Clerks (DOG EAR)

Clerks (DOG EAR)

nteresting use of historical reading today.

Found myself on the Sunrail plaform, reading the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Historical Group’s magazine, specifically an article about a couple who clerked in the early fifties. They were involved with working the orders by customers coming in, securing them seats on trains a month (and possibly, in larger groups) a year out.

Image that – doing all that work across a railroad with something like a hundred passenger trains each day, getting people into seats and to their destinations. And no Excel, or internet, or anything beyond a typewriter. They were even limited in their phone use and tickets to customers in the LA area were carried over by messengers riding the trolleys. There was even a photo of this huge circular filing cabinet, reaching up to the ceiling, that the clerks on the table around it would spin, inserting their cards into the slots for the specific trains/cars.

At first, of course, I was taken by the inefficiency of the thing. But my mind mulled over it. See, I work for a modern American corporation, one with internet at each desk, and with emails and skypes flying about.

But as I read it, I realized that these clerks were working their jobs. Possibly 90% of their time went into getting things done, passengers booked. And me? With all these tools, I’ve got a million distractions. There are long-winded meetings, crazy drop-everything requests, people coming by, people wanting information, people just looking to host a meeting to inflate their withered egos. And that takes up my time. A lot of it. I suspect that my effectiveness (i.e. how much profit-pushing work I do) is probably 20%.

And so I had my Jerry Maguire moment. I wrote the director, included the picture of the working clerks and the massive lazy-Susan hopper, and told him that what pisses everyone off in the department is not the work that we do, no, but the work we don’t do. That with all the status-sucking meetings, people go home and wonder what it was they actually did this day. I know I do.

Haven’t heard back from him on this. I don’t think he’ll just can me because I was presumptuous. We’re friends and I just flew a tough audit for him clean and mean. And even if he does walk in and (like in Jerry Maguire) fire me over pointing out that the emperor has no clothing, fine, I can deal with that too.

But it’s what happens when you read, and reflect, and react. It’s critical thinking and solid appraisal. It’s what true reading grants us.

I’ll report the results in a later piece.