The Office

A project I have been working on has led to some interesting reading about demographics.

I read an article over the weekend that pointed out that, for the first time in U.S. history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace.  In “The Multigenerational Workforce: Managing and Motivating Multiple Generations in the Legal Workplace,” Sally Kane draws out the distinctions among the so-called Traditionalists, born before 1945, the Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y, in terms of how they tend to function in the workplace.

The article suggests that, largely because generations view the role of  technologies differently, the groups may also relate to their colleagues differently in meetings and in one-on-one interaction.

Obviously, Traditionalists have witnessed the most change over their career spans.  Presuming they entered the workforce in the late 1960s, they worked through cultural and technological revolutions the GenXers and Millennials may have only read about or seen on screen.  In the last 40 years, they have adapted to new workplace devices and vocabularies and, I dare say, have done so pretty well.

Technically a Baby Boomer, I began my career in 1983 at a high-tech trade association.  I was working in a leading edge industry that presumably used cutting edge technologies and forward thinking business concepts.  I worked hard to learn the lingo and became just proficient enough to stay employed in the industry for the next 20 years.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but I realize now how many of the words we spoke and tools we used must be inconceivable to today’s young professional. Likewise, the collection of gadgets so indispensible to today’s office worker were as unforeseen to the workers of yesteryear as the practice of team-building.

If indeed such a wide gap exists, as the article suggests, in the interpersonal relations among the generations, perhaps I can be helpful in forging some understanding by explaining some commonplace terms from the early 1980s office.

Facsimile machine.  It wasn’t called a fax or used as a verb for years to come.  It was used only when time was of the essence; in my office, that was about twice a year.  We sent and received facsimiles by inserting a telephone receiver into a foam-padded cradle attached to a large roller in which we manually fed single pages.  The machine emitted a horrendous odor when receiving.

Message pad.  These were pink and were headed with the words, While You Were Out.  The answering machine came into existence a bit later.

Word processor.  As in, “please let me know when you are finished with the word processor, so I can use it next.”

Ashtray.  If you don’t know what this is, visit the Smithsonian; they probably have one on display.

Slides.  Little tiny cardboard frames encasing celluloid images shown on a carousel projector.

Transparencies.  Plastic sheets containing words written or images drawn with colored markers, shown on an overhead projector.

In Box.  It was a real box into which your mail was placed, before it was known as “snail mail.”

Out Box.  A lot could be known about you, depending on whether yours was above or below your In Box.

Christmas bonus.  Christmas was what they used to call Holiday, but bonus?  That one’s a little fuzzy.

Did I forget anything?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading, Technology and Social Media

61 responses to “The Office

  1. dave

    Also missing:

    interoffice mail (the kind that used to be delivered by people), and the “routing slip”

    the “personnel officer,” who later became the “Human Resources” staffer, who later became the “HR Business Partner”

    the “telephone operator”

    the “punched card”

    • Let’s not forget mimeograph machine. This was THE most important machine I learned to use in my high school Business class. LOL

      • And let’s not forget, one of the best smells ever!

      • “ditto” the “best smells ever” comment. I remember sniffing the stack of fresh dittoed papers before taking mine and passing the rest to the kid behind me in grade school.

      • Mimeo— my mother is a lawyer and, since they had to submit multiple copies of everything, she mimeod her pleadings.

        She had this pink/red watery liquid in what looked like a nail polish bottle. I think her secretary once told me it is mimeo correction fluid. Was it?

        I used to paint my nails with it! =D

    • what about the secretaries? another extinct species, devoured by the “assistant managers”.
      and then the “elevator boys”. the ones i knew were in fact fat ladies on stools, occupying 1/4 of the available space.
      we also had “little red cap”, a girl who brought us free sandwiches in a basket.
      and in MY office – my blog is all about it – the ashtrays are more actual than ever.

    • Ellen

      I didn’t see mimograph- Remember before we had copy machines- we use to fill the drum with liquid!

  2. Great list!


    Secretary, now known as administrative assistant, executive assistant, or administrative professional.

  3. Polly

    Remember when the automated typewriters came out, that could print more than one copy of a letter? Or store information for a while? Those were amazing in the mid-80’s.

    I also used a telex to communicate with an overseas office.

    And wite-out… can’t forget that! Or even better, the erasable-bond typing paper.

    As an English teacher, I try to thoroughly explain what footnotes were like on the bottom of a sheet of typing paper, and how you had to space it just ‘so’. You would think they would appreaciate how easy they have it now, but noooooooo.

  4. Enjoyed this list. I am just old enough to have experienced many mimeographed tests…but it’s been a long time since I heard that word!

  5. William Greene

    This is really endless, you know.

    I worked with the roto-dial telephone (not touch tone), and dailed home at “Johnson 2-2546” (our actual phone number; area codes were not required in your ‘metropolitan dialing area’).

    Let’s not forget the long distance operator, and party lines that still existed in the early sixties.
    And, at least for me, recall the slide rule.

  6. Imagine if you told an 18 year old that we all used to sit at our desks smoking or smoke while cueing in the bank or while picking up your groceries!

    Seems so unbelievable now doesn’t it!

  7. A Christmas bonus?! You mean besides just getting the day off? I actually officially entered the workforce in 2005, but I knew about most of these items. I’ve also heard of a Christmas Bonus before, and (as a person working at a company that currently has raise freezes in place) I think it’s really mean to talk about them. Although I’m happy for you that you’ve had the experience of getting one.

  8. girlonthecontrary

    Even in my short time in the work space things have changed. All of the sudden my MacBook is out of date in my office and everyone has an iPad. Is it weird that I’m young and yet really resistant to change? It seems to me that all of the older generations working with me are much more adaptable than anyone in mine. I wonder why that is? Great post! I really enjoyed it!

  9. walterrhett

    IBM Selectrics! With changeable font balls!

  10. Mom

    Carbon paper, anyone? And the nasty color it left on your hands for the rest of the day—especially after correcting a typo on the “original” and six copies!

    • My sisters and I played with my dad’s used carbon papers to create on own family newspaper when we were little.

      I am sick of explaining to the young ones at work (I’m only 40!!) what the cc option on email stands for! Also, when I train the very senior folks (75+) on the computer, the bcc option absolutely floors them.

  11. Noell

    My grandfather, born in 1900, was a linotypist, operating those big machines that set the written word into hot metal for printing, first at newspapers in his native Pennsylvania and then at the Government Printing Office and Washington Post. He worked well into his 80’s. When he finally retired for good, the linotype machines were all but gone (I think they have one on display, like a museum piece at the Washington Post) and he was sitting at a computer typing up and proof-reading the classified ads for the newspaper. I continue to marvel at the incredible technological leaps the occurred during his lifetime and how he just took them in stride. He never blinked at moving from his old linotype machine to a computer, yet he never was the least bit interested in having all the new technology in his house (except for a bigger, more colorful tv or a golf club that would hit farther)–they still had an old, heavy, black Bakelite rotary dial phone in their apartment when we cleared it out.

  12. LOL, I just learned about interoffice mail (being a Millennial myself). Recently, someone put a document on my desk, and at the top there were three names with check marks next to them, and my name was last. I wasn’t quite sure of the purpose, until the person delivering it explained that I was to read it, and check off my name, and give it to the next person on the list. I felt like an idiot for somehow not knowing this, but in my 6 years in an office environment, this definitely hadn’t happened before!

  13. srqpix

    Pager or Pagers

    A small electronic communication device that was used to contact individuals in some offices and professions and has since been replaced with a device called a “cell phone”. They are still in use and quite popular in some professions, workplaces and building settings.

  14. Nice post! I was very young during the 80’s decade, but I remember seeing (if not using) the things you’ve mentioned in dad’s workplace. Some of that stuff can be viewed in old movies too. Incidentally, I have used transparencies for overhead projectors even in the late 90’s; but I agree, it all seems like centuries ago when you consider the stuff we have in workplaces, and personal lives, today!

  15. Great post – it’s all so much simpler now and we have 10,000 wires per square foot to prove it lol.

  16. Cool post. Here’s something that’s not as ghoulish as it sounds.

    Morgue or news morgue

    Filing cabinets filled with newspaper and magazine clippings to be used for information about news events, people, places, and other things by researchers, journalists, librarians, etc. Morgue had to be “fed” daily by clippers or cutters to keep it current.

  17. I remember most of those old things. Of course, I also successfully adapted to new technology as well, such as computers.

    The Codger

  18. Great post! I’ve been in real estate since 1979, and I’ve often talked with older agents like myself about how things have changed. We couldn’t so business without a Rolodex, and the visible evidence of how successful someone was, was the size of their Rolodex. Would any young person today know what that was?

  19. At one point budding young execs all had a thing called a Filofax. The fatter yours was, the higher up the pecking order you were.

    I’m not sure what happened to Filofaxes, but these days Blackberries probably have a similar function.

  20. Wonderful nostalgia!
    How about “suit and tie”–clothes worn to the office every day, even by women in the early 80s. “Colleagues”–people you worked with; you had separate “friends” outside of work.
    “Quitting time”–5 p.m. At this time, people stood up and left their offices, not taking home additional work. They would then go home, change out of “work clothes” and spend time with “friends” and family.
    And if you are just talking about office supplies, I used to have a pica ruler so I could spec type–determine how much copy could fit on a page in any given type size. I marked up the copy and sent it to the typehouse, which set metal type and printed a copy.

  21. Though I’m young, I’ve had experience with most of the things listed in this post, some through work and some through attenting school at old, poor schools, haha.

    It’s crazy to think that all of these things were normalcy at a certain point, where as now, as you mentioned, most are depicted in movies and t.v. shows of a different generation and time.

  22. Do they still give out bonuses???
    That’s so 80’s!

  23. Chat Lunatique

    I once used a MAG card machine to prepare legal documents. And I abhored the refillable stamp pads, little bottles of ink and the advance-a-date stamp, too.

    A Burroughs 10-key was my high school nemesis.

  24. My first reporting job out of college was with a small suburban daily. I used a MANUAL typewriter and would literally cut and paste with rubber cement and a ruler when I wanted to move paragraphs around. We set our margins at 10 and 70 and one inch of type was equal to about one column inch in the newspaper.

  25. Great post! Does anyone remember carbon paper?

    I know it’s uncool to link to your posts but I did something on intergenerational conflict a while ago that you might appreciate:

  26. Forget the distinction between manual and electric. I’ll bet a lot of twentysomethings have never used a typewriter, period. I picked up a 1950’s-era Smith Corona at a yard sale for $1, and my 9-year-old thought it was just incredible. She used it to write a letter to her teacher: “Dear Mrs. Huges, I wrote this on a typewriter!”

    • I’m a twenty-something, and I had a typewriter as a child–and a record player 😉 on which I would play my Barry Manilow records.

      • I’m a twenty-something as well, and I STILL have a typewriter, though it’s rarely used. And I also have a record player which I prefer over any other source of audio media. And, I’d bet my record collection would challenge collections of persons 2 and 3 times my age. Not all twenty-somethings are lazy and unappreciative of past technologies!


  27. Microfiche!

    Receptionist (soon to be added to this list)

    Your post made me realize just how long I’ve been around and reminded me, for some reason, the movie About Schmidt.

    P.S. Good title for a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. 😉

    • I loved that movie. My heart sank when he saw all his old files in the trash. I had a similar experience once. Makes you feel very unappreciated.

    • Polly

      Film projectors back in school, too. I was SO glad those were outdated when I became a teacher. I wasn’t the AV-type who could thread those through easily.

  28. Ah, the eighties… That backwards time when they actually made notebooks out of, believe it or not, paper!

    Go back a few decades earlier and a “computer” was an actual, physical person.

  29. My mom had an old rotary phone in an extra bedroom when my girls (now late teens & early 20’s) were young. She told them to go into the room once & call their aunt, they came out looking very bewildered asking “How do we use that thing?” Hysterical.

  30. Pingback: The Office « Second Langage's Blog

  31. alex

    I think ‘tea lady’ is another lost term from the 1980s office.

    we now have to make our own tea and coffee, and bring in our own cakes!

    An utter disaster…

  32. imagolfr

    Making flyers with rub-on letters. First, you had to place lines on the paper with a blue pencil so the letters would be straight. The blue pencil lines wouldn’t show when the paper was copied. Took a couple of hours to make a good flyer. Ten minutes or less with a computer!

  33. I have nothing to add, but loved reading everyone’s comments! Fun topic.

  34. Eileen

    Remember when we could throw anything in the trash? We didn’t have cross-cut shredders to deter would-be identity thieves.

  35. Has anyone mentioned a supply room with no lock on the door?

  36. Jo

    I worked a switchboard, boys and girls. Yup, the console with all the orifices and a crazy maze of cords and plugs. “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?” — that was me before it was Lily Tomlin.

  37. In 1975 I worked in a lawyer’s office typing 80 wpm for 7 hours a day. When the lawyer changed his mind about what he wanted to write, he would make changes and it had to be written again. Sometimes there would be so many revisions my fingers went numb. We also had typewriter eraser’s with a brush on one end. They didn’t work very well. The pages we typed were usually in triplicate and you had to erase all copies which got messy. I would have appreciated a computer back then.

  38. Where are the Typing pool? 🙂

  39. My blog is about why working in an Office is not for everyone.

  40. Pingback: A Family Business « FSC Oak Flooring at Chauncey's – and more!

  41. And what about those wonderful vacuum tubes! What ever happened to those?

  42. Pingback: Time to space out « Word Nymph

  43. Alyson

    Rubber stamps, and the joys of inking the stamp pads without ruining your clothes.

    Thermofax machines. You put a special kind of paper over the original document, then fed them through a machine with a heater. Copies tended to disintegrate over time. (I never used one, but saw said disintegrating copies in old file folders.) When I was in the clerical pool, our trainers warned us that when our boss told us to “burn a copy” of a document, he meant “duplicate, not incinerate.”

    And I’ll never forget the time when my Agency decided that we would henceforth use only 8-1/2 by 11 inch paper; no more choosing between that size and 8×10-1/2.

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