Our own paper handcuffs

Fall SunsetI have seen some true innovation over the years.

I can still remember when the only way you interacted with a bank was through a teller.

Gas was pumped by someone who came to your car and cleaned your windshield while your tank was filling.

You talked to an operator to make some long distance calls. The only way to make a call while traveling way to find a pay telephone booth.

When I started farming, I jumped within a year or two to putting up our hay with a round baler. It was a true innovation and allowed me to take care of two head of cattle with very little human help besides myself. The provincial department of agriculture told me the haying method that I was using was doomed to failure.

Personal computers when they first came out made huge changes in the way we did things. Typewriters almost died off, and everyone and his brother could do desktop publishing, but as we all know the paperless office never happened. In fact the reverse happened.

Somewhere along the way, computers made it so easy to generate paper that we are now close to drowning in it.

As a Realtor®, I am amazed by how much paper it takes to buy and sell houses. We continue to add sheets of paper to everything we do. In fact our main offer to purchase contract went from five to seven pages just this summer.

While more and more paper is being required, our communications between people have become less and less paper dependent. Very few people write letters anymore.  You cannot go back and refer to what someone said in a letter.  You are lucky if they sent you an email.

While some people seem to like communicating by email, others have come over to the world of instant messaging, and then there are those who always have a cell phone glued to their ears and cannot seem to communicate any other way.

Somewhere along the way when the world should have moved to digital signatures and secure encrypted PDFs, we got stuck on faxes which are easy to hate. In spite of all our advances, faxes are dependent on mechanical paper feeds which have made little progress when it comes to handling sheets of paper. Scanning and/or faxing are not exactly my favorite way of doing things.

While an ATM almost never fails, if you try to do a twelve page fax, you are almost guaranteed to have to resend a page or two. Often when we switch to scans by email, we end up stressing the human at the other end of the email chain. It is not unusal they are challenged at downloading or printing even simple PDFs.

This leaves the real estate business with not only some of the latest technology but also some of the oldest.  We still get forms by mail.

While real estate is one of the few business where blogging has become effective, digital pictures omnipresent, and centralized online databases a part of everyday business, it is also one of the last places where bricks and mortar places of business still are important along with those faxes and printed documents.

I have watched a number of real estate people try to move to the world of smart phones which guarantee instant communication and the ability to keep everything synchronized and in one place. Based on the people I have watched, they do not work very well. I see people whose phones are beeping all the time from the overload of mail and phone calls.

While Apple’s iPhone promises that everything you need will be in one spot, that is a tall order in a business where multiple government agencies along with county, state, and national professional organizations want a record of what you are doing from the time you first meet a client until they sign their HUD statement.

My experience has shown that a paper file folder seems to be the only effective place for keeping everything from faxes to my notes. In fact the paper file folders seems to be the cornerstone of the real estate business.

Learning how to create a listing folder with the various pieces of information that we pull from different computers along with the signed documents we get from clients is key to being successful in our business. Eventually that folder becomes a pending folder and a closed folder. It is often mirrored by folders that we real estate agents carry so we do not lose our minds.

The paper folder might hold a fax from the county environment services group on a septic permit, a computer print out of the tax value of the property, computer generated forms, a digital flood map, and notes that are scribbled while talking on a cell phone in a parking lot.

There is no phone smart enough to what a paper folder and a note pad can do. Those old fashion tools essentially put all the pieces together that are required to make a complex business transaction happen. The best way of taking notes is with a pen or a pencil and a pad.

Yet we are a business that seems to find a way to use every piece of technology that can be throw at us.

Yesterday I scheduled my first closing using TimeBridge. While it will not get rid of any paper, it might save a few phone calls and emails.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are better ways to do what we have to do, but there are so many legal requirements that I do not see a way out of these paper handcuffs.

The operating system lock

Fall on the coastSometimes our technology decisions keep us on a certain path that is hard to leave.

Most of the world uses Microsoft operating systems.

There are some significant minorities out there.

That would include those using Linux and Apple’s OS X along with those who don’t use technology at all.

So I wonder how does going down one operating system path impact the rest of your life.

I once penned a post, The liberal Mac and the conservative PC. In the post I guessed that people who bought PCs bought them for a specific task while Mac users purchased their computers for what they might do.

I think there are very few PC people who fall in love with their computers. There are a number of Mac users who find computing close to a religious experience.

I recently bought a PC for a specific use, to handle the real estate forms that I need in my career as a real estate agent.

I don’t feel any different from buying a PC except maybe I am very happy to have some a significant chunk of change.

Admittedly this isn’t my first PC, I have a Dell desktop that I bought three years ago, and on which I ran Linux off of one hard drive while running Windows XP on the main drive.

I don’t get too excited about computers since they are everywhere.

I do wonder if never having left your operating system is something akin to never having left your hometown or traveled overseas.

If you haven’t enjoyed the agony of viruses or the ecstasy of a Steve Jobs keynote is your life somehow incomplete?

Does that operating system lock prevent one from seeing the big picture. There are plenty of people who have used multiple operating systems, do we occupy a special space as the gurus who which path someone should follow?

Actually, I think a case could be made that operating systems are so similar today and so much happens in the world of Google, including their applications, that there is very little difference in the capabilities of computers or their users.

Character

beachI have heard it said that your real character shows late at night when you are alone, and no one can see what you’re up to.

While that is probably true, the problem for the rest of us is that no one is there to see you, so we cannot figure out your character.

Maybe your character shows on a nearly deserted beach like this one near Emerald Isle, NC. At least someone might catch a glimpse of what you are doing.

Actually I think technology has made it much easier to see inside that protective coating which keeps most people from knowing who we really are. It has nothing to do with cameras or surveillance.

So how does technology reveal our character?

Sometimes it is as simple as technology providing anonymity through a nickname with instant messaging.

Most often it just provides distance or a buffer from real personal interaction.

What better to really tell someone off than in a voicemail or perhaps a cell phone call where the connection is so bad that they can’t even fight back?

Then of course there is the flaming email which is well known to all corporate dwellers.

In a sense people really do hide behind the technology. Technology lets the real person sneak out without fear of consequences that might come from a face to face confrontation.

The other day, I had someone go off the deep end in a phone call. They said things which they should have never let slip out of their mouths. I seriously doubt if the conservation would have been anything near that had it taken place in person or face to face.

What it did let me see is the real person who masquerades behind a facade of civility. I now know that the person is someone whom I probably rather avoid, especially in business dealings.

I recently had another illuminating moment with a business partner.   His real character wasn’t revealed by technology but the way he said something had almost the same effect.

He decided that he wanted to get out of a joint business deal with me. Instead telling me directly, he waited to dump it all on my wife while I was at work.  My wife had not been involved in setting up the deal, and actually wanted no part of it.  She had even recommended against it.

It is probably one of the more cowardly episodes that I have ever heard.  It is perhaps something that only a very small minded person would do especially since it almost knocked my wife into depression.

His actions showed a complete lack of real character. It was pretty obvious that his only consideration was his self. I actually cannot think of someone who has so grossly violated the code by which most men of honor operate.

I guess it goes to show that while technology can reveal a lack of character, those completely without character don’t need technology’s help in showing their lack of worth.

I have an interesting post on the concept of “Sour Grapes” at my Blogger site.  I wrote it after an Apple maniac decided my purchase of a Windows laptop was based on dissatisfaction with my former career at Apple.

The machines that own us

combineThey say that machines are supposed to work for us.

For a long time I have been skeptical of that.

When I bought my first tractor back in 1971, a very intelligent Uncle of mine said that to really pay for it, I would have to run it day and night.

Well I haven’t yet figured out how to work without a little sleep so I still can’t do that. Perhaps it’s good that I no longer own tractors.

Now I just have to run computers day and night to make them pay for themselves. Still when you have a machine worth a few hundred thousand dollars, it just blows my mind to see that it is only one man and the machine. While this combine was grabbing corn and shelling it (the work of many people), there was another tractor with an auger wagon almost full of corn.

I’m sure the combine driver would finish a load and head home for lunch and come back with an empty wagon. It seems so weird that one person with machinery can do so much work.

I saw another example which I had been waiting to see.

We went over to Beaufort, NC to have a look at Blackbeard’s cannon which had just been raised to the surface after nearly three hundred years under water.

There were some reporters from local television stations setting up to do stories. At least one of them happen to be reporter and crew in one person. She got the camera running and started talking in front of it. She checked the film she had done and then interviewed someone with a camera crew.

I am not so sure, but the machines might be winning.

The information glut

Just right beachThere is something interesting that can happen if you write a lot on the web on specific topics.

You can end up being your own expert. That’s fine in theory but has some problems if you want to expand your knowledge.

Sometimes the web can be a crude tool when you used for search. Most books aren’t on the web, and we end up being reciprocal experts.

I provide you with information for the area you’re interested in, and you provide what I am looking for today.

We can do little more than hope that each of us is doing a good job. Considering it is hard enough to get anyone to proof your free writing for spelling errors, I seriously doubt that we will have much luck finding folks with the time to start checking for accuracy.

I hope we can keep ourselves from one hundred percent reliance on the web.

The reality is  that much of the web information is never validated. We have more information than we could ever hope to grasp, yet much of it means little.  We should be careful what we believe.

Maybe one of these days all those old encyclopedias will be worth something, or we will get some web sources that we can count on for accuracy.

Communicating without connecting

Roanoke ValleyWe have more ways to communicate today than ever before.

There is instant messaging, smart phones, voice mail, email, presentations, and even the venerable memos.

Sometimes it seems that we are saying more and understanding less.

We have lots of ways to say things and plenty gets said.

Often in spite of all the communication, people don’t understand each other.

Part of the problem is people don’t say what they mean. Another challenge is that some folk hear what they want to hear.

The challenge is to not only get the audience’s attention but to set the stage so that a properly crafted message hits receptive ears.

Few people can do this consistently. There are lots of tips that can help get a message across, most of them don’t involve technology and certainly not Powerpoint slides.

If I could pick one thing as important in setting the stage and delivering a message, I would pick consistent eye contact.

If you cannot look a person in the eye and say what you have to say, then don’t bother saying it.

The fine art of ignoring a phone call

Raymond's GutThere are places that phone calls should be ignored. This quiet spot near the White Oak River is one of them.

There are lots of other places also where phones are out of place. No one likes a phone in a restaurant, or at meal in your home.

We all fear the cellphone-using driver of a car when we see one making a turn or talking on the phone in heavy traffic.

Considering there isn’t a big difference in immediately taking a call and calling back when you are in safes spot, you wonder why taking or making the call now is so important. Even responding to the voice mail as quickly as possible is pefectly acceptable to most folks.

Some people have to catch the call at all costs, some let it mellow as a voicemail before responding, and then there is the group that doesn’t want to do either.

As technology has given us more tools to be connected, it has also given us more tools to choose the person with whom we might want to have a conversation.

I’m not sure that is good, but it is probably no different than hiding behind your secretary in the old days.

I take pride in returning my phone calls. Some I don’t want to make, but years of experience have taught me that it is better to get involved early in problems and to take the hits up front than to let trouble build.

It is strange though to see some of the Blackberry toting executives of today be just as disconnected from the real world as their predecessors in the sixties who relied on dragon-tongued secretaries.

We’re almost taking communications intravenously, yet some folks seem to be allergic to it.