“When Am I Going to Use This?”

Rebecca Eggenschwiler wrote a wonderful point of view recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “When Am I Going to Use This?”, the common refrain of students bored with the current class. The short answer is “I don’t know”, but if clairvoyance were a reality, we wouldn’t need college classes anyway.  Myself, having just completed a post-master’s certificate, and not having the current fortitude to last out a doctoral campaign to its finish, I found Eggenschwiler’s article at first amusing. On reflection, my decidedly non-academic occupation as a service technician has me frequently asking, “Did They Have to Design It This Way?” Like Eggenschwiler’s non-fictional question-asker, every time I begin taking the panels off office equipment, I openly question the rationale of the hardware or software engineer. Even so, I find copy machines, fax machines, letter folders/inserters, and postage meters interesting, even though they are the epitome of dullness to the average office staff (aka knowledge workers).

The problem with my thinking is that some engineer had to work hard under many constraints to create a piece of equipment to do a job.  Any criticism should be tempered.  Some of the constraints have to do with, in the case of postage meters for example, security requirements of the US Postal Service.  The machines are akin to ATMs.  You can’t be allowed to print postage indiscriminately, even though it is your money.  Second, time and space dictate how a mail piece goes through a meter to get sealed, weighed, and imprinted with an indicia (a digital stamp).  Last, it has to be in a marketable package, not bare metal and exposed wires.  So, the same plebeians who cry foul when confronted with Latin, the finer points of Microsoft Excel, or the privacy aspects of HIPAA should inform me (and others like me) to refrain from complaining when a screw drops from the non-magnetic tip of a driver.  We just don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. As for the question “When will I use this information?”, the answer is:  Every single day.


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