Empty Office Vision
My employer gives everyone Good Friday off work.
I came into the office in the morning anyway, because I was out and about, having just dropped my wife off at a commuter rail stop, and I decided to hang out a bit, drink free coffee, and get my exercise in before seeing a friend in the area for lunch.
There was no one around. It was the oddest thing, to be there while simultaneously knowing I was about to never be there — or any other office — again, ever, in just a few short days.
Walking through the deserted hallways, I felt as though I’d survived the apocalypse, and the entire world had been gifted to me. And it looked different, somehow — a place I could finally see.
From a distance everything looks newer, perfect. When I was a new hire, I could only see the shimmering, flawless surface of things.
But now, after years going to the same place I notice the wear on the buildings, the heaviness of peoples’ faces, the rust on overhead pipes, old waterstains on drop ceiling tiles, chipped paint and scuffed baseboards, marks on walls and tears in fabric. I notice unidentifiable odors wafting out of the drain of the kitchen sink and the hairline crack in the bathroom mirror.
I’m seeing the place as it really is instead of the way it was once imagined by every single new hire that walked through the front door on their first day.
Suddenly, I’m struck with a sense of unreality, like I’m cast in a movie without my knowledge, secret cameras following me around. And strange thoughts start popping into my head: The people I’ve been working with over the past fifteen years have all just been actors, synthetic people living in this synthetic building working on synthetic systems. What initially appeared to be a real place has turned out to be fake, a town with cardboard cutout storefronts and cardboard people erected everywhere, good enough to fool the cameras, but not good enough to pass a closer inspection. Now that the production phase of shooting is over, I can’t help but see the underlying flimsiness of it all.
And I see that everything in my workplace is so heavily abstracted that none of us see the reality anymore, everyone demented with the idea of owning phony things, sawdust furniture and cardboard houses and designer-label clothes that are just like regular clothes but 100x more expensive. We work at breakneck pace on abstract projects and initiatives that are stored digitally as ones and zeros committed magnetically or optically to storage, an abstract reality that our senses cannot register, nothing tangible for workers to touch, zero authentic connections to our humanity.
I know these thoughts constitute no great intellectual breakthrough. In my industry, we openly acknowledge this disconnection by referring to the place we put everything as ‘the cloud’ — an ethereal, fantastical endpoint and an overt recognition of just how removed we are from the work we do.
We work on fake things that eventually map to hidden objects in an abstractly defined world in order to buy visible things in the real world that are mostly fake.
And I see this building differently today, as a synthetic place full of made up things to do, complete with an invented culture, a counterfeit family, two dimensional employees, a two dimensional me.
It strikes me, over and over again, how utterly removed I am from the underlying nature of things, layers and layers away from anything substantial. I interact with mainframes taking up space in rooms I’ve never been in, sheltered in buildings I’ve never seen. I talk in the general direction of fuzzy-looking faces framed by skype windows on my laptop screen, plug into appliances via terminal programs that send data via fiber optics and allow me to control them remotely, a virtual puppet master using light and electricity and math instead of strings and wood as the mechanisms of command.
I look around my desk: Images on my screen displayed via pixel maps, flawed and incomplete projections of the original source. Everything is replicated imperfectly, making my experiences feel second-hand, third hand, copied until they are worn out and thin.
What I really want is an escape from the ridiculous and absurd pretension that all of the work that we do in these buildings is real and valuable, along with the deadening sameness and stultifying pointlessness of it all.
What I really want is to live life first-hand.
We didn’t evolve as humans to enjoy being so removed from what we do, so far away from the end products of whatever it is that our company or institution actually provides. Or to do the same thing every day. Or be away from our real families and communities for such long periods of time.
We didn’t evolve to live as 2D abstractions in a fake papery world.
By the time I leave to meet up with my friend, I realize the primary emotion I’ve felt so far from quitting isn’t happiness, but rather relief.
It pours over and through me, an unyielding flood that destroys my cardboard prison, leaving the real me, the multi-dimensioned and complete me, free to emerge from the sodden mess.
** Just a heads-up, I will not be posting next week — the final “I’ve left work” entry will be out around April 20/21. Too much family+house-move stuff happening.