Sexist comments. Bourbon at 10 a.m. Lighting up a Pall Mall whenever you want. No, this isn't the Red Sox locker room. It's the way of life on the TV show Mad Men, which began its fifth season recently. And boy did those guys at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (the show's fictional advertising firm) have it made. Times were good. No one cared about cancer. And all the secretaries and stewardesses had hourglass figures. Plus you could actually still call them secretaries and stewardesses (let alone giving them a little pinch in the tush, like Roger Sterling likes to do) without even getting in trouble. Oh, good times.
But times change. The only tush I can pinch is my dog's. And he's not happy about it. I have to steal my drinks from a flask in the men's room. And smoking those Pall Malls? I'll leave that to the president. (He still smokes, doesn't he?) But those are not the only changes.
EVERYTHING OLD IS STILL OLD
Most of us who work in an office have noticed something else on Mad Men. It's the technology. Or lack of it. You don't see those big, black phones anymore. Or those IBM typewriters. A copy machine was newfangled. If Don Draper, the firm's creative director, was suddenly transported to today's office, he would be shocked by how much of the technology he used every day in 1963 is no longer used at all.
Would the same happen to a business owner from today if he was also transported ahead 50 years? Absolutely. In fact, try five years. Because in just that short amount of time, a lot of the technology we're using today won't be around as much. So if you're thinking of investing in something new, you may want to stop and consider a few technologies that are changing right before our eyes.
For starters, we're in a completely wireless world. Are you still connecting cables? Then you probably voted for Goldwater. Most of my clients are using wireless technology for just about everything: headsets, keyboards, mouses, printers and monitors. Sure, we'll all have brain cancer within the next decade. But at least we'll be able to undergo chemotherapy "hands-free." Thanks, Bluetooth!
Presentation tools have also changed significantly. In Mad Men, the account team would have a big face-to-face meeting with the client and put on a big face-to-face presentation with boring story boards. Then the men would go to a strip club for lap dances. Now we have the Internet, projectors, Web conferencing and boring Powerpoints. And no more strip clubs. Bummer! Things really have changed since then. And yet they're going to change even more.
Unless it's an emergency, I wouldn't buy that new projector you were thinking of. Tablets and smart phones are now coming equipped with built-in projectors. And the whole visual side of meetings is changing, too. If you can stomach it -- just look at your teenage kids: They're all iChatting away on their Macbooks and iPads. Screens, projectors and phone devices are being replaced with just a plain old computer running an iChat, AIM or Skype-type application, sharing slides with an inexpensive technology like GoToMeeting or Join.Me, and either projecting onto a wall or hooking up to a large flatscreen monitor. Imagine what the boys at Sterling Cooper could've done with this stuff!
When Don went to California on a business trip a couple of seasons ago, no one could reach him for days. Not that he cared to be reached, seeing that he was cheating on his wife with Ms. D-cup in the hotel swimming pool. Today it's a different, and still-changing, story. I still see lots of business owners buying GPS units for their service techs in the field. Please don't. The GPS technology in Android and iPhone devices keeps getting better and better. You'll be using those old GPS devices as shuffleboard disks before you know it. If Don was traveling just a few years ago, he'd be dragging his laptop full of data with him. That's changing, too. Carrying around data is out. Web access is in. Today's people on the road carry tablets, laptops, netbooks or just their phones, and are doing everything online. The technology is real and popular and ... the norm.
And you know what else is the norm? Squeezing tushes in the office. Just kidding. Apple and Google technology is becoming the norm. There's a whole new generation weaned on Macbooks and Android devices hitting the job market. And a whole new generation of technology that easily gets these devices onto Windows-based networks or even runs Windows side by side. Investing in this stuff is becoming less and less taboo in the business world. The IBM typewriter moved over for the PC and the PC is slowly but surely sharing the space with Apple and Google technology. Windows still dominates the desktop, though. In 1963, businessmen were touching tushes. In 2012, we're just touching screens - and will be doing more of it once Windows 8 appears in October.
THE OFFICE, CORNERED
One final thing that's going to change the office? That's the office. At Sterling Cooper, every manager had a secretary, each with an hourglass body and a pinchable tush. Nowadays, with all this technology, we've got waif-like, half-starved-looking women with no tush at all employed as the administrator and doing the work of many. That's going to change even more. The office will continue to shrink over the next five years. Remote control and desktop-sharing technology allows people to do the work from home and abroad (or "over a broad", as Roger Sterling might say). Web sites like Guru and Elance let us find people to do ad hoc work around the world. Hosted applications allow us to share data wherever we are. Office space now rents by the hour, rather than the year. Sterling Cooper would look a lot different today, and in five years, than it did in the early 1960s.
The characters on Mad Men have no idea what terrible things lie ahead of them in the next five to 10 years of their time: assassinations, race riots, the Vietnam War, Sonny & Cher. And, with the exception of the recently announced sequel to Anchorman, our future does not look so terrible. Especially when it comes to business technology. So spend wisely.
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses.
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