Some years ago, I heard on NPR that feminism killed teaching.
The commentator wasn’t making a complaint. He was observing that in the olden days, the best, brightest women usually became either teachers or, if they had a scientific bent, nurses. As more choices were open to women, the best and brightest chose other careers, so that teachers tended to include the brightest but also included women simply unable to become scientists, engineers, or the like.
Similarly, secretarial careers are almost gone. This result is a combination of feminism, technology, and privacy laws.
Women who were bright, but maybe not as ambitious, as the future teachers became secretaries. Secretarial classes were available at High Schools and Community Colleges. Sometimes the guidance counselor would put young women in secretarial classes just because they were female. We learned to type without looking at the keyboard, to format business letters, to answer the telephone appropriately, to leave messages.
Nowadays everyone is his own secretary.
This tees me off. The confusion, the time wasted, the lack of professionalism resulting from everybody being his own secretary gives me such a headache.
I received a letter from a major hospital last week, because of tests needed. It was riddled with spelling errors and the format was downright weird. The person who wrote the letter used a different font every time he wanted to make a point. I’m no fan of Times New Roman, myself, but there is no business letter that needs Papyrus or Jokerman. Ever.
The people who designed Microsoft Word never took secretarial classes, and you can tell by the mistakes Word persists in “correcting” into letters. Reference initials get capitalized. Paragraphs default to incorrect business forms.
Reference initials were the way people who read the letter would know both who the author was and who typed it.
This means that Santa Claus is the author of the letter, but Mrs. Claus typed it. This was helpful in knowing who was ultimately responsible for the content and the form of the letter.
Because everyone is his own secretary, messages get lost a lot. I’ve been a secretary. It is difficult, exacting work and it takes a specially trained and dedicated person to do it well. A person who is really good at finishing floors may not be good at office procedures, which is one of the reasons modern America has the cliche of independent contractors never showing up–a secretary keeps a contractor on schedule. With no secretary, the good floor finisher may not be good at keeping his schedule and that’s why he was not on time, many days in a row.
The reason I am all hot and bothered about loss of secretaries is that I keep missing phone messages to a combination of lack of office skills training, misinterpretation of privacy laws, and mistrust of technology.
At least fifty times now I have had to instruct people to leave messages on my answering machine. What usually happens (and why MUST they be so arrogant?!) is the person sniffs that for privacy law reasons they are not allowed to leave information on a machine.
This is absolutely not true. In my state, if the answering machine message identifies the owner of the machine (Hi, I am Kelly and I can’t get to the phone), private information may be left. It is an unbelievable waste of time for office workers to say, “This is Bay Optical, give us a call . . . ”
Usually, when I explain the law, the next thing the person does is tell me they do not want to cause embarrassment. Well, folks, that ship has sailed. If you say you are calling from the hospital or my lawyer’s office or it even comes up on caller ID, you may as well add that the tests came out normal or the will is done. That next level of “embarrassment” won’t make a difference.
Caller ID has made it so that people are reluctant to leave phone numbers, thinking, I suppose, that this is superfluous, but caller ID only gives the main number, not the desk you are calling from. Yesterday I had to call the hospital back (the same one with the king of fonts on staff) and it took my fifteen minutes to get to the right person because caller ID only left the main switchboard number and the person left no identifying info in the message. When I finally got through, and found the right person, she was miffed when I asked her to leave her name and number next time.
Because of the ubiquitousness of Word, I’ll allow that I will probably never see a really good business letter again, but there is still time to save phone messages.
“This is Jamie from Dr. Frost’s office. I am calling because the test came out normal. If you have questions, the office number is 904 792-3377 and my extension is 4.”