Much has been written about the wondrous capabilities of computers. Of how man couldn't have walked on the moon for another millennium without their prodigious calculating capacities. Of how they provide businesses with more up-to-date and comprehensive information that can improve everything from purchasing to quality control to sales management. Of how they can liberate the work force from many of its most tedious chores. Etc., etc., etc.
But the "literature" of business -- from reportage to sales promotion -- has largely ignored one of the main ways in which computers function today: as a state-of-the-art excuse.
Not so, the workaday world. Everyone with even a tenuous connection between his or her job and a computer has managed to blame it for failings of one sort or another.
It's true that computer systems do go "down" once in a while. Those miraculous chips can wear out. Their connections can fail. And so on.
It's equally true that many business operations have become dependent on computers and are not staffed to operate at all well without them. Just try to get airline reservations when the airline's computer system is down, for example.
Still, most of the blame we heap on computers is for errors, and not for being out of service. Sure, we know that Ben Franklin or Thomas Watson Sr. or perhaps Anonymous said, "Computers don't make mistakes; people do." But we frequently choose to ignore this.
You were overcharged on your invoice? It was "computer error."
You were billed four times for a charge you've paid? "The computer fouled up."
We've got a hundred dozen Smalls and we've run out of Mediums? "It must be that darn computer again."
Our customers . . . and sometimes our bosses, too . . . are supposed to believe that the people who write up the sales, punch in the data and program the computers are machinelike in their infallibility, whereas our computers are moody, careless, stubborn, mischievous and even malicious.
We swallow this ourselves at times, without thinking.
I recall a friend who had been transferred from one branch office to another and blamed "the damn computer" for his not having been paid for six weeks -- and he was an IBM executive.
But mostly we abuse the computer knowingly. And on occasion we create a sort of excuse trap by doing this.
I know of one sales department, for instance, which handles a large volume of orders that are placed by phone.
Routinely, its computer has been the scapegoat for snafus of one sort or another. But shortly a more elaborate system will be installed, with on-line terminals for the telephone sales people. After a training period which will leave this organization short-handed for dealing with customers, service should become faster than ever and errors in orders and billing should be significantly reduced.
"But how can we convince our regular customers to bear with us during the transition?" asked one of the managers. "We've made the computer the culprit, and now it's supposed to be the savior that they're waiting for?"
I'm afraid he'll just have sweat it out. When his new system is off and running and improvement is evident, he can heave a sigh of relief and tell his customers, "I told you so."
But there will still be some goofs, of course. Human errors. And before long they'll be blamed again on the damn computer.
After all, these are modern times, when a lot of people believe in glitchcraft.