A Brief Case of Briefcases

Arshid Malik

arshid-malikPicture an executive or a government official or a lawyer or for that particular matter anyone with a decent job and a handsome haircut from the early 80s or anywhere before that and you cannot afford to leave out the detail of the person carrying a briefcase and perhaps a classic umbrella. I figure you have figured my agenda for this piece of writing. Yes, you are very right, I am focusing on accessories that men carry along to their workplaces. I am leaving out the feminine part here because eventually not much has changed on that scene except for the fact that hip ladies’ handbags are now made out of synthetic material rather than animal skin or fur and the latter owe their demise in the world of fashion to the protagonists of the “save wildlife” cause. I better leave it at that otherwise I will digress from the whole episode in want of finding justifications for not discussing the accessories carried by our female counterparts.

So then, the classic mind portrait of a man pictured in the past – before and around the 80s – leaving home for his job distinctly carries a stout briefcase or in the least a bag the size of a briefcase made of genuine leather in one hand and in some cases an umbrella in the other. The bag or the briefcase contains all sorts of “tools of the trade” pertaining to one’s profession besides the usual reams of paper. A man who does not carry a bag or at least what is called a “man purse” – which is actually particular of people touring places – he is probably unemployed or perhaps attempting to suggest that he is unemployed. We can also figure men carrying large tin boxes meant for luggage but that is more of travel gear rather than an accessory. Then there is the usual pack of cigarettes and a pack of matches or a lighter which is categorically an “accessory for murder” so we may well leave it out. When our protagonist reaches the office, he unpacks some stuff off his briefcase or bag and this stuff becomes part of the usual that comprises an office.

Now, let us jump ahead a couple of decades. The office-going man today hardly carries anything. The paperwork is carried in cloud servers; everyone owns a car and modern men seldom smoke. So what are the accessories that have replaced the traditional briefcase or that leather satchel? Well we are in the age of information technology where your fingertips do the talking. All you need to have at hand all the times is a smart-phone or for the upwardly mobile a phablet – the hybrid comprising of a phone and a tablet. Are there options? I guess not; if you are no tech savvy then you belong to the eighties. Binary code is the modern protein that modern men survive on and so the only accessory that men of this age carry is a palm wide digital device that is consistently hooked to the Internet. With this device in your hand you can conduct your business routines, manage your relationships, shop endlessly, order food and all this while being seated in the comfort of your office chair.

While the leather briefcase or bag would last generations and more than often this piece of your life carried on as a family heirloom, the smart-phone is quite dispersible and needs to be changed almost every six months because the smart people who manufacture these devices always make sure that you are spending a good amount of your wages on such devices. The leather briefcase now identifies a “petrified” class of people who carried pocket sized dictionaries. No one wants to carry a briefcase now, except for those who are still a stretch away from understanding the portable utility of hand-held digital devices.

mobile-man-briefcaseThe accessories that we carry as men often characterize who we are at the workplace and elsewhere. The man with the briefcase used to be quite talkative and jumpy while the man with the smart-phone hardly has time to look away from the super brilliant screen even if a man falls off a twenty storey building and his brains splash out in front. The man with the briefcase greeted everyone with a smile or a grin in the least while the man of today’s world prefers cyber encounters where a smiley does the trick. The man with the briefcase knew people all too intimately at his workplace and shared a practical relationship with his co-workers and the modern man prefers anonymity as a cause and has hardly ever seen the actual person he works for.

So, we have come a long way. Briefcases have disappeared and five inch devices run the show now. We have integrated technology into our lives so deeply that rather than our mouths, our fingers do the talking now. I comprehend that the emotions and sensitivities that came latched with the generation of briefcases has withered and we have stooped to an inanimate level of existence where people are known less by their first names and more by their email and social networking identities. We have dispensed of the need for the sense of sight and touch and I guess we prefer it that way.

Our lives have been mechanized to a great extent and how long before we turn absolutely mechanized and robotic. Is it possible that the demise of the generation of the briefcase and the rise of the generation of men wielding smart-phones like life-gear points at an eventual demise of emotion?

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