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Dalbey editorial: Assume nothing


I’m relatively comfortable with the workings of the e-mail program on my computer here at work. I click on an icon and the message sails into the great nebulous beyond that is cyberspace and lands in someone’s inbox. I don’t know how it gets there. I don’t even try to understand. I know all I need to know: I am happier not knowing.

I’m more wary of the capabilities of my home computer. It’s probably because I don’t have an IT expert there (IT stands for information technology, not “it,” as in the person who must seek out the people who have hidden) to save me from my own ignorance. I primarily use e-mail at home to send stories to my work computer, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to figure out a couple of its intricacies all on my own. For example, I’ve learned that unless I send the files separately, they’re compressed into one file that I have to send to our IT expert, who finds the individual files. So maybe she is “it” after all.

The truth is, I’d probably ignore the whole technology revolution if it weren’t for the fact that it’s pretty much a job requirement. That’s why I wasn’t particularly alarmed when Gov. Tom Vilsack admitted he’s technologically inept. I think he understands what he needs to understand, that technology shrinks the world and broadens the ability of a small land-locked state like Iowa to compete globally in business opportunities.

A tech-savvy co-worker – seriously, this guy has both the catalog numbers and prices for the electronic gadgets he doesn’t possess stored somewhere in his Palm Pilot – challenged that assumption, saying that as the chief executive of the state, Vilsack ought to know all about e-mail. I chuckled at that and challenged my co-worker to ask Jason Swanson, our circulation manager, to explain Loretta Sieman’s understanding of e-mail in 25 words or less. A half-wall separates Jason’s and Loretta’s desks, so he’s an informed source.

Jason had 21 words to spare. “Jason!” he said, raising his voice a few octaves to parrot Loretta’s. “I need you!”

(Many of you know Loretta. Therefore, you know Jason is not exaggerating.)

I know more about e-mail than Loretta, but less than Jason and far, far less than the co-worker who never met a gadget he didn’t like. And I know more about e-mail than musician/reporter/Fantasy Baseball Camp veteran Michael Swanger, who can out-drum me and read White Sox box scores, but still doesn’t know how to attach files to his e-mails. He claims he’d [spit] on the spark plug if he thought it would help.

So that makes my grasp of technology about par with most of the employees here. Or, I should say, I can hold my own with most of the employees over 40, who were as mystified as I was in the early 1990s when those commercials featuring the lost waif standing by a quiet highway started promoting the World Wide Web. In the context of my understanding of technology, I am that lost girl.

Disconcerting as this revelation may be to some of the technology companies I occasionally write about in this gig (here, we are talking about my job and not the capacity of the company’s computer network to electronically store information), my shallow understanding of the situation may be an advantage.

I assume nothing.

Beth Dalbey is editorial director for Business Publications Corp. E-mail her at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com.  

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