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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.

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. Our predecessors would be saddened to know that good old International Harvester, for instance, became Navistar, which sounds to me like the name of Conan's horse.

Navistar and most American companies now compete in what is called a global" economy, which means that, unlike 1970, these companies are now likely to get the competitive tar kicked out of them by foreign competitors. These competitors have used the unfair advantages of hard work and superior products to strip America of its preeminence in almost every segment of the world economy except toxins, packaged condiments and crime.

Mass communication has played a role in what Marshall McLuhan astutely called communications," and business communicators likewise have been affected by the globalization of what I call the "world." The communicators of the Sixties did not have to concern themselves with political upheaval in Eastern Europe and were instead focused on political upheaval in Berkeley, Calif. Today's global communicators have to know global customs so that they will not, for instance, insult a Japanese businessman by offering to let him sleep with your spouse's Yugo.

The communicators of 20 years ago would be surprised by the appearance of the communicators of today. 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 I believe our field is now some, thing like 60 percent female, 35 percent male and 5 percent don't know. my drugs. When I came into the field, men actually wore white shoes and belts, red sport coats and ties as wide as my bottom line. Women at the time were still struggling for a balance between femininity and feminism. They wanted to be taken seriously, while the men, walking around in white shoes, clearly didn't.

indeed, business communicators have become much more effeminate in the past 20 years. Wait. That didn't come out right. I meant to say that women now make up a greater percentage of business communicators than ever before. I believe our field is now something like 60 percent female, 35 percent male and 5 percent don't know. Related to that subject, our predecessors would probably be surprised to learn the lengths to which we now go to be non-gender-specific in our communication. The communicator of 20 years ago would now find himself or herself scratching his or her head often as he or she tried to compose a simple sentence that would not offend some reader or readerette.

Were our mythical 1970 communicator transported to 1990, some things would still be familiar, and these might give comfort to someone experiencing the future shock of desktop publishing, men's hair goop and the Bush administration. The basic job is still the same: Use communication to advance the organization's objectives and do so professionally, even if unbelievable idiocy has metastasized throughout the executive suite. Communicators are still communicators, and many are still a lot of fun to be around, so long as they keep their hair goop to themselves. And, Lord knows, there's as much of a need for their talents as there ever was. That would be comforting, I think, and it would be reassuring, too, for our transported colleague to know that despite all the times the world has turned and all the changes that have occurred in the past 20 years, Elvis, at least, is still alive.
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Title Annotation:International Association of Business Communicators: 1970 - 1990: Section 3: An Era Ended; includes related articles on cultural and nostalgic trivia
Author:Danbom, Dan
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1990
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