Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

Buried Alive: Document Retention

Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

Buried Alive: Document Retention

Article excerpt

Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.'

Dr. Samuel Johnson Boswell's Life of Johnson (1791)

Like guilt, fear is not one of our nobler emotions. It can, however, do absolute wonders in getting one's attention or in motivating another person, or even oneself, into action. For those records managers who cannot seem to get the attention of senior management as to records management's value in areas like cost reduction and productivity enhancement, the prescription is simple: try fear! If you are concerned that fear will not succeed, look around; fear's become a proven marketing technique in virtually all socalled developed or civilized societies.

Whether in products, environment, or socio-political issues, the use of fear tactics has found a broad range of applications in attracting and holding the attention of the general population. The list of products which can do harm and about which we have been conditioned to be concerned seems to grow daily. While the U.S. auto industry, for example, could not get consumers to listen about safety features in cars of the 1960's, safety has today become a major selling point in such areas as passive restraints and air bags, and collision avoidance systems" (i.e., special brakes). Product testing and reporting by organizations such as Consumers Union have sensitized many children's safety in several areas: crib design, mattresses, flameretardant sleepwear, car seats, and toys that maim or kill. The joy of being outdoors has become marred by revelations about chainsaws that go berserk, toe-removing lawnmowers, and problematic sports items like "Lawn Darts." In an atmosphere where the fear of AIDS has permeated all strata of society, even the lowly condom has become the beneficiary of subtle fear-based marketing.

The last few years have seen a large number of voluntary and mandatory product recalls or shelf removals, covering everything from defective automobile parts to poisonlaced Tylenol to benzene-contaminated Perrier water. Agencies in state and federal governments have stepped up oversight of products and workplace practices; e.g., the Occupational Health and Safety, the Department of Transportation, and the Consumer Products Commission. In addition, hundreds of consumerbased groups have formed.

Fear also inspires an interest and concern in areas other than product safety. A long-standing antipathy toward nuclear weapons and nuclear-based energy sources has had a dramatic impact on many societies and on the nuclear industry itself (e.g., Three Mile Island and Chernobyl). There are environmental fears about the greenhouse effect, adequate space for sanitary landfills, pesticide use, and air and water quality. Along with these issues are increasing concerns about toxins in the workplace. Rising crime rates and concern for personal safety have led to whole industries based on fear (e.g., home alarm systems).

An increased fear on the part of the public certainly has its counterpart in corporate life. Terms like "disaster planning," "risk management," and "contingency planning," phrases which seemed slightly quaint only a few years ago, are all vividly real today, and such areas of concern have become fields in their own right, complete with associations and professional journals. Opportunities and urges to litigate seem to have increased dramatically in the public's mind as well as courtrooms. (Could this explain why attorneys outnumber physicians by fifteen to one in my community?)

At the heart of most judicial actions and administrative hearings about corporate carelessness with the environment, product liability, or the infringement of employee rights are records-records that support the case of one side, the other, or sometimes both. Now it is common to hear records managers speak knowingly of "liability exposure," Inegative inference," "litigation support," and other jargon from the legal jungle. …

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