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Stanley H. Pinstripe's clever desk

By Staff writer of The christian Science Monitor / June 6, 1980


When David Guest writes an interoffice memo, his desk corrects the spelling. Nothing major, mind you. It doesn't know how many "i"s there are in Mississippi." But a slip of the finger like "tje" will be changed to "the instantly. And if Mr. Guest wants to send the memo to a branch office in Houston, he doesn't have to wait for the afternoon mail. A touch of a button, and the correspondence zips to Texas quick as a phone call.

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Mr. Guest doesn't work at National Aeronautics and Space Administration's mission control. He is a vice-president at the New York advertising firm Young & Rubicam, where his automated office is full of electronic gadgets designed to free white-collar workers from time-wasting chores. His talented desk, outfitted with a word-processing terminal, helps him research as well as write.

"I can look up any file, find out when it was written, who it was sent to, the last time I looked at it, and the date it was created," he says.

When he wants to call accounting, the terminal beams up a personal phone book for quick reference. And it keeps track of his expense account to make sure he doesn't run over budget.

As office salaries rise and the cost of microelectronics drops, such equipment will fill more and more offices, mechanizing clerical tasks to squeeze more work out of each day -- and, some fear, squeezing secretaries out of jobs.

Chattering typewriters will fall silent, replaced by the softly clicking keyboards and TV screens of word processors. The gray filing cabinet that never quite closed right will be obsolete, outmoded by microfiche and other miniaturized information storage systems. Mail rooms will gather dust, with document transmitted by desktop electronic mail devices.

For Stanley H. Pinstripe, rising young executive of 1985, office automation will mean a totally different style of working. Through a VDT (video display terminal) on his desk, he'll have access to computer-stored office reports, contracts, purchase orders, and other pieces of paper. If preparing an interoffice report on widget production, for instance, he could type the key word "widget" into the computer's index and receive all company information pertinent to the topic. A touch of a button, and he could be connected to useful information sources outside the company -- learning at a glance the cost of widgets in Botswana, or federal widget- control regulations.

Swamped by widget data, Pinstripe will compose the report by using the word processing ability of his VDT, one electronic office tool already in wide use. But while today's machines are simply keyboards which print on a video screen instead of paper, Pinstripe's will be more versatile. He'll be able to draw on it, for one thing, so the report can be dotted with illustrations of widgets -- left-handed ones in blue, right-handed ones in red. In bored moments, he can doodle electronically, in four colors.

Once finished, the widget study will be instantly available to anyone in the company through the shared computer system, including the branch managers of widget plants in Pawtucket and Catatonia. The managers won't need to travel to headquarters. They will be able to discuss the report by teleconference -- with a large-screen closed-circuit TV linking headquarters and field offices.

And since personal calendars will be on the computer as well, the managers will be able to arrange the meeting in a split second, checking with the computer for the first time all of them are available. The computer system will automatically mark the meeting on each manager's calendar, and pester them with reminders on their display screens.

The Diebold Group, a management consultant firm, estimates an office equipped like Pinstripe's could slash administrative costs as much as 15 percent.

Corporations like IBM, Burroughs, Xerox, and Wang Laboratories are preparing products for a market which will reach an extimated $15 billion by 1985.