Remember filing cabinets? Those lumbering, clattering towers of drawers stuffed full of Pendaflex folders? They were once vital to every workplace, as much a part of the landscape as desks and chairs. There was always a warren of them in a back room somewhere, and no matter what your eventual profession, if you ever served time as an intern, an executive assistant, a clerk or a catalog manager, you filed. You filed and filed until your thumbs wore down. You’d painstakingly recenter those metal rods, always prone to slipping free; you’d occasionally handwrite a label onto the perforated fragment of paper nested inside each plastic tab, folding it just so and inserting it, only to see it worm out the other end. And only after you’d climbed a few rungs on the corporate ladder could you let all this filing go to someone else, another rung down.
But filing wasn’t just for the office; files were part of our innermost personal lives. (Let’s not forget that the portal into John Malkovich’s mind lurked behind — why, yes — a file cabinet.) For a young adult, acquiring your first metal contraption, or one of those brown accordion files with the little figure-eight string closure, was part of becoming a grown-up. It was no longer Mom’s job to keep track of your life’s paperwork. It was on you.