I’ve just finished my fourth day at my career job, and so far I fucking hate it. What bothers me more than anything is the culture of this huge corporate environment. There is a certain assembly line quality to everything: every cubicle is the same, each containing the same computers, the same chairs, the same starting office supplies, the same monitors. Every computer has the same software, the same operating system, the same specs. The monotony of the environment is so striking that you feel like a member of the borg. The vast majority of the employees I walk by in the halls or in the coffee room are much older (easily in their 40s) and look lifeless and depressed. You get the sense that this corporation has sucked the joy out of their life and now they are rotting away in their cubicles, completely subservient to their bi-weekly paychecks. Nobody really socializes outside of their department or offers so much as a smile in the hallways. The decorum and atmosphere is dreary and uninspired. There isn’t the slightest sense of excitement or any profound emotion beyond laziness and apathy.
Beyond that, I feel invisible, like an ant in an ant colony. I hate to use a very stereotypical expression, but I truly am a cog in the machine in this place. I don’t see how you can really get your work noticed, for better or worse. It feels almost as though this is by design. I finally got my first piece of real work today and it’s something I could do in my sleep. I miss the start-up environment where I felt like I was doing something that mattered, and where we were just a scrappy team of four making innovative products to try and make our mark in the tech industry. Although the pay was insulting and my boss was almost abusively demanding, I enjoyed that grind a lot more than the misery of working for the borg. This is what it must be like to sell your soul for money, and trust me, it’s definitely not a worthy trade-off.
I think I’ve found the most appalling is the series of emails I’ve gotten about writing your own performance appraisals to be submitted into a performance management system. Beyond the mouthful of bullshit corporate speak inherent in such wording, the thought that you have to document your own accomplishments at work and deliver it into the aether of bureaucracy is insane. In a sane environment, your qualities of talent and ambition will stand out to your boss or supervisor because they are working closely with you.
I can’t believe this is how we’ve decided to structure the livelihood of our society. What kind of absolutely batshit insane world do we live in where the majority of adults spend more than a third of their lives this way? This is purgatory. I want to move around and exercise, to enjoy nature, to socialize and be silly, and to create things I care about that directly impact my life: whether it be writing, or composing music, or even designing a web app. In a cubicle, you sit in front of a plasma screen all day. It’s horrible for your physical health. It kills your sense of spirit, curiosity, autonomy and sense of adventure. What you work on is for the benefit of someone else who is several degrees of separation from you.
Although it’s obviously more dangerous to live as hunter gatherers, at least they get to live a fulfilling life. A hunter only “works” when he’s in need of food, and whatever catch he makes is to his family’s immediate benefit. He gets to swim, kayak, climb trees, build huts and travel through the jungle. Since food is relatively scarce, the meaning of his life is reduced to hunting and providing for his family. There’s no chronic stress, no anxiety about the meaning of life, and honestly no reason beyond immediate grief or starvation and sickness to feel unhappy. I’ve seen several documentaries about hunter gatherers and there are a few things I find particularly striking: Their sense of community is extraordinary. They find joy in the simplest of things, such as playing in mud after a rainy day. They are in excellent health, as obesity is nonexistent and even the elderly are in good physical and mental shape. They coexist with their environment and find every excuse to celebrate their love of life. When’s the last time (other than Halloween) that you dressed up with a mask and face paint and danced and sang around a campfire with your entire community?
Seriously, you should watch a few documentaries on people from Papa New Guinea and similar modern day hunter gatherers. It will shatter a lot of your preconceived notions about the world. For instance, the concept of masculinity is much different in these cultures than it is in macho western culture. I’ve seen fully lean, muscular men bathing naked together and washing each other without the slightest reservation. I’ve seen mating rituals where women pick men based on their singing ability. I’ve seen entire cultures of men who dress in purple robes or act somewhat flamboyantly. They have nothing to prove and their only measure of masculinity is how well they can provide for their family. I distinctly remember a clip where a man’s wife and children expressed profound fondness for him because he would routinely risk his life to bring them honey from a high treetop. A lot of our modern ailments such as greed, narcissism, vanity, consumerism, depression, obesity, jealousy and stress are totally foreign to them.
Contrast that now to where our lives are regimented to the extent that we are human cattle. From the day we hit preschool to the day we retire we are taught to be obedient and subservient to our teachers, bosses and bureaucratic overlords. We are taught to think and act like machines. Our entire existence is constrained to assignments, deadlines, scheduling and planning. Ultimately, we end up serving technology instead of technology serving us. Mass production has trivialized the challenge of survival and I can’t believe this is how we’ve chosen to fill that void. What fascinates me the most is people who fetishize technology, who froth at the mouth over every new iteration of the iPhone or religiously read TechCrunch. It’s as though they are worshipping their captors.