Mr. Cranky on the Lost Business Culture of the 1980s

March 25, 2011

4:00 pm

Quick! Name the 5 items on the right and describe how they are used.

Bad news for those who got all 5 answers correct.  You’re an old dog!

Archeologists and sociologists mourn the loss of culture, artwork, forgotten science, and dead languages, so they were excited when the Rosetta Stone was discovered.  As an archeological find of significant importance, it provided clues and context that revealed an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

In the spirit of the Rosetta Stone, and in the  interest of scientific preservation, I would like to make my contribution to the preservation of lost languages and culture.

The tools and language of business people have evolved in such a way that you snot-nosed kids creating your highfalutin’ viral iPhone apps and your web-dot-whatevers would go as cross-eyed as your Nana after you helped her create a Facebook account and how to use it.

Yes, if you were transported back just 20 years in time, you would be hopelessly lost too.  That would make your Nana and the rest of us old farts laugh.

So for the sake of history and science I present the following list of Business in the 80s rituals, tools, and language.

  1. The Safety Pin-Backed Conference Name Tag – This morning I went to a breakfast and was confronted with a throwback to the 80’s…. a name tag designed to be pinned to a jacket, blouse, or shirt.  Seeing the confusion in the eyes of the what-the-hell-is-a-safety-pin-generation, I took considerable comfort in my superiority amongst the Twitterati!  Ha! I knew something they didn’t.  You see, if you’re dumb, you pin that name tag to your person.  But if you are an experienced conference goer from the ’70s or ’80s, you pin the name tag to your business card and then slip your business card into your suit jacket so as not to create multiple pin holes in your suit.  Of course you T-shirt-wearing whippersnappers don’t even know what a business suit is.
  2. Pay-phones – There was a time when there were no wireless mobile phones.  Really!  In those days, if you were not at home and had the need to communicate via phone, you would do so through a device called a pay-phone.  These ancient yet effective communication machines facilitated verbal communications (you see back in those days we talked to other people instead of texting).  To activate these devices one would either deposit a coin of the realm or dial an operator (a human customer service person in the employ of the telephone service provider whose function was to facilitate communication over their employers’ network) and said operator would connect your call and arrange for billing to the callee.
  3. Rotary Phone – These devices had a striking resemblance to current day phones.  They had digits that if engaged in the proper sequence would initiate a phone call.  Yet when confronted with a rotary phone, the post-Reagan generation would put their texting-fatigued fingers in the rotary dial number and wonder why nothing happens.  You see you need to drag the dial to the left to engage the device.  We didn’t have no stinkin’ buttons, we had cogs.
  4. Typewriters – Imagine a PC with paper instead of an LCD screen.  When you typed, the characters were printed on paper.  If you made a mistake and caught it early, you could strike over the character with whiteout.  If you made many mistakes and discovered them later, you redid the whole darn thing.  The typewriter did not store data and therefore had no facility for editing or recall.  We laboriously (remind me later to describe labor), created our college papers on these contraptions.  We typed our resumes on these things.  These devices were commonly associated with secretaries (remind me later to explain the concept of a secretary that does not lead an executive branch cabinet posts) and only college bound students, writers, and  those of the secretarial class were instructed in the secret operating instructions of the Typewriter.  Typewriters to mere mortals were as rare, mysterious and exotic as profitable app companies are today.
  5. Palm Pilot/Graffiti – Our phones didn’t have calendars, contact lists, or qwerty keyboards.  Back in those days, men were men, phones were phones, and innovators had Palm Pilots.  Back then we kept our calendars, contact lists, to-do lists and notes on those devices.  Void of keyboards, users practiced the ancient art of using a pen-like, inkless, stylus with which we scribbled the long lost ancient alphabet of the technorati known as Graffiti.

And so it has been written, and so it shall be done.  I hereby commit to history 5 ancient lost business process tools and rituals to be handed down to future generations.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  Missing, for instance, is garb of the day, like the tie and the business suit.  I have not included the ritual of Casual Friday as every day is now Casual Friday.  Back in those days viral was a bad thing and we had noble-knights-of-the-round-table-like fellows commonly known as professional salespersons.  Yes, life was different back then.  Can anyone think of any thing I missed that we should preserve for posterity?

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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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