I've been using an Intercom system lately called HeyTell, which works over the iPhone. Press a button and talk. It's just like an old-school Intercom, but way better. For starters, you can connect with anyone else who has the app, not just a secretary on the other side of your office door. Also: It doubles as a location finder. It shows you on a map where the other person is.
If your virtual assistant in India has an iPhone, you can use an intercom system just like in Mad Men. "Nitan, get me Roger on the phone, will you?"
Dictation machine, shorthand and memos In place of e-mail, Mad Men executives dictate memos into a recording device called a dictation machine. Alternatively, they dictate to the secretary directly, who uses mad shorthand skills to capture every word. The secretary would later craft the executives' sloppy, cryptic attempts at communication into a polished, clear paper memo.
We don't have dictation machines -- and we definitely don't have shorthand-capable secretaries. But we do have Dragon Naturally Speaking from Nuance, now available as a free cell phone app on iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones -- and the Apple iPad.
Recording on Dragon is just like dictation -- you talk, combining the text of your "memo" plus the instructions. So for example, you can say "comma" or "period" to insert punctuation, or "next paragraph" -- and the software understands all this and much more.
You can bang out "memos," e-mails, notes, or any other written communication much faster and easier. And you can send memos, er, e-mails, directly from the app.
What's that? You don't know how to use a pen anymore? No worries. A web service called SnailMailr lets you type your note in a form, and -- for a buck -- will send the recipient an actual physical paper letter in the mail.
Short, unscheduled meetings Because they don't have e-mail, and because writing a memo is such a time- and resource-consuming process, the fictional Mad Men office workers and the real white-collar workers from that era perfected the ad hoc, walk-in meeting.
In the show, a bunch of ad execs get an idea, form a mob and storm Don Draper's office. The moment Draper gets what he wants from the meeting, he orders everyone out. These meetings last five minutes. It's breathtaking. When is the last time you were in a five-minute meeting?
For flexible, ad-hoc communication, we have something even better than meetings: Business-ready microblogging. Services and products like Cyn.in, Jaiku, Obayoo, Present.ly, Socialcast, Socialtext, StatusNet, WorkSimple, Yammer and others give you the benefits of 5-minute meetings, without the need to be in the same office.
Fortunately, there are apps and tools that index all your e-mail. By both using one of these products -- and also sending a copy of your documents to yourself via e-mail, you can instantly recall every important piece of business communication.
I personally use fwdMail, formerly known as reMail, to achieve instant recall on my iPhone.
The 1960s are long gone. And that's a good thing. But business technology from that era provided levels of privacy, agility and mental clarity that are rare and valuable today. The good news is that with creativity and the right apps and online services you can re-create the benefits of some 1960s Mad Men business technology.
Like Don Draper, you too can have it all.