Magazine article Communication World

If Someone Would Have Told Me in 1970 That 20 Years Later ... Men Would Put Goop in Their Hair and Whack off Their Sideburns and Wear Pink Suspenders, I Would Have Believed They Had Stolen My Drugs

Magazine article Communication World

If Someone Would Have Told Me in 1970 That 20 Years Later ... Men Would Put Goop in Their Hair and Whack off Their Sideburns and Wear Pink Suspenders, I Would Have Believed They Had Stolen My Drugs

Article excerpt

What would it be like were you to have gone into a coma 20 years ago (the result of having to review annual report copy with accountants) and had just been revived because the copy is now ready for typesetting? What would you notice most about how organizational communication has changed, how it has stayed the same, and perhaps how much you need a good hot shower?

Maybe the most noticeable difference is in the communicator's office equipment. Twenty years ago, offices clicked with the staccato beat of typewriters, a sort of audio barometer of office productivity. Today, offices are much quieter, the typewriter having been replaced with the personal computer whose keys sound like rodents gnawing cardboard. Occasionally, this relative quiet is punctuated with the scream of, "AARRRRRGGGGGH I JUST LOST THE ENTIRE FRIGGING STORY!" which you would never hear 20 years ago because communicators then yelled, "AARRRRRGGGGGH I PUT THE DAMN CARBON PAPER IN BACKWARDS!"

It is appropriate at this point that we pause to have a moment of silence for carbon paper. Ubiquitous in the office of 20 years ago, carbon paper has now all but disappeared, the innocent victim of photocopying machines and an unfortunate and ill, timed labor strike by the workers who used to make their livings painting carbon on the back of paper. This gave photocopiers the break they needed to take over our offices. We are now so reliant on photocopiers that we make 958,904,110 photocopies on an average day (according to Accountemps), of which only one-third are necessary. The remaining two-thirds cost us more than $7 million, which is enough to buy all the carbon paper made since the time of Aristotle.

While newly awakened communicators might mourn the passing of carbon paper, they would most likely celebrate the invention of the sticky pad. Originally designed for humane, catch-and-release fly paper, sticky pads have now taken huge market bites out of both paper clips and staplers. I use sticky pads with such frequency that my papers now look like Big Bird. Many other communicators use sticky pads for making notes in books, lint and dandruff removal, and cleaning themselves when there's not time for a shower. Twenty years ago, no one had ever heard of sticky pads, but then there were a lot of things we hadn't heard of.

The recently revived communicator would be struck by the new argot of organizations. Twenty years ago, people would think that "golden parachute" was, in fact, a parachute made from gold, and it was probably strapped onto some victim who was taken aloft and then hurled from an airplane in a pagan ritual designated to placate the then-popular Bermuda Triangle. Our predecessors would have thought that "bottom line" was a mark made on your skin by elastic and that "downsizing" was some sort of cruel euphemism for "mass, random dismissals." And, of course, in all three cases our predecessors would be absolutely correct.

Many of these terms were coined to reflect the wave of acquisitions, mergers, leveraged buyouts and muggings that have swept over business since the Sixties. These combinations have created special challenges for communicators, who often find themselves hoping for "white knights" or "poison pills" if their companies are threatened by "hostile" takeovers. Communicators particularly know that if their companies are acquired," they will probably be "outplaced" by new managements composed of "ruthless, cretoid scums deserving of fire ant implants."

Takeovers have eliminated lots of venerable companies. Creating the resultant new corporate identities is a booming field, populated by persons with the bodies of marketing people and the heads of wrapping paper designers. …

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