Been cleaning out my closet and files this week while getting ready for the semester.
Looking at administrative materials, correspondence and so on that I kept from 1992-1995, when I had my first academic jobs at Rutgers, Emory and then here at Swarthmore. And wow, but that stuff looks ancient. There were print-outs from administrative computer records that still had the guidestrips with holes in them and were made by really crude looking dot-matrix printers. Yellow legal pads with notes I took in 1994 where the paper itself has completely faded and looks like it came from fifty years ago. And though everybody and his brother likes to observe that the “paperless” office is anything but paperless, I was still amazed to see again the much larger range of paper notices of various kinds that were fetching up in my campus mailboxes. (I found a cross-section of junkish mail from 1996 that I evidently just dumped into a pile and stuck in my closet once I got all the stuff I was sure I needed out of it.)
I was filing more dutifully and indiscriminately at that point, too, and I have to say that I’m struggling to recall what on earth I was thinking when I saved some of this stuff. I kept craploads of book and film catalogs from 1995. What, did I think I was going to be ordering out of them in 2006? I kept routine circulars. Notices of events that I wasn’t involved in and didn’t attend. The pink cards we get from the Registrar when students withdraw from classes. (Yes, I should have kept them for that semester, but seriously, was I imagining that I was going to need to find old pink cards from courses in 1997 ten years later in order to cross-check an enrollment issue?)
Not that my current filing system, aka, Make Big Piles on Desk, is vastly superior. But it really struck me that you can seriously underestimate how much change there can be the technical details of work when the overall kind of work you do hasn’t changed much.