The paper memo: a genre of the (future?) technological apocalypse

I don’t really even bother to teach my technical communication students the format of a traditional paper memo. It typically includes the quaint “MEMORANDUM” as the first line, which strongly reminds me of the equally quaint “FACSIMILE COVER SHEET” on faxes I used to send to the U.S. armed services in a past life.

Email and scanning technology have made the memo mostly obsolete. Distribution lists are about as common as the secretaries who used them to calculate the number of Xeroxes they had to make. Then, in a Vanity Fair piece on the Sony Hack, I read this:

Suddenly it was a pre-Digital Age at Sony. Whoever hacked the company had not only stolen its internal data; they had wiped out everything in their wake. Sony’s e-mail system was down and out, so employees were forced to communicate by paper memos, texts, phone calls from their personal cell phones, and temporary e-mail addresses. The studio’s executives were reduced to using BlackBerrys unearthed from the basement of the Thalberg building.

Perhaps there is some value to teaching the old ways, a kind of “duck-and-cover” digital rhetoric that prepares students for technological apocalypses. Maybe one day I’ll even bring in a typewriter reminiscent of the antique I used to painstaking peck out my middle-school reports (it had an LCD display of your column number!!). A unit on cursive penmanship might also come in handy, though my long string of penmanship “D” grades would necessitate a guest lecturer on that particular topic.