The search for the perfect briefcase

Forget the dog. In our brave new world of international jet travel and instant communication, a man’s best friend is no longer a drooling canine, but the ultimate in office chic. Out goes Scooby and in come Prada, Vuitton and Samsonite. What a man needs today is not a faithful four-legged companion, but a good briefcase.

A briefcase doesn’t chew your slippers or leave you a nasty surprise by the back door. It’s more than a bag. It’s a source of comfort and stability – a little bit of ‘me’ in a world of ‘everyone else’. A briefcase is with you whatever the world throws your way – when your shiny powerpoint presentation goes down like a lead balloon, when your top client rings to say she’s taking her business elsewhere, and even when you misjudge the revolving door and spill your freshly-ground americano down the front of your brand new shirt.

With its ubiquitous presence and practical charm, the briefcase is a fundamental part of the modern economy. So in this day and age, the age of silicon chips and the internet, why are so many briefcases so utterly rubbish?

Let’s take a look at the hand-luggage hall of shame. In the beginning, we had the good old chunky leather number, complete with cavernous open-plan interior and those twiddly little number locks where you had to get your kids to change the code for you. These titans of the boardroom could hold just about anything – files, stationery, even a flask and sandwiches for lunchtime. The only snag was that you could use them in one of only two states – completely empty or full to the brim. Anything in between and you lifted the lid to a scene that looked as if someone had ram-raided the stationery cupboard. Not quite the professional image you wanted to project.

Perhaps in response to this, the next generation of briefcases were slimmed-down versions of the older ones. More space age. Curves not corners. You could walk down the street with one of these slimline smoothies feeling as if you’d just stepped out of the latest Bond movie. What you couldn’t do, unfortunately, was actually fit anything into them. No more files, books or sandwiches – anything thicker than a floppy disk was history. This lead to the dangerous and traumatic ‘flat food syndrome’, whereby starving executives from Kingston-on-Thames to Kuala Lumpur had to get by on pitta bread and wafer thin Wiltshire ham. Clearly, revolution was in the air.

And such revolution came not in the guise of a bearded socialist, but in the form of a macho and tardis-like icon of the professional classes – the pilot case. These kings of the paperwork superhighway were everything their predecessors were not. Not only could they hold far more than the pen and a post-it note to which itinerant executives had previously been restricted, but thanks to their vertical orientation you could casually reach into them during a meeting to retrieve a specific document without upending your entire life onto the floor. And with the size and sheer mass of these behemoths, they doubled in an emergency as a handy way of stopping runaway trams.

Now in our health and safety conscious world, it wasn’t long before some bright spark started to worry that carrying the workplace equivalent of a baby elephant around with us all day could result in industry’s finest developing more than a passing resemblance to knuckle-dragging orang utans. And so, in a move that has changed the lives of overworked executives across the world, the wheely-trolley-thing was born.

We’ll ignore the fact that the only reason these cases have to be so big is to accommodate the wheel and handle mechanisms that they need because they’re so big. And we’ll turn a blind eye to the minor technical issue that the handles are so short that anyone over five foot five has to take those funny teeny-tiny steps to avoid being run over by their own briefcase.

But one question we really must ask is this: How much stuff do we really need for a day in the office? And things aren’t going to stop here. The size of wheely-trolley-briefcases is actually on the increase. And in a few worrying cases, overworked executives have been spotted heading into the office with what is tantamount to a suitcase. How will this end? Will we soon be accompanied on our commute by a four-drawer filing cabinet? Will a personal pack-donkey be the latest corporate perk?

It’s time to stop the madness. The gurus tell us that we’re all knowledge workers now, operating at the speed of thought in a paperless world. Yet we’re lugging around briefcases from a bygone era. What we need is a twenty-first century briefcase, something that does the job whilst still looking the part.

And our needs are simple. The modern briefcase needs to be big enough to hold everything we need but small enough to carry around without the aid of a fork-lift truck. It needs to be secure enough to protect confidential documents but simple enough to allow us to get into it without having to phone the kids for help. It needs to be smart enough to look professional but individual enough to make it stand out from the crowd.

And what would be really good would be if, when you get home in the evening, it would fetch your slippers, wag its tail furiously and then gaze at you adoringly as you scratch it behind the ears.

I wrote this ages ago but never really got around to finding anywhere to publish it. So I thought I’d put it up here. I have a few more articles like this, so will post them from time to time, as and when I feel like it.

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