We had pockets

What did we do, how did we live, before we had lanyards? First published in The Age, Saturday 18 June 2005


They are called ‘lanyards’, apparently, and they are taking over the world. They are those glorified shoelaces with security cards or club memberships or keys or mobile phones hanging from them.

At lunchtime in the city you see people walking about, their lanyards dangling alongside their ties or drawing attention to their chests. I catch glimpses of these public displays of access or identity or telecommunication and think, Whatever happened to just putting things in your pockets?

As the cooler months approach lanyards may be less conspicuous but they’ll still be there.

Not working in a typical office, I hadn’t taken much notice of them until I went to the MCG a few weeks ago. Previously I had only associated lanyards with work, with office-workers in particular, but also with hospital staff and rock concert security guards.  Here, though, they were being worn during recreation, as part of a football supporter’s uniform: scarf, cap, flag, and lanyard – in club colours of course.

At the end of each lanyard was a glossy photo, not of the person wearing the apparel, but of a favourite player. So this is what’s happened to the humble footy card. Instead of sticking them in a book or swapping them with mates in the schoolyard, you wore them as some kind of fashion accessory, some kind of status symbol. Just another step in the corporitisation of football and in the ever-increasing spread of the lanyard.

I didn’t even know the name of these things until recently when I asked a colleague at work and a voice piped up from behind an old filing cabinet: “They’re called ‘lanyards’. I think it’s a nautical term.” Indeed it is. The Macquarie Dictionary states:

Naut. a. a short rope or cord for securing or holding something, esp a rope rove through deadeyes to secure and tighten rigging; b. knife lanyard, a cord to which a knife is attached, worn by seamen around the neck

 Well, at least I haven’t seen any knives hanging from office-workers’ necks yet, though in these days of fear and insecurity you never know what might happen.

I first became aware of lanyards long before I discovered their name. You would go to rock concerts way back in the distant past and see security guards wearing black shoelaces around their huge necks with a simple plastic card saying ‘Access All Areas’ or ‘Backstage Pass’. They gave these people an unspoken authority beyond their bulging biceps and closely-cropped hair.

The closest I’ve come to wearing something that granted me special access was wearing a scapula, back when I was a good Catholic boy in primary school. For a short time I wore a piece of narrow brown string under my white singlet, with a small picture of Jesus, hanging close to my heart, which was beating faithfully under my skinny ribs. Like a rock’n’roll bodyguard’s access pass it meant you were just that little bit closer to the main action.

Unlike today’s lanyards the scapula didn’t  have an access number or club membership details but I reckon if St Peter knew you were wearing one he’d let you through the big gates pretty quickly.

But a good Catholic boy can only wear a scapula for so long, which wasn’t long at all. After probably just a few weeks I ‘lost’ it amongst the matchbox cars, the toy soldiers and the footy cards in my crowded bedroom.

If I were to sift through my late parents’ belongings I might find a scapula or two there, amidst the marriage certificate, the wedding anniversary cards and the senior citizens memberships.

Given that I don’t wear, let alone own, a common neck-tie, the prospect of having to wear a lanyard fills me with dread. In my six months in an office on the edge of the CBD I’ve yet to see people in the three-storey building wearing lanyards. We all have access disks which hang on key-rings, which are put in pockets, out of view.

But I fear the day won’t be far away. Last week I opened the stationary cupboard and saw a navy blue lanyard with a memory stick hanging from it. (A memory stick, I have learnt, is not necessarily an ancient totemic tribal thing. It’s a computer accessory. Apparently.)

This particular lanyard, lurking between the digital camera and the petty cash tin, had the brand name ‘Transcend’. I didn’t realize such simple office equipment could elevate our working lives beyond the nine-to-five grind.

Then, just the other day, I was fossicking about my drawer looking for my favourite green highlight pen when I came across another lanyard. It must have belonged to my predecessor, along with the paper clips, the scissors and – ominously – the migraine tablets. This lanyard had a small, empty plastic envelope attached to it.

I quickly shut the drawer and resolved to only open it in extreme emergencies. I’d have to cope with the pink highlight pen and come up with a new way of marking my field trips in my diary.

What did we do, how did we live, before we had lanyards, these modern-day millstones? We had football fans who wore hand-knitted beanies and scarves. We had a personal sense of security, not something that had to be displayed for all the world to see. We had office buildings which you could simply walk in without need of identifying yourself. We had a different world. We had pockets.


First published in The Age, Saturday 18 June 2005, accompanied by an illustration of Adam and Eve wearing lanyards instead of fig leaves.

One comment

  1. Mum has just moved into aged care accommodation and carries all her access keys on a lanyard around her neck. If she put them in a pocket, she’d never find them again, so these pesky lanyards are useful at times.

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