Office Life: 20th Century vs. 21st Century

With modern smart phones, personal computers and the internet, it’s hard to believe that office life ever looked as naff as shoulder pads, bouffant hairdos and mobile phones the size of your head.
How we use computers now is so simple it’s rewired our brains. With everyone in offices learning to use these machines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, work has been redistributed. The ubiquitous desktop has been thrillingly liberating and thoroughly democratic. But not so hot for the secretary, who has not only stopped doing the grunt work – she’s lost her job.

Technology tools are now being consolidated into easy-to-use platforms that let workers collaborate in a virtual world. We can work from home in our jim-jams and don’t even physically, all have to be in the same place anymore, team members can join in meetings, customer briefings, and training events in one convenient online location.

While these technologies are fine for exchanging formal knowledge, they don’t work well to help you get to know colleagues on a personal level as before. They say the so-called social media is going to help fill this gap, but it won’t replace the dialogue and banter that used to take place around the company water cooler, or the kettle in the corner.

The office desk of the past was a paper shufflers paradise (or hell) with stacks of books, baskets, ledgers, letters and files that had to be punched, stamped, labelled, clipped and bound, and then, only then, stashed away and organised in a volumous system involving boxes, shelves, cupboards and storage facilities. Our modern, shiny, barren new workspace has a display, keyboard and mouse, able to achieve all the aforementioned with one single tap… into the cloud (or heaven?)

Now most of our music is digital, available to download in seconds into our music library or MP3 player. Way back then, we all loved listening to cassettes on our good old Walkman. If we wanted to make copies to share it had to happen on a twin deck contraption in real time, hoping that the machine wouldn’t malfunction, and chew up the tape, resulting in miles and miles of thin brown ribbon, we’d then have to stick a pencil through one of the spools and rewind it manually.

In days gone by we could be seen scoffing a quick full English and a bucket of strong sweet tea at a greasy spoon cafe, then, burping and farting our way to lunchtime before popping out for a pie and a pint (and maybe half a bottle of Milk of Magnesia). Current regulations stipulate, a Mango and Ugli fruit smoothie, or a shot of some obscure thick green fluid for breakfast, on the way to work you are allowed pick up a latte or cappuccino from your favourite barista, then imbibe gallons of clear spring water all morning until lunching from a bento box. Yum!

Many corporations have responded to sustainability concerns by reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through revised product designs, operational management, recycling and reuse. In the 80s if you asked someone where the switches and plugs in the office were they would be hard pressed to tell you, the lights never went out! Even in the middle of summer.With today’s energy efficiency rules, you have to bagsy a desk by the window if your job involves reading any type (pun intended) of printed material. We used to chuck everything in the bins, and next morning it would have magically disappeared to landfill or an incinerator somewhere.
With the current office policy, we diligently shred unwanted and sensitive documents into a black bag, the lady from round the corner then comes to collect it for her chickens to nest on. Goodness knows what happens to it after that.


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