by J.D. Tuccille
August 19, 2003

Attack of the Water Cooler Vampires

OK, so this website has been awfully quiet in recent months -- a fact noticed, no doubt, by the two or three people who still bother to drop by from time to time.

Why have I been so lazy?

It's a good question. I have no shortage of topics on which to write -- in fact, the world has been depressingly cooperative in terms of supplying me with outrages worthy of a few words. I'm also not short of time in which to write -- if I don't have as much time to spare as I did in the days when I was paid to write two columns (or more) per week, I could still pump out a piece every month or so. And there are a few newspapers here and there that are willing to put my screeds in front of their readers, if only because I don't charge for the privilege.

No, the real reason I've been so quiet is that, after the Henry Hazlitt Foundation went to that great nonprofit graveyard in the sky, I took an office job.

And I hate it.

This is no recent revelation. I discovered long ago that modern office culture has the amazing ability to take motivated, talented people and transform them into enervated pod-person versions of themselves. It's as if the close proximity of water coolers and fluorescent lights creates black holes from which no creativity or enthusiasm can escape.

Really, the set hours of office work seem based in the assumption that the mere presence of employees is equivalent to productivity. Adults are infantilized by the scrutiny under which they operate in most organizations. Actual productivity is interrupted by almost uniformly pointless meetings and intra-office whisper campaigns that, for the seriousness with which they are pursued, should result in an endless round of Ides of March-style plots.

I successfully escaped this environment years ago when I moved to rural Arizona. As editor of About.com's Civil Liberties site (when the gig still paid worth a damn) and senior editor of Free-Market.net (under the Hazlitt Foundation), I worked from home on a schedule largely of my choosing. Hell, I could work naked if I wanted to -- not that you especially wanted that mental image. I had deadlines to meet, but I also had natural light and privacy. If inspiration failed me, I took off an hour for a mountain-bike ride in the woods, or to read a book. Soon enough, I was ready to get back to work.

I wasn't getting rich, but I was productive. And damn, it was fun.

I still telecommute one day a week, but I need that day to make up for the long hours spent staring unproductively at the computer in the office and banging my head (literally, I swear) on my desk. Even writing an e-mail becomes a painful chore with (perfectly pleasant) co-workers down the hall and a staff meeting looming.

By the time 5pm rolls around, I'm ready for a glass of wine and an early bedtime in the bare-bones studio apartment that I keep just so I can do my time in the office, since my employer is located 100 miles from my fiancee and my home.

Hmmm ... Looking at what I've written, I see several paragraphs of unadulterated whining. I don't really expect much pity considering that most people work in similar conditions these days, and I was lucky enough to land softly in a slow economy after my last job evaporated. Also, I'll be telecommuting full-time starting in January.

Still, these are the most words I've put in sequence in weeks, so I'll take the much-deserved slams I expect after posting this nonsense.

But do people really believe that the modern office is an effective way of running an organization and managing staff?

Actually, offices probably do work for many people, but the uniformity can't suit us all -- and it certainly doesn't work for me.


Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to
Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 2003 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and Iíll use your polished skull as a beer mug.