The Mountain Times

°F Wed, April 16, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Does every cloud still have a silver lining?

I was waiting for the elevator to go to lunch last week. Yes, I should have been taking the stairs instead, but I was very hungry.
There were two women also waiting for the elevator. They were from the architectural firm with whom we share the third floor of our building and they were "talking amongst themselves."  I was mentally reviewing my afternoon schedule intertwined with thoughts of where to eat. I was thinking it might be an Olive Garden all-you-can-eat soup and salad kind of day.
Suddenly a harried looking gentleman came flying around the corner, pen and pad in hand. He got very close to the face of one of the women. Breathlessly, he posed a question in a tone that made it appear to be a life or death matter.
"Is this on the cloud?" he asked frantically.
Wait…what did he just say? Is what on a cloud?
He continued, "Is this on the cloud, or our network, or some place I can access it?"
Ok, now I get it. He wants to know where his document, or more probably his blue prints or drawings, are backed up. So is this where technology has landed? In that great big network in the sky?
I must admit, I have heard of cloud technology but I don't really know the details of how it works. I think it means companies store their data with a third-party as opposed to their own on-site hardware. It's all so cerebral.
I have worked in administrative positions most of my career and have watched office technology blossom. It happened rapidly, so it's not at all difficult to remember how it used to be.
My first secretarial job out of college was in midtown Manhattan. I had hit the big time at $140 a week with bennies. It was also my foray into electric typewriters, though we still had to use carbon paper if we needed more than one copy.
After two years on the job, I ran into a lady in the bathroom who worked for another firm on the same floor. She mentioned she was transferring to their New Jersey office and they were looking for someone to take her place. She got me an interview and I was hired on the spot - at $20 a week more! And they had a Xerox machine. It was a whiz at making copies though it did not come with that intoxicating aroma I remembered from the mimeograph machines in grammar school.
I loved my IBM Selectric typewriter. How amazing that you only had to push a button to get to the next line. You couldn't call it a carriage return because there was no carriage. A steel ball sat in the middle of the machine containing all the letters of the alphabet along with numbers 0 through 9 and the appropriate grammar marks. The ball rotated and made an impression on the paper. It was quite amazing to watch if you typed fast.
Corrections were also a breeze with the new technology. You could back space and retype the letter with the correction key on. Presto, the letter disappeared. It was actually a pin-pointed slap of white out, but you could type right over it. No one would ever know unless they held the paper up to a light.
We didn't save our work to clouds or networks. We put it in file folders - vanilla colored file folders. We typed tabs for each one and then we stored them in file cabinets, alphabetically. Sometimes a file would get misplaced.
Today, if you can't find a file or folder, you type a search term into your computer and it scans every piece of data in about a second. Back then, you could spend days searching for a missing file folder. Sometimes it ended up inside another folder. Sometimes it ended up in the wrong file cabinet. And sometimes it was actually in someone else's office and it would mysteriously appear on your desk during a bathroom or smoke break. Actually, back then you could still smoke at your desk.
The times have certainly changed. Today everything is digital and virtual. We had a rare snow storm here in the Carolinas this week. When it snows in the South, everything comes to a grinding halt. Having learned how to maneuver snow-covered roads while living in Vermont, I ventured to the office - slowly but surely. There were just a handful of us there.
When I logged onto my office email, there was a message from the IT department that our servers went on overload because over 200 employees were trying to log in from home. It may have been a snow day, but everyone was still working as huge amounts of data flew through fiber optic lines.
Today's technology affords us many opportunities to stay connected and have full access to information. The downside is we can literally work 24 hours a day. And you don't even need to be "plugged in" to access data, you just need a cloud.
I am thankful for the conveniences that technology provides, but honestly, the only cloud I want to be on is number nine.
Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at