They are building a new building for the Business School here. I guess they are in the moving-in-the-new-and-perfectly-matching-furniture phase, because today I saw an office furniture delivery truck, decorated with a photo of a modern, sleek conference room with giant screens everywhere and the tagline,
Love how you work… with interactive technology environments!
“Interactive technology environments?” Like teleconferencing? Like interacting with a screen instead of a person? Don’t I stare at enough screens as it is?
Yes, I do. In fact, I stare at more than enough screens. I would like to say the “product” of my work is happy prospective students, but since I never see most of them, my most obvious outcome of a day’s work is a full email outbox. This leaves me wondering… what is an email, anyway? Virtual information? Words in cyberspace? Can we in any way conclude that an email is actually something rather than, well, nothing?
Imagine how satisfying it would be to point to something real and say, “Yup — I did that!” Scrolling through a list of sent messages just doesn’t have the same zing. I know what I do is important and that the information sent in these emails has real impact on the recipients, but the more technology comes into the play, the greater the disconnect I feel between how I spend time compared to what I have to show for it.
I want to rebel against screens. I long to work with my hands. I love to see a product emerge from them, something tangible, something I can hold, pass out, share, use, eat. Something with which I can interact, something that couldn’t come into existence without me. Emails aren’t real enough for me.
I’m reading this book about, incongruously enough, zombies. It’s written as a series of interviews conducted a decade after the end of a world-wide war against the zombies. One interviewee was the head of a government program responsible for retraining white-collar professionals — utterly useless in the new social order — to do tasks necessary for survival… growing crops, making shoes, etc. While some rebelled, most took an unexpected and unprecedented pride in their work.
Thinking back on that ad on the truck, I see a terrible irony in all of this. The folks that created these “interactive technology environments” that we are all supposed to love so much but keep widening the gap between nothing and something? They can look at their work and say “Hey! I made that!”
Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?