I remember back, in the mid-’80s, buying our first fax machine. That thing cost around $2,000, which seems crazy now, but it was about the most high-tech item we’d ever bought for our commercial sign shop. Though it didn’t put the U.S. Postal Service out of business, it did mean we could get a document across the country in minutes instead of days -- a blessing!
But it was not long before we realized that telephone/copier/pony-express had its dark side. One person described it correctly when he, or more likely she said, “A fax machine is an invention that allows someone from a remote location to pile work up on my desk!”
And if that was the case with fax machines back then, well email is all of that, and much more… on steroids.
Each day I go into the shop and play a rat race game of catch up just trying to prevent the emails of today from rolling over into my work load of tomorrow and the day after that. And it is seldom indeed that I actually win at this most annoying game.
It is not personal or social emails either, as people have almost burned out on sending those. If your email address is a work address, who would have time to be social anyway? Emails, fast-as-the-speed-of-light communications, are expected by most if not all of my clients to be answered that day, early in the day, what in the world are you waiting on anyway?
But an answer is not enough, for them or me, because what they want is a drawing, proposal, layout, or a bid of some sort, and anything short of that completed assignment means I will just have to do it all over again tomorrow, which I am desperately determined not to do.
I am probably as fast as anyone at using sign layout software, making .pdf conversions, calculating pricing and estimating completion times, but I can only think, type, sketch, design, and price so fast… and get it all right the first time. Fast is not nearly fast enough, and the thinking part is probably getting a little slower every day. After all, I am old enough to remember when fax machines were 2,000 bucks apiece.
Of course, emails are not all bad by any means, as way more than half of our work comes through emails and fewer and fewer by phone calls or people dropping by. On the surface, that would seem good. But if it is, why am I so dad-blamed frustrated?
I am reminded of that episode of I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethyl were working on a candy assembly line, inspecting and packaging individual candies as they rolled by on a conveyor belt. When the belt started moving faster and faster, the candy came quicker than they could handle it even if they packaged all they could and desperately tried to eat the rest. “The rest,” for me, piles up for tomorrow in my email inbox.
It would seem that what I need most is more help, and that is of course the case. But my work, even this part of it, relies quite a bit on the several decades of experience I have, and just putting a warm body in my place isn’t going to help a heck of a lot.
What I need is another Rick. Where is the fax machine or duplicator to make one of those? That can’t be too hard, nor too expensive as my dad always said I wasn’t worth killin’ anyway.
But my customers don’t know that, and I guess that is a good thing. As long as I give them the customer service they expect, plenty of work will be there tomorrow, and the day after that. And, yes I am thankful too, as I can’t afford to retire and need them as much as they need me.
But when I do retire, some of you out there, my friends and competitors, are sure going to get a lot more emails. And I’m going to ditch my cell phone, and my email account, dig out that old $2,000 fax machine… and check it… about once a month.