Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Paperwork Explosion
June 24, 2011 6:09 AM   Subscribe

In 1967, IBM had the answer to our "paperwork explosion." Somewhat surreal film promoting new IBM dictation technology. Mad Men meets the future with a trippy electronic soundtrack.

Contains interesting recurrent image of papers "exploding" in a blue sky, which now vividly evokes 9/11; you'd never see anything like that today. (Obviously--since we've already controlled the "paperwork explosion," thanks to IBM.)
posted by kinnakeet (41 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ooops, forgot to say "SLYT."
posted by kinnakeet at 6:11 AM on June 24, 2011


Of note: A Jim Henson joint.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:12 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sweet Jesus, this makes me nearly have a conniption, and I was raised on "Miami Vice." This film would have Don Draper throwing the guy out of the office quicker than he could yell at his secretary for another bottle of whiskey.

Wonder how many of these they sold?
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:18 AM on June 24, 2011


Actually, what I really wonder is whether the voice recognition worked. At all.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:19 AM on June 24, 2011


Ohh, I was thinking it was some magical voice to text machine rather than a typewriter that stored previous edits in memory.

Having typed up a few papers back in the bad old days on an old school typewriter the ability to make edits without completely retyping a page must of seemed revolutionary.
posted by vuron at 6:20 AM on June 24, 2011


That was...weird. It successfully evoked the unending drudgery of work but failed to lighten the mood when the computer came in. Which I guess is prescient but not great for an ad. It seems more like a parody of an ad than an actual ad.

Also, I noticed the black businessman, which seems pretty progressive for a major corporation in 1967.

I had no association between papers exploding in the sky and 9/11 until you made it.
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on June 24, 2011


Thank you, (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates--I forgot to include the Henson connection.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:25 AM on June 24, 2011


I thought sure the film would end with one more paperwork explosion.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:33 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Raymond Scott helped on the soundtrack.
posted by clavdivs at 6:36 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


At first glance I thought this would make for a good Rifftrax short. But then after about 30 seconds I figured it would probably just be a lot of "AAAAUGH!" and "What the hell?!?!?"
posted by ShutterBun at 6:38 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


claudivs in with his typical understatement; Raymond Scott did the soundtrack. It's on the Manhattan Research Inc. set.
posted by mykescipark at 6:43 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aaahh, 1967, a time when you just rang up a certain Owsley Stanley III to get those creative talents running at full speed.
posted by NoMich at 6:44 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's on the Manhattan Research Inc. set.

I've had this for a little while now and am enjoying it way more than I thought I would.

Auto-Lite: Ford Family, Baltimore Gas and Electric, and especially Sprite Melonball Bounce really bring back that Life Magazine clean American moderne 60's, where the future was suddenly here now, and it all sounded like outer space.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:52 AM on June 24, 2011


wow, a weird combo of quirky (what's that farmer got to do with anything), hilarious (lol'd at the exploding paper -- so no 9/11 association here) and menacing.
posted by atlatl at 6:53 AM on June 24, 2011


That Manhattan Research set is super-fantastic.
posted by mwhybark at 6:55 AM on June 24, 2011


Machines should work! People should think!
posted by kinnakeet at 7:06 AM on June 24, 2011


This feels just like an intro to the Twilight Zone. It spends more time on the problem than the solution. And please, show me paper blowing up again.
posted by cccorlew at 7:18 AM on June 24, 2011


I think. I think that machines should work.

and as of this afternoon, my Canon G-11 is most decidedly not working, which is a huge drag.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:19 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


9/11?
posted by item at 7:19 AM on June 24, 2011


That was great! Clearly, Henson had been watching a lot of Man Ray and Eisenstein.

And if you're going to do some crappy industrial, you might as well have fun with it, right?

Also the exploding paper reminded me of the end of Terry Gilliams' Brazil.
posted by fungible at 7:20 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting... guess nobody else saw 9/11 in those papers. Not sure why it hit that button for me. Actually, the whole thing kind of reminded me of Brazil.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:31 AM on June 24, 2011


"Today, there aren't enough people," says the work-weary proto-Don Draper. Creepy.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2011


MACHINES SHOULD WORK. PEOPLE SHOULD THINK. MACHINES SHOULD WORK! PEOPLE SHOULD THINK! TWO LEGS GOOD! NO LEGS BAD! TWO LEGS GOOD! NO LEGS BAD!
posted by bicyclefish at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


The product they're advertising is the IBM MT/ST. It's clever, but it is not some mysterious, 30-years-before-its-time voice-recognition system. It's basically a Selectric typewriter with a magnetic tape recorder, so that you can edit text without having to retype the entire page. In essence it's a very basic word processor.

By combining it with a dictation machine — one that, from the look of it, has variable speed playback — the advantage is that you don't have to have a really good secretary to take dictation. You could farm the work out to a much less experienced typist, and they could type it onto the magnetic tape, correcting as necessary, and then dump it all out to paper when they had it correct.

It's also worth pointing out that the "machines should work, people should think" was probably inspired by IBM's motto/slogan, which (from the 30s onward) was simply "THINK".

The thing that gets me while watching the video though, is that it didn't work. Technology didn't catch up to 'paperwork,' in terms of minimizing its volume, until the late 90s or early 2000s. In some industries, it still hasn't. So if those people thought that their office in '67 was bad, they would really have flipped their shit if they could have seen the place in '87, with the photocopier and fax machine and mainframe reports printers generating even more paper, or in '97, with people printing all their email.

It was a nice try, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, I now feel like IBM is supposed to be applied directly to the forehead.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Back in the 60's, everyone was talking about the IBM MT/ST. Even mobsters in the middle of a heroin deal.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:51 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The token black person was an engineer. What's that about?
posted by Chuckles at 8:14 AM on June 24, 2011


Actually, I think there are three different black actors in it. I'm still curious if that's a thing though :P
posted by Chuckles at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2011


Cool.
That sort of mind-fuck style filmmaking was kind of a go-to device for "something's not right!" back then.
Reminiscent of the drug party in Midnight Cowboy, the boat freakout in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and a little bit like the brainwashing scenes in Clockwork Orange (later ripped off by LOST.)
posted by chococat at 8:36 AM on June 24, 2011


If you enjoyed this, you might like to see Orson Welles narrating a mild freak-out doc/companion piece to the novel Future Shock.

It moves really slowly, but has some good late 60s early 70s footage and music. It comes off more weird to me because of the pacing. It's not like a 'scare piece', but a 'concern piece'. But it offers no solutions, just a sort of "well, if we can't keep up, we're pretty much screwed" attitude. It appears to be content to just want us to be generally uneasy with the way things are going, but not to really do anything about it, because, hey, you can't. You'll just be left behind.

The message of this thing seems to be "Watch your step old man, 'cause you're world you grew up in is already obsolete. Just thought we'd let you know. Sure, you've been complaining about this for years, but this time it's coming from the TV."
posted by chambers at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2011


I used to have problems finding time to keep up with the paperwork but, then i started using LSD at the office and now i have all the time in the wooooooorld.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:57 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paperwork explosion is indeed pretty old school. These days we're scoping out the shape of the paperwork singularity.
posted by Naberius at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2011


It successfully evoked the unending drudgery of work but failed to lighten the mood when the computer came in.

Thus accurately predicting today's workplace.
posted by JanetLand at 10:26 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't get enough of these vintage technology infomercials and docs. This Henson video was great as was the Orson Welles Future Shock thing. Here are couple of others I like:

Man & Computer - IBM (1965)
Microworld w/William Shatner - AT&T (1980)
posted by BoatMeme at 10:49 AM on June 24, 2011


Cool except for the stilted dialogue.
You think they could have gotten the people to talk like human being rather than robots.

Also, I don't feel the exploding papers evoke 9/11. But they do remind me of the explosion scene in Zabriskie Point by Antonioni with soundtrack by Pink Floyd.
posted by Rashomon at 1:50 PM on June 24, 2011


Also, I noticed the black businessman, which seems pretty progressive for a major corporation in 1967.

IBM has actually got a great history of being quite progressive for diversity hiring. Thomas Watson and his son really believed in it.

*Disclaimer: I currently work for IBM. Not everything about the company's practices and history is great, but this is genuinely one area where I feel really proud about my employer.
posted by smoke at 6:58 PM on June 24, 2011



MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

MACHINES SHOULD WORK PEOPLE SHOULD THINK.

I only had to type that once. I made my machine do the work for me. A timely mantra, no?

I've heard this track a zillion times when listening to the Raymond Scott compilation it shows up on, but I never thought to ask the Internet to see the Henson-directed visuals that accompany it! Thanks for posting this.
posted by egypturnash at 6:59 PM on June 24, 2011


when listening to the Raymond Scott compilation it shows up on

Any more information on that? I'd be interested if it's still available.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:29 PM on June 24, 2011


Kadin2048, it's linked to Here. Great stuff, for sure.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:48 PM on June 24, 2011


Raymond Scott did the soundtrack. It's on the Manhattan Research Inc. set.
it is a great link. and i know this but he did not direct it...oh, sorry, my bad "Helped with"

some pizza place is using 'Powerhouse' by Raymond Scott.
posted by clavdivs at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2001 [+] [!]

now that was direct observation, yes!

The diversity comments seem a little white bread no offense. My Grandfather hired the first African-American for a management postion at Bell here in Michigan, it was a press release event. My grandfather disliked it, called it token but liked his choice. He would say when asked about the choice "I just hired someone smarter then me."

The Detroit News would not print that.
posted by clavdivs at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2011


Link to the hiring history and I'm going to try and find a clipping from the newspaper.
posted by clavdivs at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2011


« Older "Cubelets is a robot construction kit; by combinin...   |   SAFECAST... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments