This blog was written by QV Woman Gowri Arakali. She has emailed it to us which we are reproducing below.
The other day, I misplaced my phone. I searched for it, first with panic then calmly, strategizing like some precision military exercise! Mercifully, someone called me at that very point, and I found it right there on the sofa face down. In those few minutes, my mind went a full circle from wondering how to call someone for help to how I would pay bills. It struck me how dependent we have become on gadgets.
My mind then went back to the early days of my career when I had just joined government service. The fuss that was made over gadgets then made me laugh and thought that was the right topic for this blog- how we viewed technology back in the day, especially in India.
On the first day of joining office, (let’s say early 1970s), I was fascinated to see a lady using a machine to calculate. It was called 'Facit' machine. We could do basic arithmetic by rotating the handle clockwise and anti-clockwise. It made a weird sound while rotating, fascinating all of us that it was “thinking”. As a newbie in the statistics department, I felt this machine was God sent! But as it usually happens, there were only a few machines which had to be shared by different sections within the department. (This was after all a large government office, so everything was on tight budget!). Some used to come early and start using the machine. Some used it as an excuse to delay work. If we made a mistake we had to calculate all over again. Sometimes one used to dictate the figures and another one used to calculate. Each team found ways to keep it as long as possible in their section!
Anyhow, let me narrate an insightful incident that happened around this machine.
I had a fight with my senior colleague who used to come early and start using Facit machine. I went to the Joint Director and complained about how she always monopolizes the machine.
The officer instead assigned me some data collection work from Education department, important he said. I was young and wanted to impress, so immediately went, and brought the information. However, I was then told that I should give that information to the officer next day and meet with the Joint Director the afternoon the day after that. When I did finally meet him, he said ‘oh I don’t need that at all. I just wanted you to take your focus off that Facit machine which seems to have occupied your mind, time and energy these days!’. I learnt a valuable lesson that day-to let things run their course, not to stress about things I cannot control and to find ways to get on with teammates, even when they don’t play fair!
The next big thing that came was the electronic calculator. Let me tell you, the fuss around it was unbelievable!
The manufacturer of the calculator had taken prior appointment with the Head of the Department for demonstration. It was 'D' day in our office. A circular (memo) was issued that only those who could understand the demo and employees of certain rank and above should attend. I was one of them thankfully and oh, did I feel important!
Those days electric plug points were only in a few places. One such room was selected for demonstration. The demo started and all were watching with bated breath. Our boss even asked us to stand at a distance in case there was any electric shock!
It was a wonderful machine that could do almost all the calculations. It was an instant success. The higher ups had lots of discussion and finally purchased a few calculators. It was allotted to sections where calculation work was more. Other interested employees would go to that section and watch it functioning and felt how nice it would be if it were provided to all the sections. Some old fashioned employees who had finally come round to using the Facit machine commented ‘Oh our good old Facit is enough for us, why waste money on this?’
Next progression was to the Mother of all machines, the 'COMPUTER'. The first Computer was huge in size comparable to a refrigerator! One computer for the entire office. One person who knew a little something about it was sent for training. Nobody else was even allowed inside the computer room. I was curious to see it. With great reluctance he allowed me to see it. Before entering the room we had to remove footwear and wipe any dirt off our feet, so that dust did not enter the computer. There was no AC in those days. The room was full of almirahs (steel wardrobes) in which hard disks were stored. Data used to be stored in floppy
disks. It was about 5.5 inches square and held something like 2.88MB of data!! People talk in terabytes nowadays and everything is on the cloud! I wonder if children under the age of 20 even know what a floppy disk is!
Now, as I am proofreading this blog on my phone, I wonder if all those things really happened! I can still see those machines in my mind. I can remember the faces of the people who fussed around it, conversations, jokes and jibes. Of course, today’s work environment will have its own share of woes and wows. With virtual everything, teams can chat and work from anywhere. But whatever it is, I hope youngsters these days retain that sense of wonderment and thrill that I felt when introduced to new things. And to remember the ups and downs, so that when they retire, they will have stories like this to share!!
Gowri Arakali is a retired government official with the Planning Department of Karnataka (a southern state in India). Since retiring, she has re ignited her passion for reading, and has become an avid traveler, seeing the world and her home country India, with her friends and family. QV Woman is very grateful to have her voice of experience on our platform!.