of truth came when I found it necessary to rush off to a store to send and receive faxed contract documents — or else lose the work to a competitor. The contracts were sent, signed and returned within a matter of minutes instead of days.
Once I realized the fax machine could be a useful business tool, rather than just a convenient way for advertisers to save postage or personal visits, I couldn’t get one fast enough. Suddenly, a whole new world of opportunities opened up for us. Diagrams of repair parts were just a telephone call away; documents and contracts were quickly exchanged.
When we decided to take the plunge and computerize our business, I wanted to practice at home in order to minimize the disruption computers would bring to our offices. As I unpacked the components, I hardly anticipated the dramatic changes unfolding before us.
But first, a lesson in humility was in order. Once the machine was booted up, the instructions for our Peachtree bookkeeping program indicated I was to insert the CD in the “D” drive. No dice — the screen repeatedly indicated the CD was defective.
Our youngest, being all of 8 years in age, wandered into the room and asked what was wrong. I showed him how I was loading the CD, just as we do music CDs, and that the computer was refusing to cooperate.
“Why don’t you try inserting the CD on its other side?” he asked. Hah! Why would I insert it with the data side down? That would probably scratch the surface. Kids say the darndest things!
“Well, Dad, if you try that it might just work.” So just to appease him I gave it a shot. Immediately the Peachtree program leaped into life and I from my chair as I exclaimed: “Call me when you’ve finished programming the computer!”
Technology leaps: Our computer network firmly in place, we entered into the technology revolution without really taking notice of the speed with which changes were occurring. E-mail came along and at first was just a means for communicating with friends and family. Seeing how a Web presence could enhance business, we stepped into that arena. E-mail suddenly took on new meaning as customers, both old and new, began using that as a means to place work orders. Attached contract documents and pictures of previous work sped up the bidding process.
With fax signatures being legally binding now, we continue utilizing this business tool as a means to quickly seal deals.
Pagers gave way to cell phones that double as two-way radios. No longer do we lose great gobs of time when employees on remote jobsites need to find a phone. Two-way radios enable instant communication not only between the office and employee, but between fellow workers too. Supply houses have the same two-way radio/cell phones (at least the smart ones do), and our mechanics can find out within seconds if what they need is in stock.
Everywhere you look, technology is leaping into our work. Gone are the days when a flashlight, four-way screwdriver and pair of pump pliers were all you needed to diagnose or repair a problem. More often than not, digital instruments go along on that first look-see.
That first computer became a dinosaur within five years. My youngest told me so! Once again, he was right.
The new one zings along at speeds light-years ahead of that first model. I’m typing this column on a laptop that transmits to the modem via wireless communication. Heat-loss calculations, customer presentations and contracts are done on site and in the blink of an eye.
Fasten your seat belts; we’re in for a leaping ride!
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].