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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Whatever Happened To Pink Slips?

Communication: From the clack of rocks to invisible radio waves

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 04:00

Quality professionals pride themselves in being efficient and are always searching for ways to improve their approach to improving processes. One of the methods for doing so is to have modern, up to date communication systems. Most people in the profession probably have the customary Blackberry and even the latest iPhone. I like to think that I'm a technology geek myself, but sometimes communication processes change so rapidly that it's difficult to stay current.

Just the other day our son, Bill Jr., sent me a text message from his iPhone directing me to open up an e-mail on our computer. Upon doing so, we discovered a video from their vacation that had been filmed moments before he sent the text message. To someone my age it was mind-boggling. Bill Jr. had filmed their vacation antics with his iPhone and then text messaged me about it. He then forwarded it to our laptop. I’m just happy to have a cell phone where I can talk to others—all the other accessories are just confusing to me.

As I thought about the revelations in the world of technology, I thought back to when the closest thing we had to innovation were pink message slips that we used to communicate with others in the office. Some of you will remember those notes with messages such as who called, who wanted to see you, and who returned a call. I suspect prior to those pink message slips people just scratched out notes on scraps of paper.

As I thought about the progress we have made in communication, I wondered where it all started. Perhaps cavemen communicated by banging two rocks together similar to Morse code. Hey, perhaps the first corrective action report was this one: “Onk. Square wheel no roll. Need fix.” That method was probably followed by the town crier—a person who made public pronouncements in the streets. Town criers usually wore white breeches, black boots, and a tricorne hat. Today, an outfit like that will either get you arrested or mugged.

I think next in the line of communication might have been Indian smoke signals. The signals could be altered to curl in spirals, ascend in puffs or circles, or in some cases, just parallel lines. Watching old western movies I was always amazed that someone could actually read this type of communication. Usually it was Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s constant companion. That method today would be banned by the EPA and Tonto would be arrested for initiating global warming.

Maybe the next means of communication was the telegraph. It was always interesting to watch a bespectacled operator pound out a message to someone in an adjacent town.

Alexander Graham Bell then entered the scene and we all scrambled to install the latest invention—the telephone. Growing up in Kansas, I can remember our phone in the kitchen with a side crank that connected us with Molly the operator who would then connect us with a nearby neighbor. I suspect that Molly listened in on our conversations and this was no doubt the first instance of privacy invasion.

When dial phones came into existence, they were hailed as a marvel and we all had to have the latest invention. I can recall our having a “party line,” which meant there was more than one household in town with the same phone number. There was a unique ring on our phone so that we knew the call was for us. Sometimes though, we would pick up the phone to make a call only to discover that our “party line” was using the phone. Those were always embarrassing moments.

Of course, watching old movies about World War II gave us another method of communication—that of Morse code, or semaphore flags, or flashing light signals from ships. Somewhere about this time, megaphones were used but maybe I’m thinking about singer Rudy Vallee who used one as his trademark. Let’s not forget Harpo Marx's horn, and of course, Clarabell the Clown, who used a similar means of communicating.

In the 1960s, you can imagine our excitement when push button phones were introduced. And how about the excitement when a long distance phone call came through, especially if you were in the yard? Someone would holler breathlessly about the long distance call and you would double time it into the house, because those calls were expensive. Today, most of us have unlimited call service, which includes long distance anywhere in the nation.

At about this time, I think fax machines came into vogue. It provided instant information from office to office, but few people knew how to change the ink cartridge so sometimes it sat idle for days.

Then came car phones. While I was working for a local bank, I was given a car phone as an experiment. The phone itself was the size of a large brick and the electronics for it were stored in a large suitcase in the seat net to me—not very suitable for traveling.

Cell phones all of a sudden emerged and now everyone seems to have one. Of course there is e-mail, voice mail, and the ever present beeper.

Our automobile has OnStar, which means there is a hands-free phone that we can utilize. What with various towns and cities making the use of cell phones while driving illegal, we use this phone quite often.

Wonder how long it will be before mental telepathy makes its appearance?

So from a simple pounding on stones all the way to phones that feature e-mail and access to the internet, we certainly have come a long way. Well, time to go. Our local town crier just notified me it’s time for dinner. “On my way dear.”


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.