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The patron saint of office inaction could be Herman Melville's Bartleby the scrivner, who sloughed off the responsibilities of his job in the dead letter office with a succinct, "I would prefer not to." But in some professions, downtime was practically a requirement of the job, and higher-ups would charge underlings with figuring out how to use it.
"When I started in the early '80s, there were word-processing centers," recalls attorney Howard Gutman, a partner at Williams & Connolly. "A 120-page brief could take two hours, and one mistake and you'd have to do it over again. Printing places would vie for business by having beds and food. If you were a young lawyer, sitting and waiting there really was your job."
Idle time's death knell was the Internet, which created a way to fill every moment while giving the appearance of productivity. The joys of making wastebasket two-pointers and using Scotch tape to extract nasal blackheads pale when compared with the minute-hand-massaging possibilities of Craigslist and YouTube. According to Nielsen ratings, the average American visits more than 2,000 Web pages a month while on the clock; surveys by Vault.com suggest that close to 90 percent of workers spend part of their day doing Internet browsing that's unrelated to work.
b. 1800s -- d. 2008
Adieu, smoking. It made news worldwide when New York City banned it in restaurants in 2002. When the District followed four years later, much of the world likely chalked it up to more puritanical Americanism -- another quirk of a country with fluoridated water and wars packaged with catchy slogans. How else could you possibly pick someone up at a bar? But on January 1 of this year, the City of Light itself started popping Nicorette. Paris, once a place where a diet of espresso and Gitanes was comme il faut, has banned smoking in all restaurants, bars and theaters. Mon Dieu!
The cigarette's history is so intertwined with sex and reckless youth that it's hard to imagine a world that's completely "no smoking." And yet, so many tobacco-related cultural markers have become distant memories: the monogrammed cigarette case, the Holly Golightly-esque holder, the kindergarten class charged with making ashtrays out of clay.
Not that this is a bad thing. We are tasting our food better than ever and can now awake after a night of bar hopping without smelling like the love child of Bette Davis and Popeye. It's also hard to argue with laws that will likely decrease the country's cases of emphysema and lung cancer (as well as leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia, premature births, abdominal aortic aneurysms -- we'd go on, but we've been allotted only a few thousand words for this article).
Unfortunately, the global population of cigarette fiends isn't necessarily dwindling. Westerners may be slapping on nicotine patches, but the number of smokers in poorer places in the world continues to grow. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are 1.3 billion smokers worldwide and that number will hit 2 billion by 2030.
It's almost enough to drive you to drink.
b. late 1870s -- d. mid-1990s
Once, the number of words you could type per minute was impressive only to an employer. Today, the hunt-and-pecker is seriously handicapped in a much more personal arena: sex.
Thanks to instant- and text-messaging, phone sex is going the way of the VHS. There are just too many advantages to being an SMS or AIM Casanova. You need not worry about phone bills or eavesdropping roommates; images can be swapped quickly or even live; and most IM and text sex can be pursued right at the dinner table or office desk, under the guise of getting homework assignments or checking the human rights situation in China. It's also low effort (even orgasm requires little but holding down a couple of vowel keys and hitting return, then gracefully exiting the situation with a quick BRB or TTYL) and can be saved for later enjoyment (control + c, control + v and voila).