Life’s Work: Your Briefcase Just Ran Over My Toe
By LISA BELKIN
June 28, 2007
DAN RAWLINGS — a sales executive, former football player and guy’s guy — loves his briefcase.
It’s the “color of coffee,” he says adoringly, and the photo he sent me of the case confirms the point. “Not dark brown, not black like everything else out there. Coffee.” His “workhorse” as he proudly calls it “can fit two laptops and 15 pounds of files.”
Then he adds: “I am secure in my masculinity. I don’t need to defend my bag to anyone.”
If Mr. Rawlings sounds just a tad defensive, it is because his beloved has ... wheels.
Not since women first laced clunky sneakers over pantyhose for the trek to work has an accessory brought out such strong feelings among the armies who drag pounds of papers between home and office. What one commuter sees as the answer to all aches and pains, the next one views as a hazard waiting to happen: what gets you through the subway station faster only gets in my way as I run for the train.
And then there are the aesthetics.
“Nerd-o-rama,” sniffed Mark Stevens, the chief executive of MSCO, a global marketing firm in Rye Brook, N.Y. “I would rather carry a baby grand on a broken back than swish around with a rolling bag. Dorothy Parker said, ‘Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ That’s what women think of men with training wheels.”
“Chic,” responded a human resources executive named Karin, whose last name was lost in the din of Grand Central Terminal as she rolled briskly through. Commuters dodged her, but she insisted that she had never tripped anyone with her case. “I’m an expert wheeler,” she said.
Whatever you think of the wheeled briefcases, they are exploding in number. While no industrywide statistics exist, major manufacturers report a jump in demand. Tumi, the travel and accessories company, doubled its sales of the bags in 2006, compared with 2005. It added three rolling models to its line in the past few months, for a total of eight, including one designed to appeal to women.
“Rolling briefcases are one of those contradictory things,” said a Tumi spokeswoman who didn’t want her name attached to the words she said next. “They are hideous,” she said, adding, “our customers tell us they can’t live without them.”
There are lessons about the workplace, and about human vanity, in this love-hate relationship with a wheeled leather box. Its very existence is a measure of how work has changed.
That slim wisp of a briefcase that Robert Young’s character brought home from the office in “Father Knows Best”? Well, he didn’t carry a laptop. Or log a 70-hour week. Or lug around the 30 pounds that Mr. Rawlings, the executive vice president of sales and field operations for LogicalApps, shoves into his battered bag on an average day.
He certainly didn’t regularly fly to same-day meetings that might go until the next morning, requiring him to pack extra clothes in the coffee-colored bag to hedge his bets.
All that lugging — be it briefcase, messenger bag, pocketbook or backpack — takes a toll on the back. And the neck. And the shoulders. And even the wrists.
The American Medical Association warns that carrying more than 10 percent of your body weight can lead to injury, and the overnight appearance of low back pain led me to weigh my own workbag a few summers ago (back then, it was a satchel slung over one shoulder). It was about 25 pounds.
My choices were to either gain more than 100 pounds to reach the 10 percent threshold; to carry less, which seemed improbable; or to invest in some wheels, which I did. That switch (along with months of physical therapy for a herniated disc) stopped my back from hurting.
But wheeling my Targus case around makes me feel like a tourist. Or a grandma on her way home from the supermarket.
Those who are loath to wheel cite a few reasons. Rolling bags annoy other pedestrians. They are not worth the extra struggle on stairs. Not to mention that lifting a wheeled case — with the added weight of wheels and handle — onto a luggage rack is actually more of a strain on the back than lifting one without wheels.
But most freely admit that their choice is based not on practicality, but on ego.
“For sheer attractiveness — not a huge fan,” said Rachel Weingarten, whose book “Career and Corporate Cool” will be published by Wiley next month. She was on her way to a meeting, and was, she said via an e-mail message, “lugging an incredibly stunning (and very pricey) bag that will be filled with presentation materials, books and other goodies.”
“It looks incredible, and will impress my fashion-forward clients,” she continued, “but probably weighs more than my luggage does.”
Adults are not the only ones acting like status-conscious high schoolers. Actual high schoolers (and their younger siblings) are, too. When I suggested to my teenagers that they switch to backpacks with wheels, they looked at me as if I had suggested a return to Barney lunchboxes. And yet the American Occupational Therapy Association warns that 5,000 children each year are treated for injuries caused by overweight backpacks and that 60 percent of school-age children have experienced back pain because of what they carry.
The broader question, of course, is not how but why we are carrying all this stuff. What is in those cases, with and without wheels, that has to go back and forth from work to home nightly? Why did the state of California have to pass a law limiting the weight of student textbooks?
And why do preschoolers need Dora the Explorer backpacks anyway? What do they put inside? Their quarterly earnings reports?
Our overstuffed briefcases indicate either that we have too much work to do or that we find security in the possibility that if downtime strikes, we have work on hand to fill it.
“About half the time I actually do the work I bring home,” Denise Shade said as she and her wheels got off the 6:21 a.m. train at Grand Central from New Canaan, Conn. “The intent is there.” It reassures Ms. Shade, who is in charge of foreign exchange at KeyBank, to know that her work trails in her wake at all times.
Robert Lopata, a strategic marketing manager at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, is one who sees deeper meaning in the wheels that pass by him each working day (and which he adamantly refuses to use).
Uglier than those wheels, he said, are the “workplace demands and neurotic tendencies that make people think that they need to cart around that much stuff. Wasn’t the information revolution supposed to make briefcases and paper, for that matter, obsolete?
“The rolling briefcase,” Mr. Lopata continued, “is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Ever notice that the most efficient people are the ones with the least amount of stuff?
“We hate the guy with the rolling briefcase because either literally or metaphorically, we are that guy.”
vendredi, juin 29, 2007
a chiropractic goldmine
I'm lucky enough to have a laptop. I schlep it back and forth to work and home because it's also my personal computer (I'm getting rid of my hulking desktop machine at home). And yes ... I'm considering using a wheelie bag because I don't think the laptop bag is good for my back.