Sunday, February 7, 2010

"9 to 5" and the Modern Office

Usually, one of our local PBS stations shows very old movies on Saturday nights. By very old, I mean movies that were made before I was born in 1965. However, last night, the station aired the 1980 movie 9 to 5. I was sucked right in, at least until the movie devolved into a curious crime caper.

It was interesting to see what the office was like 30 years ago: the dictaphone, the IBM Selectric typewriter. I remember lusting for one of those, before I lusted for a personal computer. There's that shot of the secretarial pool: all those desks, with nary a cubicle, in one huge room. People typed, ran the adding machines, and talked into the phone. How noisy it must have been!

Many of those office machines have gone into storage closets, but there's a scene where the Jane Fonda character battles a demonic copy machine. Yes, the demonic copy machine is still with us, at least in my workplace. Each time the IT department upgrades, we end up with a machine that has more places where a jam can occur.

I found the working dynamic fascinating, and thankfully, unfamiliar to me. There's that sexist boss, barking orders, sexually harassing the female workforce, stealing the ideas of the female workers while refusing to promote them. I know how lucky I am not to have experienced that. I know that there are many workplaces where women are desperate to keep their jobs, and thus unable to utilize the laws that could protect them from hazardous bosses. I know that I'm lucky because I'm educated, which so far has put me in a different working class than the characters in the movie, and I have knowledge of the law, and I have money for a lawyer, should I need it. Not every woman is so fortunate.

Still, the workplace has changed; most men realize they can't get away with their outrageous behavior forever, and the offenders have changed. Often, their behavior becomes more subtle and more difficult to prosecute. I dream of the day when all those dinosaurs die out. Sadly, I suspect that the dynamic has less to do with gender roles, and more to do with how some people abuse power. The abusive boss we will always have with us, but the nature of the abuse will change.

Every so often, I encounter an old-school kind of person, and I'm shocked at what he (it's always a he) will say. Luckily, so far, those people have never been in a position of power over me, and those people don't often last long in the modern workplace. Those people just pose too big a risk of a lawsuit to keep them around very long.

I started a poem once with these lines:

Yes, I will make that pot of coffee,
if you change the oil in my car.

I'd be happy to proofread
your project this week-end,
if you come to my house
to mow the lawn.

I could go on and on like that, but I can't figure out where to end the poem and what the larger point should be. I've played with lots of possibilities.

The other thing I noticed was how that movie set office emptied out at 5:00. Yeah, right, that doesn't happen these days. Many of us are working 8 to 6 or longer. Sigh.

As I think about how the office experience has changed, I think ahead to the next 30 years. How will our 2010 offices be unrecognizable in 2040?

1 comment:

Sandy Longhorn said...

Yesterday on NPR I heard that one of the results of the latest jobs report out of Washington is the fact that there are now more women than men receiving paychecks in America. (I don't remember the exact quote.) The gist of it was that this recession has hit the top level pretty hard and that top level has largely consisted of men. Wonder what all this will do to the proverbial glass ceiling?