Friday, November 1, 2019

Boxes, beds and bad moods.

I’ve been told to move my desk at work and in today’s
serf-conomy that means someone drops some stickers with your name and desk number printed on them along with a bright orange plastic shipping box on wheels.

You’re to load your stuff in that 2x2x3 crate and get on with it. There’s absolutely no accommodation for your tenure or title or even age. In short order you find yourself down on your hands and knees, under your desk unplugging plugs. Down on your hands and knees.

The semiotics of the routine is dispiriting at best. After a dozen years at an agency you are moved with all the dignity of a half dead ficus tree. From one identical numbered desk to another. You’re a take out burger at a quick-serve restaurant. Identifiable as a #16. Extra cheese, no mayo. Or in my case, extra cheesy and burnt.

It’s the box part that gets me because boxification is the modern way of agency people-management.

If you’re hired as a tech writer for instance, you’ll go through your salmon run at your agency as a tech writer. You’ll never get out of that tech writer box. It’s easier after all for management to know they have a box filled than to concern themselves with someone feeling challenged, stretched…fulfilled. To be blunt, it’s easier to treat people as box fillers than as [eek] individuals. As my grandmother might have plaintived, "Why should I be happy?"

I have a lot of daughter-aged friends in the business who talk to me, usually when they’re disconsolate and on the cusp of looking for something new. They talk to me about the stifle-ness they feel. They universally have the qualities any employer would give their left arm for. They work hard. They’re bright. They are assertive. And they’re driven. (It’s not just young people by the way; I’m merely using them as a subterfuge in lieu of subtlety.)

Usually I tell them about Agencies, the Ancient Greek sadist Procrustes, and his bed. Procrustes was a robber dwelling somewhere in Attica who had an iron bed. If a victim was shorter than the bed, Procrustes stretched him by hammering or racking the body to fit. If his victim was longer than the bed, Procrustes cut off the victim’s legs to make his body fit the bed’s length. The “bed of Procrustes,” or “Procrustean bed,” has become proverbial for ruthlessly forcing someone or something to fit into an unnatural scheme or pattern. 

I’m packing my boxes. Getting down on all fours. Waiting to be shoved someplace just as alpha-numerically generic as the 11 or nine other work-stations I’ve be consigned to.

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