How Has the Way You Work Changed in the Last Ten Years?

A sliderule.Not long ago, I got to thinking about how much technology has changed in my lifetime. No, I’m not old enough to have used a slide rule—but I do remember seeing one in my father’s desk when I was a kid, and I distinctly remember him getting his first calculator.

Of course, things kept changing as I got older. There was the Commodore PET in our 6th-grade classroom, then the Commodore 64 in our home and the Apple IIe’s in our high school. In college, it was the Macintosh Plus, and the PC’s in the lab; if you wanted to run WordPerfect on one of the machines, you had to check out the floppy disk from the consultant at the desk and load it into memory first. Cumbersome though that may sound, moving from the typewriter to the computer in college really changed how I worked; it certainly made keeping track of my writing a lot simpler.

That move was only the first in what have been a series of significant moves for me. In the last ten years or so, I’ve found myself working in ways I could never have imagined before. In particular:

I’m far more careful about backups, which are easier now that there are so many good options for taking care of that task.

I find myself making frequent use of electronic tools to facilitate my work. It’s not (at least most of the time) that I’m doing new or different tasks than I once did. It’s that I’m doing them differently—and far more efficiently. I’ve found the following especially useful:

  • Google Books. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s very handy for finding new resources, and for locating needed passages when I don’t have a copy of the book nearby.
  • THOMAS (from the Library of Congress). If you need to, say, search the Congressional Record, this is the place to go. Oh, how I would have loved to have this tool available when I was researching for my dissertation, instead of having to use the print index to search through all the relevant debates. (OK, even if THOMAS had been around, it wouldn’t have helped for my particular project, as they’ve only digitized the Congressional Record back to 1989. Still, the site’s incredibly valuable for anyone doing legislative research.)
  • Zotero. It’s no secret that many of us here at Team ProfHacker are big fans of Zotero. It happens to be my reference manager of choice, though there are certainly others that will do the job. What’s key for my own work is that reference managers of all sorts have really come a long way. I used a very early version of EndNote in my later years in graduate school, but only for managing and formatting references. These days, Zotero, Menedley, EndNote, Sente, etc. are full-fledged information managers. I no longer keep my notes on index cards or in a wordprocessing document.

I use social networking to connect with colleagues. Social networking’s how I ended up a part of Team ProfHacker, so it’s been great for making professional contacts. It can also help make conferences more enjoyable. I’m the sort who can benefit from things like Gina Trapani’s Introverted Nerd’s Conference Survival Guide. I’d add one item to her list: if you’re attending the same conference, make it a point to meet up with people you’ve already been conversing with via social media. It’s fun to make those connections in real life, and getting connected with someone you already know a little can make navigating a conference a lot more pleasant.

What about you? How has the way you work changed over the last ten years? Let’s hear about your experiences in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user xddorox / Creative Commons licensed]

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