May 15, 2016 – Riding the ferry home from the Island today I skimmed Facebook and came across a post by someone I follow. The quote in the post resonated with me given something I am struggling with currently.
Books are important. They transport us to other places, other times. They introduce us to people not like ourselves. They provide us with a mirror of what the world is, or what it has been, or what it could be. They provide us with insights into the way others think. They gift us with empathy and different viewpoints.
Hard to imagine anyone would label books as “unwanted”. And yet, that’s what I feel I am hearing these days.
A while back our office was identified as one that was to be “transformed” into what has been dubbed Workplace 2.0.
Anything with a “2.0” after it has to be bad.
And it is.
(Crap, do I sound like the cheetoh?)
It’s full-of-contradictions sort of bad.
Lower the walls. Shrink the space each person has to work in. Take away the paper. Increase the distractions. Take away any shred of privacy.
“Workplace 2.0 will improve collaboration and communication, and it improves collaboration and communication so well that we find that people talk less because they feel that their voices carry and distract others, so things are generally quieter, but we suggest wearing headphones to block out the noise.”
No contradictions there at all.
And nothing says “fuck off and leave me alone” like wearing headphones at your desk. Its a passive aggressive means to inform others around you that you are exceptionally frustrated with the distracting noises and conversations around you. But they don’t work, because music is a congnitive distraction too. I am losing my ability to tolerate the distracting conditions even now, before we are stuffed into our impending battery cages. I have donned the dreaded fuck-off-and-leave-me-alone-ear-buds more and more frequently to try and concentrate.
And I hate that because I really, truly, love the job I have and the people I work with. But I’m being ground down. I never thought I’d find my happy place only to have it thrown into a chipper. And all the while, we are bombarded by emails from National extolling the efforts to recognize mental health in the workplace.
As they shove the most mentally stressful and unhealthy conditions down our throats.
I think someone in the previous government really hated public servants and clearly thought they should all be put into shoeboxes with their faces glued in computer screens like little manageable robots. But there is a problem with that, not everyone works the same way. There are an awful lot of people who still use paper-based reference material. I’d hoped the new government would see the potential for human mental carnage but its not looking that way at all.
When this was first being bandied about, an admin person came by my desk with a tape measure and started to measure my bookshelves, shelf by shelf.
When I asked what he was doing I was told “We are undertaking a paper reduction.”
I flatly and calmly said “Step away from my books. The government does not own those books, I do. They represent 25 years of carefully curating reference materials that pertain to my subject area, and I paid for every single one of them myself. They represent many thousands of dollars of my own personal expenditures and I cannot do my work without them.”
His response was “You don’t need books, most everything is available on the internet these days.”
(Thank you for your efforts Captain Obvious, but you are very incorrect)
I repeated that he should step away from the books and that “most of those are not, in fact, available on the internet and, even if they were, reading on a computer screen does not provide the depth of comprehension or level of recall that paper books do. Additonally, finding the same information that I know exists in my paper books is far less efficient to locate and access online if it does exist there.”
He backed away from my bookshelves and exited my cubicle as I sat there dumbfounded at the lack of understanding.
I thought that was the end of that, until recently the spectre of Workplace 2.0 reared its head on our floor and the missive came down from above that we would be stuffed into little tiny battery hen cages, side by side, computer screens facing the windows, backs to anyone walking by, privacy stripped away, density increased, noise level rising….. but worse….”staff may keep 2-3 boxes of books, files, and desk supplies”.
I, of course, asked “How big might these boxes be?”
Small…banker box sized.
I have 26 linear feet of references and resource material.
I found a tape measure and I measured it.
I am not a hoarder. In fact I am anything but. I keep very little that is extraneous to what I need or use. If I do not use it, or I am finished with it, it doesn’t clutter my space. I like a pathologically clear surface when I arrive at the beginning of the day, and when I leave at the end.
Yes, I realize that it is a little bit OCD, but I like a clean slate.
But I have carefully curated my library over a period of about 25 years or more. Those references have carried me through three university degrees and my teaching. They have travelled from UBC, to VIU, back home, and finally (I thought) to a desk at what I was hoping would be my workplace for the remainder of my fish-based career.
And I am now panic stricken and riddled with anxiety and mental distress.
When I saw the floor plan, and the lack of space for resources that I use to perform the work I was hired to do, I burst into tears. Sleeping has been worse than normal, and I’m having terrible dreams about not being able to respond to requests for information that I can normally respond to because the information is easily accessible and at my fingertips.
This is not healthy.
How could an employer not recognize the damage to productivity that would come with such a decision. The economy of more people in less space is accompanied by a drop in productivity, and increase in stress, and an accompanying increase in sick leave. This is fact and is detailed in numerous psychology studies. The economy is false and the logic severely flawed.
My books. My reference books. My tools. These tomes are my friends, my companions, my teachers, my mentors.
And they are deemed worthless and unwanted.
I wrote a well referenced and thorough response based on numerous psychology papers. I tried speaking with people above me. I explained how crippling the impending change, the impending transformation was going to be to my ability to function in an effective manner. I even shared a Masters thesis I found that was written on the federal government’s Workplace 2.0 and the negative impacts it was deemed to have on staff morale, health, and stress levels.
I might have well not bothered with the effort. Too many have been institutionalized for too long. They have forgotten that debate and contradiction are tools for positive change and complacency is a terrible thing.
But that’s the thing, I can’t help it. It’s who I am. If something is clearly, obviously, horribly wrong, I can’t help myself but cry out against it. It’s the principle of the matter. Making a change that is clearly damaging, ignoring the evidence against it, and expecting everyone to happily get in line and acquiesce is just….
And for my efforts, my prize was to be voluntold that I was to help assign seats to the poor souls to be damned to the new abomination called Workplace 2.0 and identify information holdings that need to be scanned, disposed of, or otherwise managed because they will not fit into the newly transformed workplace.
Think about that word.
It implies a metamorphosis, and that conjures images of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Something beautiful, something wonderful.
Friggin’ whitewashing is what it is.
My interpretation of that was “We don’t know what to do about your need for your resources, and rather than make a decision, we will make you make the decision because later, when you cant function well and eventually complain, we can tell you it was your own choice.”
I was probably overly sensitive, but I not-so-politely-declined.
And when I say I not-so-politely-declined, I mean that I lashed out vociferously because I felt that I had not been heard, that I was being ignored, that I was being pushed aside on something I see as remarkably consequential but completely trivialized.
It was like being told that you had to give up a limb, but the choice of which and how was to be yours and the ramifications yours to bear and overcome.
And so here I am again, thinking about my books and paper resources and the fact that their value is not understood by those expecting continued performance.
Depressing. Heartbreaking. Alienating. Isolating.
And that quote?
“I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.” ~ Ray Bradbury
I loved that quote. It made me start writing this, and it made me think of a metaphorical photo to take, and it made me scan my list of topics for my Flickr challenge.
It is a very good quote, but it depresses me yet again.
Books are important.