Mutually Assured Collaboration #1

thumb_white.gifThis week I have decided to pen a few blog entries focussed around the future of collaboration. However before looking to the future it is worth considering a little of life before collaborative technology. 

Those of us who were around prior to the rise of enterprise electronic communications in the workplace in the early 90s will remember life centred around memorandums, forms, letters and of course carbon paper. My first encounter with a facsimile machine (yes ‘fax’ is an abbreviation) was a heady mixture of funny paper, chemical developer, a transmission time of about three minutes per page and the use of acoustic couplers.
Although all of this was very clunky in terms of the life we lead now, it did mean that prior to any form of content exchange between individuals, internal or external, there was a good chance it would be checked, corrected, approved, filed and (sometimes) actioned.
The slow, bureaucratic nature of workflow and messaging in itself was a check against guesswork, rumour and over-reaction – of course it did not eliminate them. 
Were we better of then? – Not an easy question to answer. An army of clerical and secretarial staff have evaporated over the last 20 years. Self-service is now the watch word, the physical equivalent of Enterprise portals were cupboards full of seldom read manuals, shelves of forms with identifying codes and carefully considered approval cycles. The old ways have now nearly completely disappeared, and that in part is good.
If a slow, paper-based world marked the start of the communications revolution where have we got to? – I will answer that question in my next blog.
If you have memories of the old ways you would like to recount, please post them as comments here.

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Don't forget TELEX - the punch paper of choice that kept telecom prices down as you weren't sending all the white space of the upstart fax.
How could I forget tlx!
My first contact with Facsimile machines was in about 1978 when I was working as a design engineer. We collaborated (!) with another design house in Germany on the design of a new fangled programmable PBX. We used a massive A0 fax machine to transfer blueprints between offices. ISTR that the machine used a mercury discharge light to read and mechanical stylus to scratch the coating of special paper. The smell was appalling and it took over half a day to transfer a single drawing. We were well impressed though as the equivalent was a 5 day postal turn-around. Gareth