We tend to be overly dramatic about the nature of some aspects of our work life… and paradoxically very blind to some other deeply disturbing and normalised parts of the same work life…

In a very sitcom-like setting, we see an office; the fake laughs are present in the detail of a classic Monday at the office. These fake laughs are not only ominous sounds from the background, but also from the characters themselves.

What is more fake? For an audience to react with joy to a simple elevator encounter turned awkward by a comment, or for a worker to laugh at the bosses’ lame joke about his free time and weekend?

We see a bunch of guys, middle 20s and 30s, a couple over 40… similar suits, similar behaviour… desks and computers are all over the place. The malfunctioning printer seems to be the only common enemy.

This is a very progressive workspace, the colourful beanbags in a corner denominated creative “judgement free” space are a testament to it. There is even a yoga space in a multi modular room, that is used as a kill room for commercial deals and as a space for deep introspection and mindfulness.

When Tommy met James

The latest subject for gossip is a non-binary homosexual relationship in the office… and wonderfully, everyone is super cool about it. James is such nice catch, they tell Tommy. Love is naively perceived as a nice refreshing touch in such a monotonous everyday existence. At least it is something new. Something to talk about.

Everyone is looking forward to Friday, when a digital celebrity personal coach and mindfulness guru is coming to give the team a free class on how to handle stress. This is the first topic of the Monday morning power meeting, where the most important topics of the week are discussed superficially to give a clear sense of priorities and importance to the multitasking expectations of the team.

I said cheese – not trees!

One of the employees pointed out that stress is the number one difficulty he faces; it is the one obstacle between him and the perfect execution of the many tasks he has in his to-do list. He wishes ardently to rid himself of this dreadful feeling of hopelessness and lack of self-control, lack of motivation… so he can achieve his full potential. The manager, in an act of selfless self-punishment, acknowledges his responsibility in the matter.

“My job is to provide the proper workspace for you guys to perform the best you can and become the best you can.”

From a quiet corner in the same room, someone points a different alternative.

“What if we hire some extra hands, and maybe get a raise, so we can be more at ease with our finances and have more free time to relax and attend to the matters outside of work-related chores?”

I’m not happy.

There is one in every office… a downer… that is not how things work… if only she read some book about self-help… or did some yoga from time to time… even classical music while you work or breathing exercises during bathroom breaks… she wouldn’t have such a negative attitude. Her negativity is the real danger… it could contaminate the whole office.

You are being replaced by a machine. Shut up.

The next topic of conversation is a new system being implemented that will help with some data management issues… mostly efficiency. Every worker at the office will be trained how to not intervene with the automatic system. The main priority is to learn to ignore it and think of it as an organic part of our workflows. The less we understand the better. Technical experts will come every week to ensure maximum efficiency. No extra questions should be asked now.

During the coffee break we see James and Tommy touching hands… it is so sweet… like being back in high school. The workers are happy for them, it is so naive… and almost pure… like a flower growing up a concrete wall. Against all odds, love finds a way. Perhaps there is hope for all in the end.

The end of the working day approaches… lights start to go off one by one… even people doing some extra hours are asked to leave the office. Its Monday… its sports night… some of the guys are getting together for dinner and some good old sports. The others, exhausted… just want a bed to rest.

Picture pans out… the office building is inside a prison.

The workers return to their cells and hang their suits in the 2×2 concrete rooms with a single window. Tomorrow it will be the same… but at least Friday we have the mindfulness classes. Escaping to my inner self has become the last refuge from the panic of reality.

Alice in chains – not in Wonderland

Most of the workers in this office are fresh out of college… and of course already deeply in debt. With a high risk of not being able to repay such debt they are sent directly to this hybrid office/jail system. Here they will be forced to pay their debts until they are free to return to the free market. Some of them not able to catch up with their ever-growing bills. Some are trapped… others have simply given up…

Have we progressed so far as a society? Do we really have an alternative to work? Is work ever really a choice? Doesn’t it feel that lately our life choice of profession seems more transactional?

Now I feel nothing. That’s better!

There is no reality; there is only the illusion of pleasure through the fulfilment of work. What if we started to see work as what it really is… a mostly systematic abuse and pre-emptive cost and punishment for the currently established aspirational lifestyle one should have to fit in.

Is automation up to us? Will technology herald a loud change, or just a quiet and subtle invisible disruption in our lives?

Aren’t most of the ‘quality of life improvements’ we do in workspaces just a placebo that normalises the abuses? Aren’t we all doctors that ignore the cause of illness and just spend all our time masking and eradicating the symptoms? Is there a cure, if work itself is the disease?

 Diego Bolson Ruzzarin

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