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One-time Office Essentials That Are (or Nearly Are) Obsolete

One-time Office Essentials That Are (or Nearly Are) Obsolete

Recently, I was surprised to find a new phone book delivered to my home. “What’s that?” my son asked, intrigued at the idea of a book for looking up addresses and phone numbers. Indeed, a phone book has become a dinosaur.

When was the last time you used a phone book? If you are having trouble remembering, you may be interested in other office essentials of the past that have become rare or obsolete because of technology. Here is our top 6 list:

1. Rolodex

Like Kleenex and Band-Aid, the brand name Rolodex became genericized to mean any rotating desktop device used to file business contact information. Danish engineer Hildaur Neilsen invented the Rolodex for Zephyr American, a stationery manufacturer in New York, in 1956. Over the next few decades, the Rolodex became a common site on every business desk.

Today? If you still have one, you probably haven’t updated it in a long while. It is much more convenient to keep your business contacts in your phone and/or in a file on your computer

2. Fax Machine

Although some industries – including medical offices, mortgage bankers and insurance agencies – still hold onto this outdated technology, fax machines have found their way into storage or into yard sales for most of us.

Invented and patented as the “Electric Printing Telegraph” by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain way back in the 1840s, the fax (short for facsimile) became an office staple in the 1980s, thanks to advanced digital technology.

Today, however, scanners and the ability to sign and send documents via email have lessened the need for the fax machine. In addition, many companies use tablets to collect orders and then import them directly into their accounting systems.

3. Tape Recorder

In my early years as a writer, I was often thwarted by my cassette recorder running out of tape during an interview or a meeting. Now, however, anyone can achieve professional sounding recordings with only a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop.

Many free apps are available for your phone or other mobile device. Just be careful to check them out carefully before you use them and make sure you have enough power. Also, before you record phone calls, be sure to check your state’s laws regarding recording calls.

4. Paper Maps

Even though I am a whiz at re-folding large roadmaps and I have a few in my car, when it comes to finding quick directions from Point A to Point B, I am all about Google Maps. Technology has made it quick and easy to find out the location of your lunch meeting or your client’s office on your phone or computer. When was the last time you used a real map?

5. Office Checkbooks

Remember those big three-ring business checkbook binders? If your office still has one, you probably don’t use it very much. Most businesses today have switched to both receiving and paying bills electronically.

In the years following World War II, however, checks were the hot new payment technology. The number of check payments continued to increase in America until it peaked at about 49.5 billion in 1995. Then check payments began to decline, submitting to other forms such as credit cards, debit cards and other electronic payments.

Today, check writing is used in less than 20 billion transactions, according to the Federal Reserve’s Cash Products Office. That’s down from about 40 billion transactions just 15 years ago.

6. Desktop Phones

Depending on your business, your office may still have a landline. How often do you make or receive calls on it, though? And if you do get calls from the landline, you probably have them forwarded to your cell, don’t you?

A Pew Research Center survey of more than 1,000 American workers last year found that email far outweighed phone technology in the workplace. More than 60 percent of study participants called email communication “very important” at work, compared with the 35 percent who classified landline communication as “very important.”

So what tried and true office supplies are still “a thing?” A survey last year by OfficeMax found that the most popular “borrowed” items from co-workers’ desks are pens, paper clips, sticky-notes and highlighters. Hmmm. No wonder I always run out of paper clips.



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by Tricia Drevets // Regular Contributor to Businessing Magazine. Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer who specializes in business and communication topics. A community college speech and theater instructor, Tricia lives in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.