November 17, 2003

You're older than you've ever been and now you're even older.

Let no one call me Luddite or old-fashioned. No, no. I believe that the march of technology is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

When I started working at my beloved library, we had the oldest and simplest time-tracking method in the book: a timeclock. It sat there ticking away the minutes and obediently stamping the date and time onto any piece of paper you stuck into it. Every employee had a timecard for every two-week period, and they all sat in an alphabetized rack above the timeclock. We would walk in, take our cards from the rack and punch them on the "IN" line, work, take our cards down again and punch them on the "OUT" line, and leave. At the end of two weeks the supervisor sat down with all the cards and entered our hours into a sheet which was submitted to payroll.

Sometime last year, the timeclock was declared obsolete and an exciting black and red machine called Kronos was installed. Now you walk in, hit asterisk, enter your 8-digit employee ID number, hit enter, and see your name displayed on the machine to verify that you clocked in. The downsides to this are many. For one, you can't check afterwards to see if you've clocked in or not, so for each time you're not sure you have to fill out a manual-entry request and give it to the supervisor. For another, its convenient ID-card-swiper has never managed to work at all, and for another, it rounds hours up and down in some capricious fashion which none of the supervisors can understand, let alone explain. For yet another, our beloved Kronos has the classic electronic values of expensiveness and fragility. When one of the supervisors lost his temper and punched the machine, breaking the display screen and keypad, it cost the library a day's work for four payroll and maintenance employees plus a replacement Kronos unit to provide us with a working machine again.

To my fairly certain knowledge, no one ever punched the timeclock and broke it. The lesson here to learn is this: the virtues of heavy-cast-metalness, bolted-to-the-wallness, general industrial-bad-assness, and consistent-actually-workingness are a genuine asset to a piece of office hardware.

Today I witnessed the installation of an entirely new timekeeping device (henceforth to be referred to as a time machine). The new time machine is sleek and black, and about 4 times the size of the old timeclock. It has a larger array of bells and whistles (and beeps and error lights). It accepts no manual ID entry; all employees have to dig out their ID cards and swipe them through. At least two people found that their IDs were too warped or worn to be read; a replacement card costs $15 or $20 out of the employee's pocket. Employees who work in more than one department on campus have been told that they'll have to enter a code to tell the machine which job they're clocking in for each time, but they're yet waiting to hear what it will be.

However! Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a foolish, frivolous, expensive and generally stupid move on the part of the library and the university. Perish the thought! After all... with this new machine we can now see in mere seconds whether we've already clocked in or not.

Just... er... like we could with the timeclock.

Posted by dianna at November 17, 2003 04:08 PM

Much like you, I'm generally in favor of technological advances. However, when it comes to replacing a geared ka-chunk machine with an LCD beep device, just call me Dr. Ludd. Usefulness arguments aside, mechanical options are just so much COOLER than electronic ones.

Posted by: Jacob at November 17, 2003 06:33 PM

Yes. Consider the emotional difference between the heavy CLUNK you hear when slamming the door of a 1970 Buick something, and the soft plasticky sound you hear when slamming the door of, say, a 2000 Saturn. I appreciate the effort people have put into nice hinges and refined materials and counterweights, but it's lacking a certain satisfying something.

Posted by: dianna at November 18, 2003 12:59 PM

but sometimes technology CAN be helpful, like when george jetson would put a cardboard cutout of himself in front of his desk's outgoing image to fool his boss. that would never have worked in the face-to-face, heavy-machinerysaur-operating workplace of fred flintstone.

Posted by: didofoot at November 19, 2003 12:52 PM