A Great Big Beautiful Yesterday—and Tomorrow

I just returned from visiting the Mouse. I think he sends his regards, but it’s hard to be sure as he doesn’t talk much in person, you know.

It was the third time we’ve taken the kids to Orlando, Florida, to give them a supersized dose of fantasy, and for me and my wife to get away from reality for a bit.

In the two previous times we’ve gone, we never experienced Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, an attraction that dates back to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Some say it was one of Walt Disney’s faves, if not his favorite. If I saw the show the one other time I was in Disney back in high school, I don’t remember it, and I think I would have as I’m having a hard time getting the show’s refrain out of my head.

If you’ve never seen the Carousel of Progress, basically you meet an Audio-Anamatronic family—or talking robots that look and act like humans in non-Disney-speak—tell their tale about technology advancements in their home dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. The family stays the same through the years and doesn’t age, but the technology changes.

The audience sits in seats on a moving platform in the circular building so when the scene is done and the show moves on to the next time period, the people in the seats are shuttled off to the next installment as the family croons “there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow” again and again. It’s about a 20-minute show, and my guess is its popularity has waned over the years as our showing wasn’t even half-full. After all, it isn’t quite the technological wonder that it was in the ’60s, but it still has its charms, especially Rover. I really dig that dog.

Watching the show made me think of how the workplace has changed throughout the years and the things we take for granted, so here’s Tehrani’s Carousel of Progress:

When we returned from Florida, we came back to a home without a working Internet connection. We didn’t know what in the World Wide Web was going on. Our service provider wasn’t able to troubleshoot the problem over the phone, so as of this writing we’re waiting for a technician to come out and bring us back into the 21st century. Of course, we use Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, at home, so that also means no phone service outside of our cellphones. Good thing, too, as our carrier pigeon must have flown the coop. It also means the Wi-Fi is kaput, so there’s no surfing the Web on our laptop computer or tablet. I even had to run out to our local library to check my email. At least I didn’t have to read a book by the fire; the electricity’s working just fine. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

While sitting in the library going through all the email that had accumulated like dust bunnies on a VCR, I started thinking about how different things are in today’s magazine world alone compared with the early 1920s when editors Leonard Outhwaite and Walter V. Bingham were putting out the very first editions of The Journal of Personnel Research, the predecessor to today’s Workforce Management. There was no desktop publishing software back then. They used printing presses and movable type on composing sticks to create the content for the journal. There was no Web edition, no mobile edition, no e-newsletters to worry about. A spell-checker? Of course. The proofreader done it. Any red wavy lines on the manuscripts were made by humans, not word-processing technology.

Assuming they weren’t on the first floor, to get up to their offices at 29 W. 39th St. in New York—the earliest address we could locate in the publication and a building that either no longer exists or has a new address, according to Google Maps—they probably took one of the new self-service elevators that made an operator all but obsolete. Although, we’re pretty sure they didn’t have video screens telling them about the latest stock prices, news and trivia as we do in our current building.

So that brings us back to today—and tomorrow. My guess is the mobile workforce will continue to grow and technology will match it. As virtual technology improves, one day you could be sitting in your house “right next to your boss,” virtually speaking, of course, talking about your latest project. Companies such as VenueGen are already offering virtual meeting technology, but it will take time to improve it and move it from a novelty to a reality. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow for sure. It’s already here, but it’s coming to an office near you as well. As Uncle Walt once said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” That’s one thing that will never change.

James Tehrani is copy desk chief at Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.