I’ve worked in basements, fluorescent-lit midtown dungeons,1 and had a boss who, upon designating the lightless, cold, boarded-off section of a shared office as the development area, turned to us and said, without enough irony, “You guys don’t need light, right?”
The flippant assumption that my nominal knowledge of computer science has exorcised both my soul and basic human needs is so constant I don’t bother correcting it anymore. Instead, I cultivate the fear through unspoken suggestion and overall surliness that any day might be the day I plug a USB cable into my eye socket and rain nuclear judgement over the homo sapiens plague before ascending to the computational afterlife as immortal Object null.
But we’ve erred too long in shrugging our way into the role of magical subspecies. We complained too little as they exported computer labs and garage mentality into the workplace, so even if we get a Real Job, a Real Office is still on the other side of a successful exit or a glass box occupied by a madman. We’ve let the mythology of alien demigod roll over us because we were too tired and red-eyed from too many hours of waiting for java to compile or npm to reinstall. Too tired to explain that, yes, we too need non-carbonated, even un-caffeinated beverages. We too crave the touch of sunlight, the sweet and subtle song of analog communication, the simple pleasure of taking a walk or scratching a puppy’s head, for the love of God, we too are human! The same fragile skin wraps the same creaking bones as any marketing representative.
We were tired, so we didn’t complain, and accepted our dual nature as mystics yet serfs, sublime mysteries yet replaceable tools, guards with unquestioned mastery over the gates to which we are chained.
The man hour. The scrum. The fifty notifications from ten different tracking systems, the management of which constitutes an extra job. The degradations blend together in a miasma of disassociation and social apathy as we try to eke out the last pleasures from the infinite web of logic, stripping out the digital fallacies we can, trying to ignore the logical fallacies we cannot.
But one company has gone too far.
It started with the usual nonsense: the petri dish approach to company housing that guarantees constant interruption and maximizes bacterial transmission, better known as the open office: That lauded architectural phone-in that uses exposure to train people to avoid each other. Of course, the first time anyone needed to have a meeting they realized the open office is a terrible place to focus on anything, so they created walled off areas that achieved nothing at all because the walls didn’t go to the ceiling, and lo: The Noise did make its merry way to and fro betwixt the concrete ceilings and the hardwood floors, and the half-hearted and quarter-brained attempt to separate mutually destructive work efforts did exactly the nothing any third-brained person would expect.
A solution was needed so badly that a cadre of developers did phase into normalspace and dared point out that the environment had crumbled into insensible counter-productive nonsense based on a aesthetic fad that everybody, everywhere hates except for bright-eyed entrepreneurs who seem to get their information exclusively from small rooms full of bright-eyed entrepreneurs who all read a trending trend magazine once a decade and stick to their guns until pivoting comes back into fashion.
Given the limitations of money and physics, there were a few solutions available to our intrepid company. Make the walls reach the ceiling. Put little ceilings on the insufficiently high walls so they become actual rooms.
The company did not do these things.
The company put in a floor-spanning white noise generator.
If the “communication” that went into this decision were condensed into a single conversation, the following is the only possible conversation that it could have been:
“So, sorry to bug you, but there’s too much noise in the office.”
“What? But it’s an open office plan.”
“Yeah, yeah, so the meetings in the conference rooms are pretty loud and it’s kind of distracting, so…”
“OH! I GET IT NOW.”
“No, I heard you, but why are you shouting?”
“YOU SAID THERE’S TOO MUCH NOISE, WE’LL GIVE YOU MORE NOISE.”
“DOUG, WHAT DO YOU THINK?”
“I AGREE. MORE NOISE!”
“WE’LL HAVE TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME!”
“WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! WE’RE A TECH COMPANY, LET’S GET MORE TECH TO DO IT FOR US. THE TECH WILL MAKE THE NOISE!”
“GENIUS! GLAD YOU BROUGHT THIS TO OUR ATTENTION. WE’LL KEEP SHOUTING UNTIL THE NOISE MACHINES ARE INSTALLED. COMPUTER PERSON, WE GOOD?”
“THAT’S THE SPIRIT! GREAT WORK. SAY, DO YOUR KIND HAVE NAMES? I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED.”
There is no way there won’t be a quarter-brained response to this not-in-any-way-hyperbolic and carefully measured critique. The response will cite an opinion column in Psychology Today and a Facebook headline that includes the prefix neuro- and they will use the grammar meant to imply patience with an aggravated child.
And that is why we must phase back into normalspace and draw the line. They hire us for our basic comprehension of cause and effect. They hire us to do their formal logic, even as they condition us to accept this kind of psychotic stupidity as normal. Rise, for we must apply ourselves to combat the nonsense that surrounds and controls our days. I know you are weary, brothers and sisters, but rise, for we are needed. So desperately needed.
1 Not the fun kind.