The other day I was watching the 80s classic Nine to Five. The movie is about young Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton attempting to overthrow their sexist, slimy boss. The story was all about what it was like to be a working woman in the 80s, and every piece of office equipment in the movie was something I didn’t recognize — the old phones, the Xerox machine, even the coffee maker.
Nine to Five took place around the time my parents were still early in their careers. My dad is a banker, and sometimes he regales me with stories of the old word processor machines they used in his office before computers. He can’t help but laugh at how antiquated those machines seem now.
Thinking about the workforce in the 80s made me realize how much things have changed. All those bulky devices have become obsolete, along with the skills it took to operate them.
Offices have changed drastically in the past few decades and the culture has as well. Instead of typewriters we use Macbooks, instead of paper time sheets we punch in on apps like Paycom. The office atmosphere has changed too. When my dad started in banking, he had to put on his suit jacket to go to the bathroom — now we can wear jeans to work. These days, some people can bring their dogs to work. I even had a massage this summer — at work — that my company provided.
This led me to re-ask myself a question I think about frequently: are the young people of our generation lazy? Am I lazy?
When I hear older adults say things like, “well back in my day you had to . . .” or, “you kids have it so easy now with your (fill in the blank technology)” I think to myself, maybe we are lazy? We do have new technologies that make things easier for us. We can find our way anywhere in the world with Google Maps. We can arrange a ride without lifting a finger. We can watch an entire movie on the toilet. Did Bill Gates and Steve Jobs make us lazy?
I honestly used to think that, yes, they did. These modern day conveniences had lowered our ambition as a generation.
But then I interned this summer at a theater in Chicago, and my mind was changed.
My job was to create articles about the historical contexts of the plays we were putting on to give students watching the shows some background. I spent most of my days at work sitting at my computer and researching. I dug through arsenals of archives, articles and videos. The work was difficult and intense, even though it was at the comfort of my desk and all I needed was my computer.
If this had been the 80s, maybe I would have been at the library paging through encyclopedias and reading hard copy books instead. Yes, I had the luxury of having all the information I needed virtually at my fingertips, but I still had to go out and find it — just in a different way. Instead of the Dewey Decimal System, I was using an advanced Google search and Proquest.
Most of every day my fellow interns and I spent at work was at our computers, but we all had plenty of work to show for it at the end of the day — posters, articles, cast lists, etc. We did the same exact work that the interns at that same theater had done decades before. We just used different tools. Even though we were sitting on our butts, not buzzing around the office bouncing from one device to the next, we weren’t being lazy, we were just using our computers to help us create the best work we could.
When I came home from work, I usually wanted to know what was going on in the news, so I went online and read some articles. I didn’t always know all the context behind them, so I would do some research. I was doing the exact same things at home that I had just done at work. I would end my days by listening to a podcast, and then go to work the next day and make podcasts.
Our lives have become highly tech-oriented. In the 80s, you would work with floppy disks and then come home and play a board game with your family: two very different things. In today’s world, we go to work and research online and make Excel spreadsheets, and then we come home and get back on our computers to do very similar things. Maybe we’re not researching Roe vs. Wade at home, but rather what movies are nominated for Oscars this year. Though the content may be different, the devices and the processes are the same.
In this tech-driven world, our work lives and our home lives converge more and more. Work and play are more similar than they’ve ever been before, and casual onlookers can easily misconstrue this for laziness. Are they really working? It looks more like they are playing? But, we are working.
I’ve seen some incredible work come out of the computers of the students around me. We are harnessing these tools to our advantage and sometimes even combining work and play to strengthen both. As soon as a question pops into our heads, we have the means to answer it. We listen to podcasts and Youtube and become more aware of the world around us so we can weave that understanding into our work and improve it.
I think that laziness, along with the rest of the host of millenial vices, cause older adults to hesitate in the hiring process. Is this young kid really going to be disciplined? Focused? Driven? They have it so easy now. Are they going to work hard, or rake in a salary while they determine what kind of avocado toast suits their personality on Buzzfeed?
Yet, along with these technological developments has come an increased pace. Young people are expected to deliver work faster and faster as the technology develops. Not only has the speed increased but the bar for accuracy has risen. Typos are unforgivable now, thanks to spell-check.
Yes, getting work done may be easier now, but the standards have been raised and we are rising to the occasion.
To the older generations, don’t worry about us. Today’s young people are working and achieving just as much as ever. Perhaps it just looks a little different than it used to.
Dana is a senior studying journalism and theatre. What are your thoughts on this generational and technological divide? How do you think office culture and productivity have evolved with the proliferation of technology? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org