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Like most people my age, computers, that is desktop computers, have been an unremarkable fixture in the world for my entire conscious lifetime. When I was a kid, computers were at the doctor’s office, my Californian aunts used computers at their office jobs, and even my school had a computer, though the teachers didn’t know how to use it and were loath to let us children play with it. Therefore, I’ve always kind of taken it for granted that records could be pulled up on a screen, either off a disk, or from a remote database. Computers have simply always been part of my mental conception of an office’s landscape.

Therefore, it struck me as kind of remarkable today, when I was working on a mysterious box of files which somehow eluded microfilming for the past two decades, that these files—the permits and certificates—were not available in our database. Other files contemporary to this box-full (circa 1982-85) have since been microfilmed, and our microfilm machine can handily scan them into digital images, which I can classify by their permit numbers and submit into a shared file on the interoffice server. Newer files I can track down using their permit numbers and a barcode number to determine where they’ve been stored. These, however, are orphans. Because they were never microfilmed, I can’t scan them in-office and send them into the interoffice ether. Because they predate our computerized record-keeping system, I cannot assign them a barcode number we can retrieve electronically. I’ve had to forge a compromise—a typed list of each address and its associated permit numbers, then assign a barcode to the entire box. Sometime, of course, they will either be microfilmed or scanned into digital images and stored electronically. For the meantime, this dusty box of vintage files will be identified by a typed list and a barcode sticker on the outside of their box.

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