Friday, March 23, 2007

this post is half-baked: Sometimes I do wonder ...

"[Vance] Packard saw the hypermaterialism of American consumer culture as a compensation offered by successful capitalists to the middle and lower classes, whose postindustrial jobs were becoming increasingly meaningless. Motivated by greed born of advertising, Americans conspired with market researchers to transform themselves into 'voracious, wasteful, compulsive consumers.'"

- Giles Slade from "Made To Break"

Don't get me wrong, I am as happy to have a J-O-B as the next working slob. And working can offer certain rewards and satisfactions beyond matters financial.

But some days I think that this is a job that a stick could do. Certainly i try to do it with friendliness, humor and panache, but seriously, a few versions of Microsoft Office from now - this job will cease to exist.

And when I look around I see a lot of other people who stand around with their eyes glazed over for the very same reason. The other day I was at the grocery store checkout aisle and right as it was my turn to check out, the girl behind the counter said that she had to use the restroom and needed someone to replace her. As she rushed off the manager said, "Now, don't fall in!"

The manager turned to me and said that the last time this particular girl had needed to use the restroom, she had vanished for over an hour. And when they tracked her down she was hanging out in the back room of the store chatting with the boys. the manager went on to complain that she had this problem with so many of the checkout girls. They were talking on the cell phone and ignored the customers. They were always taking long breaks. She had to send a lot of them home early during the day because they were not getting any work done.

I can't say as I blame any of them. Swiping barcodes across a laser, calling for price checks, making change and putting things in bags does not sound like my idea of challenging, meaningful work either. And I image that we customers are a pain to deal with.

I run in to people all the time who are bored stiff by their jobs who probably have talents and passions and ambitions that are not realized in the thing they do to make money. A lot of people.

Y'know, You gotta pay rent, you gotta buy food, you gotta pay those taxes and the electric/internet bill. You gotta pay that credit card bill from all the purchases that you made of all that goofy stuff that you want and think that you can't live without.

You end up in jobs that try very hard to standardize you and everything that you do so that you are replaceable and your work has the kind of blandness, anonymity, and interchangeability that allows others to take your work and fit it into any framework.

And that standardization enforced through bureaucracy might over time evolve from being something that you do for a 1/3 of the day to something that becomes an intrinsic part of you.

PJ used to shake his fist and say in a tiny voice: "The Man is keeping me down, I should live rent free." We thought that this statement was hilarious. And now I do wonder - there is so much effort put into making things faster, making them cheaper, and more efficient, making them better and more functional. Could we make things that made our work more interesting?

Like how about a numeric pad that you could use to tap out numbers with your feet?

Or Nerf launchers that you can use to send messages to co-workers?

Or a scooter lane in the hallway at work? (helmets required of course.)

I am actually the wrong person to be coming up with this stuff. My idea of fun is blogging. And I really like NPR.


Depth of Fish said...

I couldn't go on if I couldn't purchase all that goofy stuff... basically, that's why I have the job. Rent and food and utility bills are just for fun.


keNYC said...

dude, something you do for 1/3 of your day is totally an intrinsic part of you *cringes violently*....another third youre sleeping and another 1/6 youre eating...that leaves only 1/6 to do stuff you actually want to do. sucks ass. and people wonder why i hate eating. it's a frigging waste of time...

ergo said...

depth of fish: haha! At least in your case the money goes towards cool toys. Cool toys are an excellent reason to work.

kenyc: Wow. Meditating on this comment I am really sad. =(

The good news is that some folks are really good at going without sleep and others are really good at going without food. Pity more of us can't go without work.

But I suppose 4 hours a day plus the weekends, holidays, and vacation could make for a pretty interesting life.