Bartleby: The archaeology of the office
A walk around the workplace is also a trip back in time
The office is where colleagues meet, work and bond.
But it is also a time capsule, a place where the imprint of historic patterns of working are visible everywhere.
The pandemic has heightened this sense of the office as a dig site for corporate archaeologists.
It isn’t just that covid-19 has left its own trace in the fossil record, from hand sanitisers to social-distancing stickers.
It is also that items which were useful in the pre-covid world make less sense now; and that things which were already looking quaint seem positively antiquated.
The most obvious artefact is the landline phone, a reminder of the days when mobility meant being able to stand up and keep talking.
Long after people have junked them in their personal lives—less than 15% of Americans aged between 25 and 34 had one at home in the second half of 2021, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention—landline phones survive in offices.
There might be good theoretical reasons for this persistence: they offer a more secure and stable connection than mobile phones, and no one frets that they are about to run out of battery.
In practice the habit of using them was definitively lost during the pandemic.
Now they sit on desk after desk, rows of buttons unpressed, ringtones unheard, cords tellingly unknotted.
Landlines were already well on their way out before covid-19 struck.
Flipboard charts have suffered a swifter reverse.
These objects signal a particular type of torture—people physically crowded together into a room while an idiot sketches a quadrant with a marker pen and points meaningfully to the top-right-hand corner.
The idiot is still making quadrants but is now much more likely to use a slide deck.
The crowd is still being tortured but is now much more likely to be watching on a screen.
The office still has flipboards, but they are stowed in corners and their topmost pages are slowly yellowing.