Ode to an Office Page

Discovering that one is a dinosaur is a common occurrence for most people who have lived seven or so decades, and I am one of those in today’s technological world.   Yes, I have a cell phone, a clam shell style.  And yes, I also have a desktop computer, on which I use email, Word, and the Internet.  However, there are many functions inside that screen that I will never explore.

From the 1979 RHS Yearbook

Likewise, at least so far, I refuse to invest in anything that has an “i” in front of its name; and a “ nook” to me is a small closet,  while “kindle” is an incomplete word without the –ing on it to mean something used in a fireplace.  I’ll continue to turn paper pages in books that I can pass on to friends when I’m finished with them.

Technology in the modern world is so pervasive that the human factor has been sacrificed or greatly demeaned in almost every business or institution in existence.  Is there anyone who can now choose a career, or even a simple job, that doesn’t demand a computer of some type?

That said, the realization that I could not begin to function in my chosen career of fifty years ago has hit me with a vengeance.   I’ve been retired from high school teaching for almost 23 years, and from what the younger generation tells me, many activities once performed by humans working with and relating to each other are now performed by artificial means.  I picture the modern classroom filled with one older person, the teacher, manipulating technology as the students “learn” by staring mindlessly at screens and punching enough keys and buttons to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and permanently glazed over eyes by age 20.  The addiction to technology continues as young people sit as couples or in groups without saying a word to each other because they are staring at small screens.

Then there are the communication systems in schools that also seem to operate with little human interaction.   It used to be that telephones in school offices were answered by a real person known as the office secretary.  She likely knew most of the students’ names by the second or third month of the school year.  Now the phone is answered by someone named “Menu.”   Parents, most of whom hate Menu, insist on their kids having cell phones so that contact is instant when there’s an emergency, such as Granny falling down the stairs, the nuke plant failing, or Rover treeing the cat.  Somehow this cell phone dependence has created a huge, invisible umbilical cord between parent and kid, guaranteeing the kid stays in a state of emotional immaturity long after the body reaches adulthood.  Twenty years ago and going back to the beginnings of public education, even having telephones in individual classrooms would have been considered a ridiculously expensive extravagance.

Not all Office Pages were female. As you can see, it was rare. From the 1978 RHS Yearbook.

Communication in schools used to be accomplished by two primitive means:  the public address system (PA) and the office page.  The PA was usually a box on the front wall of each classroom.  Those rare students who listened to it also tended to stare at it as if expecting a tiny person to emerge.  Somehow everyone else seemed to make it through most days without calamities even though the PA was ignored. The second means of communication, the office page, was a much more interesting phenomenon.  Usually a girl who had decent enough grades to sacrifice a study hall in the service of the school, was the secretary’s “gofer.”  She delivered messages with alacrity and congeniality.  Since teenage obesity hadn’t much been invented yet, she was lithe and fleet of foot.  Her job made her feel needed and important and also allowed her to be in the halls in hopes of seeing that cute boy she liked, plus she escaped the boring study hall.  Her interruption to deliver messages to the teachers or students may have annoyed the teachers, but more than one boy was happy for the change of scenery she brought to the classroom.  All the students appreciated the interruption of particularly boring subjects, like algebra, which was invented by some sadist who was determined to make ninth graders’ first year of high school miserable, or English, which had units about “poems,” things that rhyme and look funny on the page.   I taught English, and one year a vociferous boy in my class repeatedly called a certain page “bodacious.”  I was a little embarrassed because I, who was supposed to know every word ever used,  had to check my Funk & Wagnalls for “bodacious,” although I should have known the meaning from the girl’s appearance.

Once, two office pages came to summon me out of the teacher’s lunchroom.  One of them said, “Mrs. Reed, there’s a man in the office who says he’s locked out of his apartment and he needs your key.”  This was greeted by my colleagues with hoots, hollers and demands to know what I was hiding from them.  The other page yelled in, “It’s your father, your father.”  Sure enough, there on the office bench, usually reserved for students facing discipline from the principal, was my ancient father with his cane and rumpled clothes.  In any case, the pages had given us something to laugh about for the rest of the day (and beyond). The girls also escorted my father, one holding each of his arms, out of the building because he looked as if he couldn’t make it anywhere on his own.  Try asking your Smartphone to do that.

In conclusion, I am grateful I did not have to adapt to the impersonal world of the modern school.  In my retirement, I walk the woods with my dog in peace – no pager, no texting, no beeping, no screen, no Facebook, no electronics following my every move, NO STRESS.  And I don’t panic when I go somewhere and forget my cell phone.  I feel genuinely sorry for today’s young people who have known nothing but the virtual world.  The real one is so beautiful if one would only notice it is there.  (Sigh!).

(Story’s Featured Image is from the 1979 RHS Yearbook.)


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One Thought to “Ode to an Office Page”

  1. Mary K. Zmecek-Lette

    Terrific article from Gretchen Reed. She captured the feelings for those of us who have witnessed the coming of age of computers, cell phones and social media. … .and for reminding us just how peaceful a walk in the woods can be.

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