by September 3, 2000 0 comments

One of the first things that I did when I started working was
to buy an address book and a visiting card holder. At that time, the only phone
numbers I needed to look up belonged to friends and relatives. I soon started
acquiring acquaintances whose contact details I needed to look up. Both the
address book and visiting card holder started to fill up nicely. These tools
worked fine but could be cumbersome to update. For example, when a contact
changed jobs, I had to tear up his old visiting card or strike out his entry in
the address book and replace it with a new entry. I soon started looking for a
way to apply technology to the task.

Those were the days when the PC had just been introduced.
dBase III was the database of choice and the options available were (a) Maintain
the database in dBase with custom programs for searching and directory printing
or (b) Use packaged software like SideKick to maintain an address book. I chose
SideKick, partly because it was the first genuine TSR (Terminate and Stay
Resident) program that I had seen. SideKick was soon found lacking in
flexibility and I tried dBase. dBase gave me complete control, but writing the
programs took a lot of time.

By this time, I was dissatisfied by the PC as a medium for
storing addresses and phone numbers. My manual address book was portable, my PC
was not. To refer to addresses while traveling, I’d have to print out the
address book and lug it around. Even a single change could require up to 10
pages of printing (assuming I printed only the alphabetical section that had
changed). Finally, PC-based phone books lacked flexibility. For instance, I
sometimes have telephone numbers of up to a dozen people in a single
organization. Such information can’t be easily dealt with using a rigidly
defined field structure.

And then came the digital diary. I thought it the ideal
solution and bought a Casio model with 32 kB RAM. Finally a tool that could be
carried around and was electronic. My Casio worked well and I had soon abandoned
my PC-based address book. I did keep my manual phone book, perhaps because it
was the best backup of my data.

Things began to move faster. First came the laptop. I
resisted the compelling appeal of moving my address data to my laptop, as I had
realized that I wouldn’t carry my laptop even half the amount I carried my
digital diary. Fax and e-mail became widespread and suddenly I had problems
cramming data into my digital diary. The field structure was such that fitting
in two office numbers, two residence numbers, one fax number, and an e- mail
address was not easy. I was in the market for another solution.

Enter the cellular phone and presto, I had another phone
book. My initial enthusiasm (for the address book function) gave way to complete
irritation. Mobile phone address books really limit the amount of information
you can keep. The second problem is that I tend to switch off my mobile phone,
when in office or at home, and switching it on to get a phone number is really
irritating. Lastly, the chicklet keys on the keyboard are a huge disincentive to
updating the database.

The last straw was introduced by the growing proliferation of
e-mail. My e-mail address directory grows at a much faster rate than my phone
book. Theoretically, I should consolidate all types of information in my e-mail
address book. Practically the solution is not workable, as I use separate
machines for day-to-day work and Internet access. In any case, the lack of
portability of my Internet machine would be a major stumbling block.

So, I’m back to a hybrid solution involving a manual phone
book, a PDA (instead of my digital diary), and an e-mail address book. And I
believe that the predicted convergence between mobile phones and PCs will not
make any difference. It’s easier to use computers to track balance sheets than
to use them for tracking addresses.

The bottom line Advanced technology can prove useless when dealing with
trivial problems. You should know when to cut your losses.

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