A Conversation-Starter on Workforce History
To celebrate our 90th year and illustrate how much the workplace has changed over the years, I decided to use my Alexander Graham Bell time-warp app and ring up Walter V. Bingham. Bingham was a noted applied psychologist and one of the original editors and founders of the Journal of Personnel Research, which, today, you know as Workforce. Here’s a transcript of that conversation.
Operator: I have a long-distance call from Mr. James Tehrani for a Mr. Walter V. Bingham.
Woman: Yes, please patch him through—
Personnel Research Federation. This is Mildred speaking, how may I assist you?
Me: Hello, this is James Tehrani calling from 2012. I’m the copy desk chief at Workforce, the future title of The Journal of Personnel Research. I’d like to speak with Mr. Bingham.
Mildred: Yes, sir. I’ll see if Mr. Bingham is available.
<Mildred, whispering: “There’s a peculiar gentleman named Mr. Tyranny on the telephone asking for you. Says he’d like to copy your workforce. Are you in today?” I then hear a male voice, undoubtedly Bingham: “Millie, I have little time for idle chatter. Yet, a name like ‘Tyranny’ has piqued my academic curiosity. Please patch him through forthwith.”>
Walter V. Bingham: Mr. Tyranny, this is Walter V. Bingham, editor of the Journal of Personnel Research. To what do I owe the honor of this discourse?— Millie, can you stop typing? I can’t hear over that confounded clickity-clack.
<Mildred: “Sorry, sir.>
Me: Walt. We’re practically colleagues, so just call me James. I’m the copy desk chief at Workforce, the future title of The Journal of Personnel Research. I’m phoning you to get your take on human resources and the workplace in the 1920s so I can show our current readers just how far we’ve …
Bingham: I’ll stop you there, Mr. Tyranny. I find your informality repugnant. And what is this ‘human resources’ you speak of? An idiom? It strikes me as redundant and perhaps condescending. All people are technically resources, but they are workers, too—not machines. They are personnel—the people who feed the steam engines with coal, buy the stocks on Wall Street that put food on the table and manufacture those new radios that will get us our news quicker than ever.
Me: Yeah about that cash cow stock market of yours, you have about seven years to get out before …
Bingham: Sir, it’s been two years since Prohibition went into effect, but conjecture suggests you’ve imbibed more recently. Does that compute, Mr. Tyranny?
Me: LOL, Walt. That’s a good one, and it’s ‘Tehrani.’ No. No, Rum Runners for me today. And yes, I compute. I also use a computer to do my work—edit stories, compose headlines, write blog posts. Sometimes I even do some of my work on a tablet.
<Bingham, whispering: “Millie, this man’s undoubtedly a bootlegger. I’ll try to ascertain his location to alert the proper authorities.” Millie, answers a bit too loud: “He did say something about being from 2012.” Bingham: “Must be his address. Good work, Millie.”>
Bingham: My dear sir, I will not loll. I don’t know how commuters have anything to do with your work, but we at The Journal of Personnel Research use paper to tell the personnel stories that our readers need to know. How on earth would you be able to distribute stone tablets?
Me: Not commuters—computers. I use a PC; some use a Macintosh …
Bingham: What does a piece of an apple have to do with anything? Mr. Tyranny, how long will you badger me with this balderdash?
Me: Walt—OK Walter; Mr. Bingham? Like I said, I just want to show my readers how much things have changed. So tell me about your office. Since you mentioned commuters, let’s start by how you got to work today.
Bingham: This is imbecilic. As most New Yorkers do, I ventured in on the trolley. Of course, it is getting tougher to navigate with all the vehicles zigzagging about at 30-35 mph. One taxi driver nearly crashed his cab into our carriage as he lit his cigar. Perhaps we should do some research on the matter. This city of 5.6 million is getting exceptionally crowded. Where are you calling from, Mr. Tyranny …
Me: Interesting. We have similar problems today when commuting, although talking and texting and drunk driving are what cause many of today’s accidents …
Bingham: Driving while inebriated, you say? Not a surprise. But I’m confounded how talking about Texas could lead to accidents.
Me: No, ‘talking’ and ‘texting.’ You see in 2012 we have what are called mobile phones, or cellphones if you will, that allow us to talk and send messages from just about anywhere without dead spots.
<Bingham whispers emphatically: He just confirmed the 2012 address. Just need a street and city.>
Bingham: Mr. Tyranny, we too have mobile phones. We can plug them in anywhere there is a phone jack. They are state of the art—like the new electric heater I got for warming the office. We also have post offices where we can send as many messages as we want, as long as we’re willing to part with 2 cents postage per letter. And I have no desire to sell phones. Where did you say you were calling from?
Me: Oh, Chicago.
<Bingham sounds worried: “He’s from Chicago. Could be one of those speak-easy hoodlums. He did say something about dead spots. And this call must be costing him a fortune—definitely hooch money.”
Me: OK, I see this hasn’t gone as planned, so I’ll let you go.
<Bingham sounds relieved: “Thank goodness; he’s going to let me go.”>
Me: Thank you for your time, Mr. Bingham. I know this must have been a little strange for you.
Bingham: My Tyranny, you have no idea. Next time you intend to correspond with a new acquaintance, try sending a telegram stating your business first like the rest of do.
Me: Telegram? Is that like an email-tweet hybrid?
Bingham: Now we’ve moved onto bird-watching? Good day, sir.
<Millie: ‘Did you get the street name?’ Bingham: ‘No. I have no more time for this tomfoolery from Mr. Tyranny.>
Me. Now I heard that, and that was unjust; you certainly don’t mince words. This might be pie-in-the sky thinking as I sense we got off on the wrong foot, but I’d like to get together with you to learn more. If you’re ever in Chicago, call me. Maybe? We can go for a slice of …
Bingham: … of mince pie? I finally understand you. Mr. Tehrani was it?
We kid because we love. Seriously, thank you Mr. Bingham for establishing the Journal of Personnel Research. We wouldn’t be here without you.
James Tehrani is Workforce’s copy desk chief. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.