One Moment Caller

The Science Museum in London has put out a call for exhibits and memories to help to fill its new Information Age gallery.  The Museum’s main target is former managers of Lyons Tea Shops from the 1950s who would have experienced working with the world’s first office computer.  Apparently the computer covered 5,000 square feet and was used for calculating tea orders.

The Museum is also interested in contacting those who operated telephone exchanges in the 1950s and 1960s.   Memories and personal stories can really help museums and exhibitions to bring the past to life and unless those memories are collected as soon as possible they may be lost forever.

Increasingly pre-computer age machines are becoming long forgotten relics; doomed to sit in museums or to be cast on the scrap heap and the Science Museum’s call does raise an intriguing question relating to the way in which exhibitions will have to change in response to technology. Manual telephone exchanges were vast boards of switches, plugs and wires and it is fairly easy to visualise the work which went into switching a call.  But the world has moved on and switchboards now live in the virtual world with computer code responding to instructions which we never see.  How will that be portrayed in future museums?  Will we have to act out a recreation of the computer switching mechanisms or will technology have moved on even further allowing us to experience virtually the reality of a computer pathway?

If the world has moved on, can we say the same for all businesses?  Have we embraced the opportunities which a virtual switchboard can bring or are we still stuck in a past in which the telephone is a cumbersome annoyance which only serves to interrupt our daily duties.  Actually, it has to be said that there are two sides to every story and the way in which the telephone is perceived and managed can make a measurable difference both to workflow and error reduction as well as to our perceptions of telephone interruptions.

Studies have shown that when we are dealing with complex issues, it can take between twenty and thirty minutes to get back on track following any interruption. As a result, whilst we would not advocate banning the telephone from office, it may be cost-effective for individuals to have ‘quiet times’ in which their telephone is switched to someone else will they get on with completing a complex report or analysis. At the same time, a measure of training in telephone management techniques may prove useful, particularly in changing attitudes to calls; moving away from seeing calls as a nuisance and towards viewing them as a valuable interaction with customers, suppliers or others.

Even with these measures in place unwanted calls can still get through but clever use of technology can be deployed in order to help us to manage calls more effectively.  Number recognition and routing can help to ensure that calls are transferred appropriately.  Key contacts can be issued with PIN numbers or given direct line numbers to speed up their calls.  Certain numbers, such as those from some overseas countries, might be blocked to stop unwanted sales calls.  In fact with a virtual switchboard the opportunities for call management are endless; but quite how we portray that in future times, we’ll leave to the Museum experts.

Written by Alison