Time is certainly flying now at a pace where I recognize the seasons and, if it promises to be an uncomfortable one like with heat and humidity and the prospect of having to forego wearing pants or get near recreational water activities, I can just close my eyes for second and think, “Well, this too shall pass”… and very quickly it does!
It’s sort of a little magic trick — to achieve a bit of mental separation from your physical time and space — that comes in handy when waiting in an airport security line or settling in for a dental cleaning. It goes without saying one should make a special effort to forego employing this technique when someone at work or at home is talking to you. A distant look of contentment is usually a dead giveaway that you are not being “present” and your peaceful reverie will be short-lived.
I had to try to hang onto the present recently during a series of presentations at work about “the workplace of the future.” My company will be moving offices in a little over one year, away from a very unique building built in Cambridge in the late ’60s around a gorgeous courtyard. White birch and other trees planted there back then have now grown to maturity, and I can look out of my office window at the home of cardinals, squirrels, a rabbit or two, and plenty of contented coworkers enjoying sunny lunches and quiet outdoor workspace on a nice day.
This is an opportunity, we’re being told, to move away from our long hallways and series of private offices (what? fewer private offices??) and into some sort of futuristic open space replete with “collaboration spaces,” flexible workspaces, cafes, etc. (so, who exactly will be losing their private offices?). Some architects were brought in to hold visioning sessions where we were asked to rate a series of pictures all depicting open floor plan arrangements — we scoured these images for doors and walls and said, “Doors! Walls! We like those!” Of course the writing is on the lack of walls though… this move and the encouragement to telecommute are clearly stated attempts to reduce overhead costs and, in the case of telecommuting, shift some of those costs to employees. Which many of us will take in stride, still buying into the overall mission of the company to help people. But I’m definitely worried about this workplace of the future being a bunch of us in makeshift home offices (for me, in my basement where I have a hard line internet connection) getting less sunlight and social interaction than is healthy for a truly collaborative and innovative workforce.
Once again, could it be our precious American capitalism — with its relentless pursuit of profit — that is to blame here? Everyone heard the recent news story about Epipens and the price of this live-saving drug and delivery mechanism quadrupling or more in the past few years. Or Apple and Ireland being in hot water for a sweetheart corporate tax deal. Apple has made all these products that are almost intimate parts of our lives now… they have won so many of our hearts and minds with their sleek technology. They created all of these products in this country while enjoying, I’m guessing, plenty of the benefits that affords, not the least of which is the protection of their intellectual property under U.S. patent law. And yet they don’t want to pay taxes here? These stories just continue to amaze me — that people are willing to set aside a sense of what is right and wrong to enrich themselves or their company, because that’s how the world works… that’s what’s expected of them, and if they won’t do it someone else will.
Well, this election and the past couple years in this country (and in many others) may be teaching us that people are not so happy with how the system works. When it may have worked just well enough in the past to keep the majority happy enough to tolerate many different inequalities, the scales may be tipped a bit too much now… the system is not working well enough now for too many people. My fringe candidate is out of the race and I’m a bit worried still the remaining fringe/wingnut might gather up a lot of the votes of people disaffected with the status quo. That would be a huge mistake. I’ve lived through eight years of incompetent fools ruining our country’s reputation in large areas of the world, engaging in unnecessary wars and killing or permanently injuring thousands of people. The last eight years have started to repair all of that damage. But it will take a generation or more to repair what was done in the early years of the millennium. And that’s just on the foreign policy side of things. The state of public education in the U.S. might be the biggest contributor to our economic and political troubles, something that’s been decades in the making. I heard Kareem Abdul Jabbar on the radio recently stating that he didn’t think everyone should vote — if people didn’t know enough or pay attention enough to the issues, then he’d rather not have them vote at all. Unfortunately we might be getting to a point where we aren’t effectively teaching enough about basic ethics, it seems, to have dedicated, humble, non-ego-driven politicians and educated voters to elect them.
We should be working towards something bigger than ourselves in this world, no? I mean, just like time, we too shall pass. So enriching yourself and making yourself the center of what you value in life is detrimental to meaningful collaboration, discovery, and the very notion of civilization. We need to rally around ideas, not people. That is the beauty of the values of freedom, equality and justice espoused in the U.S. Constitution.
And now I’ve rambled way too long and in way too grandiose a manner. Anyway, hope you all have had great summers, avoiding (or enjoying) the heat and the rising oceans. I need to try to write a bit more frequently and about less serious things. It’s been a busy year…
Until next time, I’m yours trying not to pass through all of life’s moments too quickly,