Evolution is a natural part of life. As a result, so is extinction. In the natural habitat of the average employee, the office, this process is no different. Technology is constantly evolving, which means that old, outdated technology is constantly being placed on the endangered technology list, and eventually becoming extinct altogether.
The elders in my office tell me of times when a typical employee’s desktop consisted of little more than a telephone with rotating numbers, stacks of manila folders with files lined with perforated edges, notebooks, pencils, pens, and perhaps a machine used exclusively for addition and subtraction if the job called for it.
In these prehistoric times, I am told, employees would gather in conference rooms and write on white boards – they called this collaboration and believed it efficient. At the end of the meeting they would lay signs out – DO NOT ERASE – in order to save their work. When finished they would rub cloth against the surface and their words would disappear. A crude step above cave drawings, these scribbles and doodles would decide the motives for the next fiscal year across the entire company.
They say executives would fly across the country just to speak with one another. Phones were too impersonal and videoconferencing platforms were a distant dream of the future, like flying cars, clones, and colonies on other planets. What rudimentary technology they could afford would provide only minor convenience – pagers that beeped to tell you that someone wanted you to call them, VHS tapes that needed to be rewound for several minutes before you could watch them, overhead projectors that required see-through paper in order to show anything against the wall. Truly these were dark and unenlightened times.
I became interested in the idea of the enterprise of yesteryear. What remnants of this forgotten age I could find were small – ancient sitcoms on television late at night depicting working life, shows like Mad Men which approximated what conditions might have been like in that era, giant boxes covered in dust stowed away in my company’s basement with indecipherable logos on the side, long forgotten.
I imagine brawls breaking out as employees scrambled to use the lone fax machine. Now we can send documents through email, Dropbox, what have you. I consider the painful arthritis from writing and drawing on easels and whiteboards, now replaced by keyboards and interactive displays. I shudder to think of the thousands of trips to the mail room in order to send information to distant clients. Forests of trees fallen in order to send the same messages I instantly delete when they show up in the inbox of my Gmail account.
Luckily for us technology has advanced and we have become civilized in the workplace. We can look on this list of extinct office technology and what has replaced it with the knowledge that these often torturous devices are nothing but a remnant of a lost world. They can’t hurt us anymore.
Any endangered or extinct technology that we missed? Leave a comment and help us preserve the history of technology long forgotten.