Punch Card Bills

1968 punch card utility bill

We enjoy a love-hate relationship with our computers. When they work well, they’re our pets. But when the act up (generally because most of us are stuck running Windows), we fantasize about throwing them in the nearest body of salt water.

But by and large, we were exposed to computers in some form or another at an early age. And we accepted their usefulness, and ran out and got our own as soon as they got cheap enough. Now our Depression-surviving parents were another matter. For the most part, they had a deep-seated distrust of thinking machines that came along well after they had learned how to get along, and especially pay bills, without them.

60’s punch card bill

In fact, if there was any sort of technological glitch, they were quick to blame those blasted computers.

So when many of their bills started showing up in the mail during the 60’s as punch card bills, they were quick to scorn the newfangled things.

It was a no-brainer for utility companies to send out bills on cards that could be inserted into a reader for quick data entry, as opposed to paying someone to hand-type the payee’s information in (and increase the risk of errors). But that didn’t mean our parents had to like it.

They were used to seeing newspaper stories about folks getting billed a million dollars and some change for a month’s water usage. And of course, the accounts always blamed the problem on a computer error.

The truth be known, the mainframe computers in use were some of the most reliable machines man has ever built. The error was invariably the fault of a programmer or someone’s mistyped data entry.

Punch cards used to be one of our most common sights. Dumpsters outside office buildings would contain hundreds of thousands of them, long before recycling caught on.

Nowadays, you can buy them on eBay as collector’s items. But we Boomers can remember mom or dad opening those bills and griping about how computers were taking over the world.

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