I like to think of myself as a reasonably accomplished man. I am seventy-seven years old. I have raised two fine sons, been a good husband [I hope] to two fine women, written more than a score of books, and taught thousands of students over more than half a century. But when I am faced with elementary clerical tasks that a modestly gifted twelve year old could handle with ease, I melt into a puddle of anxious indecision and become afflicted with terminal incompetence.
At the moment, I am preparing yet another fund raising mailing for my charitable organization, University Scholarships for South African Students. On the letterhead, I call myself the "Executive Director," which seems to imply that there are dutiful minions who do my bidding, but in fact I am the whole show, which means that when it is time to create a mailing, I do it all myself. Writing the letter is elementary; it takes me a comfortable half hour. But then I must begin the tedious, picky task of dividing the data base into eight separate data bases, depending on whether there are two names or one, two addresses or one, and whether I address people formally or by their first names. [I know I am supposed to be able to construct conditional commands that will do all of this seamlessly, but I have never figured out how to make WORD do that.] This is followed by the equally picky jobs of merge printing the envelopes, merge printing the letters, folding, stuffing, and sealing them, and finally stamping them, before putting them all in as many mailboxes as I can find and hoping for the best.
I have been doing this for twenty-one years now, so you would imagine I have long since become good at it. Not on your life! Every time I do it, my blood pressure rises, I break out in sweats, and I make enough mistakes to consume forty or fifty envelopes and letters as throwaways. If I were forced to make my living doing this sort of work, I would seriously consider suicide.
Thank God and Adam Smith for the division of labor.