One of the dumbest things you can do is sit in one space and let the world pass you by. — Bob Propst, inventor of the office cubicle.
Three Walls is an excellent short film about the development of the office cubicle.
We learn from designers that “systems furniture” was a purpose-neutral, Lego-like technology. The cubicles we see in offices today are actually an abuse of the concept.
Office bods are asked about their pre-cubicle ambitions. One wanted to be a journalist (“to have shrapnel in my leg”), one a cook (“my mum said I should get a degree before I ruin my life”), one a singer (“to sing all over the world”). Those jobs aren’t even particularly outside the mainstream–you can go to school for them–but the lure of the veal-fattening pen is somehow too great.
The cubicle workers interviewed are disarmingly lovely people. By the end of the film, every cell in your body screams we shouldn’t be putting people in these environments!
There’s also an hilariously sleazy motivational speaker to look out for. He’s the one who keeps saying “box”.
I was daydreaming today about the phrase “get a proper job.” Perhaps someone had shouted it at me in the street.
It’s used to create a distinction between playful or artistic pursuits and hard or boring graft.
If we must suffer that distinction, perhaps we should start talking about the “improper” jobs. Steel yourself to insults and become a troubadour if you want to.
Apparently, a non-proper job is “risky” and a proper job stable. But what are you risking exactly? If it’s defeat you’re worried about, a proper job’s not going to help. In a proper job, you’ve already lost.
You might as well take a chance doing what you like. Be prepared for defeat, but with a chance of success.
This is the poster of Rita Hayworth used to hide the escape tunnel in The Shawshank Redemption: another good escape movie.
Friend Joe sends me this Haitian proverb from an anthology of travel writing:
“If work is such a good thing, how come the rich haven’t grabbed it for themselves?”
Wise words. Or rather they would be if it weren’t for the fact that the modern rich apparently do work quite hard.
We live in strange times. In a world of work worship, not even the rich are free.
If you’re rich, do yourself a favour and take the rest of your life off. Some Haitians might be a bit sarcastic about your decision, but it’ll be worth it.
My most expensive vice is coffee, attributing to about 2% of my yearly cost of living. From buying the almond milk to make delicious mochas, to going out and sharing a drink with friends, it adds up. Coffee is a part of my morning ritual and I love it. And I absolutely refuse to change it.
This is a fine article about living with less. A Montrealer called Jamie recorded his expenses for a year and learned he could live well on $11,000 (£6,000).
Having such data can buy you a lot of freedom and personal confidence. It could be the nudge an indentured employee needs to switch to part-time or to lower-paid, more spiritually-rewarding work.
Jamie’s budget also demonstrates the liberty that would come with Citizen’s Income. With CI, you wouldn’t need a crap job to get by. Some people think the £70 per week offered by the Green Party’s CI plan for instance wouldn’t be enough to live on. I say (and Jamie shows) it can be. If you find it’s not enough, you can still go out to earn more money but at least it would be a choice.
New Escapologist reader Richard directs our attention to a likable 2013 film from Finland called Tavarataivas, or “My Stuff“. It’s fun!
It tells the story (it’s a documentary but shot in a very filmic and narrative way) of a chap called Petri who decides to put all his material possessions temporarily into a storage unit. Starting over with nothing on January 1st, he allows himself to retrieve one item per day for the rest of the year. He’ll end up with his 365 most important things. A one-year minimalism project.
So Petri wakes up on New Year’s Day and dashes nude through the winter snow to retrieve a coat. It continues from there. What will he get next? What will he never retrieve? Will his friends and family disown him over his inconvenient experiment?
The result is a fun way of understanding the necessity or superfluity of things, of working out material and spiritual/psychological priorities.
Obviously, Petri’s doesn’t suggest that everyone should do this or even that he needed to himself. He doesn’t even sing the song of minimalism particularly loudly. It’s just a good-humoured experiment about how much stuff is enough.
I enjoy the way he’s forced to be resourceful without certain conveniences. Without a fridge, for example, he cools his food on the ledge outside his kitchen window. He has to get by without plates or cutlery for a while and discusses the problems and benefits of having no phone or computer.
I also like how he gets to (if memory serves) 23 things and starts to think it might actually be enough if it had to be: all problems solved with 23 things. He has similar thoughts around 50 things, the debate over which object to retrieve next becoming less and less important. There’s also a touching interview with his grandmother about the value of stuff and how it might differ between old and young people and men and women.
It’s interesting. But mainly, it’s just quite heartening fun.
Some of you may remember our reader survey. Well, it’s still open.
New Escapologist has more readers today than when we originally launched the survey, especially in the US and Canada. I’d love to know a bit more about you all and to hear what you think of the magazine and blog. Simply go here to complete the questionnaire if you’d like to.
Here are the results from the first 71 respondents (though 103 have actually completed it now).
You could also (as well as or instead of the survey) tell us what you’d do in a world without work.
Pleased to meet you.
Bookchin held the utopian conviction that contemporary post-scarcity technological conditions could free people of drudgery. But this could only be achieved with a combination of decentralized, face-to-face democratic politics and committed trusteeship of the natural world.
We’ve spoken briefly of post-scarcity economics before. To add a little more without getting too deep into political theory, here’s a neat intro to socialist libertarian Murray Bookchin (written by friend of idling, Mark Kingwell).
Another tiny sample from the book:
After filling ostentatious houses with crap, people retire at 70 and say “you know, what matters most are family and good health”. Well, duh.
If you’re interested in thinking about “what matters most”, here’s New Escapologist‘s Things of Value.
Editing a chapter of my book, and this tiny part made me laugh:
If you’re writing a novel or a film script and you want to quickly get the idea across that your character has a crap life, all you have to do sit him on an ergonomic swivel chair.