The Prisoner

Kudos to The Economist (and thanks to reader Antonia for bringing this to our attention) for using The Prisoner as the basis for an article about hot-desking!

The hero of the cult British TV show “The Prisoner” wakes up one day in a mysterious village. His possessions have vanished and he is not referred to by his real name but as “number six”. His every attempt at escape is frustrated and each episode ends with a set of iron bars superimposed on his face.

The experience of the prisoner will be wearily familiar to one class of office worker—those who undergo the daily trial of “hot-desking”.

Hot-desking really is awful, isn’t it? As the article points out, the real reason behind it–despite whatever reason a company may cite to make it sound appealing–is to save money in quite an extreme way. Someone, somewhere, has calculated that the “average property cost in the first year for a British office worker is £4,800.”

But what of the human cost of hot-desking? All the fretting over tidying up at the end of a day so that your personal items aren’t binned by the cleaners or impounded as lost property? All the fretting over whether you’ll have a seat in the morning at all or if you’ll end up working on your lap in the kitchen?

Even if you can trust that there’ll be a seat for you somewhere in the building, not knowing what it will look like makes it hard to visualise (and therefore emotionally prepare for) a working day.

The suffering is untold and it can’t be good for a worker’s output either, unless perhaps the company is hoping for some sort of suffering-enhanced foie gras product.

If companies don’t want to pay the real estate cost of a worker’s seated bottom, how about abolishing the need for physical presence and being done with it? Let people work unsupervised at home so that there’s no need for offices at all. As well as saving company money, abolishing offices would put paid to the commute, ending the associated pollution and stress and rising at 6am just to stay employed. Not bad.

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Cut Loose

I just turned the final page on The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology by Mark Boyle (whose experiments in living I’ve blogged about before and also mentioned in Escape Everything!).

The book chronicles his first year of living in a fairly remote and self-built cabin in Ireland from which he subsists on the land without the aid of modern technology. He writes his memoir by hand, chops firewood, grows vegetables, fishes for pike, butchers deer, and tans their hides.

It’s a fine book, a modern Walden really, and served in small morsels, which is reflective of the way he had time to write around the thousand other things he did to stay alive. It also captures his sense of time without recourse to clocks or watches and you end up sort of swimming with him in non-time aside from an awareness of the season.

Thrilling to me and germane to New Escapologist is the following passage from the beginning of the book:

I wake up this morning to two thoughts. The first is that, from this moment onwards, I haven’t got a single bill to my name. I feel free. The second is that, from this moment onwards, all of the toll bridges linking my life to modernity are gone, and that I’m going to have to live on my gumption alone. I am cut loose from the only culture I’ve ever really known.

Just think of it. That sensation of being so dramatically cut loose. One experiences it to an extent when quitting a job–or the entire world of jobs–to go it alone, but to leave modern, technology-mediated society almost completely (he makes friends in the area, communicates by post and sometimes teaches short courses at Schumacher College but he certainly never drives or flies) must be liberating to the point of complete disorientation. For madmen only perhaps.

I remain unconvinced that “to live in the city but not of it,” (see my notes about “the city recluse” in Escape Everthing!) is not the best way to live and, indeed, Mark Boyle himself offers some beautiful thoughts at the end of his book about purist cries of “hypocrisy” and having ideals greater than those you can live by. But, man, what an experiment in living The Way Home turned out to be. I recommend it.

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Canadian Shipping Container House

As a chaser to yesterday’s post about the artist pods in Scotland, here’s a nice video tour of a shipping container house in Canada.

Shipping containers are a classic of Tiny Home design (see New Escapologist Issue 8 for further insight) and the chap in the video has a directly Escapological reason for taking on such an alternative dwelling:

I just decided the working life wasn’t for me. And I wanted a lifestyle change, so [I researched it] and found budget shipping container living and thought I’d give it a try.

The hours were long, working for someone else. Yes, I was trading my time for good money but at the end of the day it wasn’t really worth it. It took its toll on my body and my social life. It was not ideal.

I’ll confess to being attracted to this lifestyle and to the rewarding nature of having built your own home with your two bare hands.

Of course, anyone who knows me at all will be in stitches at the thought of my flailing around with power tools, knowing full well I’d saw those “two bare hands” off in no time at all.

But if nothing else, imagine being done with mortgage or rent so quickly and cheaply and forever. This shipping container home cost between 13,000 and 14,000 Canadian dollars, which is very little and means the owner can just live how he wants to live now, not worrying about pulling in the huge sums of money required for having the audacity to live in a conventional house in the city. Small business or romantic cottage industry (or washing your hands of money-making altogether) suddenly becomes viable.

It’s another escape. Let nobody tell you there is no way out, especially for those with willpower and imagination.

Check out the video. It’s a dream situation, planted in the wilds of Victoria, British Colombia.

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Artist Pods

I visited Cove Park in Scotland last week, a place for artists to escape the city and get some work done.

As much as anything, I wanted a peek at the living-and-sleeping quarters, some of which are dome-topped wooden pods while others are converted shipping containers. They all seem to have grassy green roofs.

At the time, it was not my intention to post about the visit so my pictures aren’t the best, but here’s what I snapped up anyway.

The interior shots are all of the oakwood pods (I didn’t take any inside the shipping containers) except for the final picture, which is in a separate non-pod building serving as a communal workspace.

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Should I Buy a Record Player?

Should I buy a record player? I’d genuinely like some advice on this, whether from vinyl enthusiasts or from get-a-grip friends. So leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Whenever I betray my anti-consumerist, minimalist ethics by joining in with some craze or other, I usually regret it. Joining Twitter for example was a mistake that has cost much fretting and fiddling that I could have done without.

Buying a record player would be the physically-biggest move I’ve made away from minimalism in years, currently owning absolutely no physical media. After a few months or years of buying records, it would likely be the most expensive too, and it would also represent a significant bump in energy usage here at Escape Towers.

On the other hand, it would be nice to correct a certain lack of music in our lives. Yes, we can currently play music from YouTube or Spotify (and I digitised my 300-strong CD collection before selling it a decade ago, so it still lives on in the cloud). But this involves a dependency on Silicon Valley and the infernal jab-screen, which is something I’d like do less of, and it’s not much fun to stab at an app when what you want from music is human connection.

Moreover, I’m sometimes a little (though not a lot) embarrassed to invite friends to Escape Towers when we offer little here but quiet retreat. A record player, would offer a bit more event to an invitation. “We’ll play some records,” I’ll say and “bring a couple of records over.” Selecting music would become a social activity and friends won’t have to watch me fumble with an app, playing autocratically-selected music, and trying to remember if I have a certain Stereolab album because I can’t see the whole collection and the search function isn’t working properly.

I like the idea of browsing the records in Monorail (fun local spot steeped in history) on a Saturday morning with Samara and of hanging out with Friend J who works in a second-hand vinyl shop with more reason to my being there than just to stare at his face. But is this not precisely the sort of positive lifestyle situation dreamed up by any product-hungry consumer?

Having set off my own vigilance-against-consumerism alarm, I at least think this could all be done fairly cheaply and with a non-rampant consumerist credo if we just buy our equipment and the bulk of our records second-hand and never from Amazon. Of course, this could just be a sort of internal green-washing on my part to justify what would actually be quite a silly purchase.

Any strong feelings? Would this thing (and that’s what it is: a thing) enhance life or would it just be another infernal regret and a loss of personal integrity?

I Fled Shrieking From That Madhouse of Boredom

I’ve been reading an humongous tome of autobiographical essays by “Designated Bad Seed” of science fiction, Harlan Ellison. I love his alive, cantankerous writing so much, and these essays have reconnected me with a deep well of pluck I’m sorry to say I’d forgotten about. Thank you, Uncle Harlan, wherever you are.

What I’d like to tell you about today, my fellow Escapologists, is a particular essay from this book in which Ellison describes working a drudge job for Capitol Records in 1953. He describes a first day of anxiously working quickly, fearing being judged not good enough by “the Demon God of Industry”, and then being told to slow down by a co-worker because his pedal-to-the-metal processing power makes the others look bad.

He talks to a long-serving Wage Slave, “a mouse of a creature” who has been filing bills of lading for eleven years, against his dream to “just go with the wind.”

The terror that froze my soul cannot be put into words. […This man was] set irrevocably on a cubicled routine of pointless chores making money for Gods on far mountaintops… and I saw what my future would be if I left my life in the hands of those prepared only to dole out thirty-six dollars a week for another human being’s existence.

Sensing a future echo in utero, Ellison’s had enough:

I grabbed up that sack of bills, leaped out of my chair, sending it crashing to the floor, and with all my strength and lungpower flung them into the air, screaming “FUCK IT!” Amid the bills-of-lading snowstorm, I fled shrieking from that madhouse of boredom and dead dreams on West 57th Street, never to return.

As far as I know, to this day, Capitol Records has an unclaimed check for one-half day’s work, in the name of Harlan Ellison.

Hah! Great isn’t it? I really just wanted to share this inspirational moment with you–you fine people with eyes on the door–but I also recommend The Harlan Ellison Hornbook more generally to anyone with low blood pressure.

Read this if you don’t like Patreon…

I’m building a little empire over on Patreon. Or, more honestly, I’m trying to use this Hot New Tech to scrimp up a $200 (£170) monthly income stream to keep the lights on at New Escapologist.

What it pays for is the energy, web hosting, MailChimp fees, and about 10% of the effort involved in running a four-part Web machine consisting of the main website, a reliable blog, a monthly newsletter, and an essay series.

I have dreams of reaching a $650 monthly income stream using the same Hot New Tech, which would pay me something approaching a stipend for the work I put into these essays and the New Escapologist machine, but I’m happy to park this dream for now on the grounds that (a) NE has always involved hundreds of pleasant hours in service to a labour of love, and (b) the dream is increasingly pipe-shaped since we’ve not even hit the supremely modest $200 target yet despite my gently nudging of this blog’s 2,000+ readership at the bottom of almost every entry.

I have seventy loyal subscribers on Patreon, to whom I feel genuine and heartfelt gratitude. Seventy is, however, a significantly smaller audience than when New Escapologist was in print. Some of you have emailed to say that the problem is Patreon itself: that it’s a grind to sign up for, that you don’t want to be involved in a another pesky platform with its own aesthetics and passwords and whatnot. I understand and respect such reservations.

So. If you’re interested in joining the cause and being able to read the new essays as they’re released, you can now subscribe through PayPal without fretting about Patreon at all.

I’d rather you used Patreon, frankly, because it handles the scheduling and distribution of the essays and the taking of payments quite smoothly, but I appreciate that the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same things. So here’s what to do if you’d prefer to use PayPal:

  • Visit our PayPal “donation” page (though what we’re talking about here is strictly a subscription, not a donation);
  • “Donate” £2.55 per month to be sent the monthly new essays and to get access to the new essays written so far.
  • “Donate” £3.70 per month to receive the above but also an old essay each month from the New Escapologist magazine days, spruced up a touch for the modern reader.
  • Thank you. And if you’d still like to subscribe but you hate PayPal as well, please email me and we’ll conspire together to mainline your monthly rates directly to the New Escapologist Grand Treasury without Silicon Valley ever hearing about it.

    So that’s Patreon, PayPal, or email. Together we can build that empire! Or, you know, stop New Escapologist from switching itself off. Thank you, m’lovelies.

    –RW. x

    On the Box

    We’ve long looked down our aquiline noses at television here at New Escapologist.

    We’re relatively comfortable with latter-day “prestige television” (Breaking Bad, Glow, Russian Doll) that you can stream or download deliberately and consume relatively mindfully, but even in these cases we advise a degree of caution. Don’t be sucked into thousands of hours of vegetative slumber!

    But the literally-endless stream of patronising twaddle–from game shows to lethal-to-the-sanity rolling news, from tepid comedy panel shows to spiteful documentaries about car clamping or bailiffs–is to be shunned.

    It is the lowest of the low in terms of earthly experience. It is no hyperbole to say that you’d be better off staring at an unchanging ceiling tile or patch of mildew on your bathroom wall for the same amount of time: at least then your thoughts would be your own.

    In our FAQ, we answer the question of “why do you dislike television so much?” with:

    Because it advocates popular opinion. Escapologists should seek to build muscles of resistance instead of accepting whatever is popular, fashionable or conventional.

    A decade later, we stand by that, and today we learn from Oliver Burkeman that the evidence is in our favour and that we’re no mere snobs:

    What if, for example, part of the explanation for the “populist wave” of the last few years – Trump, Brexit, the rise of the European far right – is that voters watched too much crappy TV, and it rotted their brains? It feels obnoxious even to contemplate the thought, given how perfectly it plays into metropolitan prejudice about the other side being stupid.

    But a rigorous, data-rich new study makes it harder to dismiss the idea on grounds of queasiness alone. Researchers studied the growth of the Italian broadcaster Mediaset, and found that those heavily exposed as children to its pabulum of cartoons, soap operas and quiz shows were almost 10% more likely to support populists, because poorer cognitive skills left them more susceptible to politicians peddling simplistic arguments.

    Burkeman goes on to offer that it’s maybe the time wasted in watching mindless tellypap that leads to the poor cognition described in the study, but he’s being unnecessarily kindly because he’s writing in the Guardian.

    How can it not be the case that thousands of hours of Bradley Walsh saying “hey? what about it? eh? eh? hello, missus! oo’er! middle for diddle, is it? hey? c’mon lads, lets get crackin’, oo’er,” on ITV is rotting the amygdalae of swathes?

    Maybe the causal effect can be questioned and, in fact, thanks to a sort of democratic natural law of supply-and-demand, we only get the broadcasts that a nation deserves? In which case, we’re looking at the sort of dystopian programming featured in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (in which TV is dominated by a single Replicant comedian called “Mr. Smiley” or something) which is far worse than just saying, “TV makes treats you as a thicko and, as such, makes you thick.”

    Post Scriptum! You can do better than television. Read books. Read essays. Subscribe to New Escapologist’s essays through Patreon (or if you’re averse to this platform, send us a monthly £2.55 donation by PayPal).

    Debt: Intangible

    It’s been a while since we featured anything about personal finance here at New Escapologist, so here is some wisdom concerning debt from a thoughtful recent edition of The Whippet:

    Debt is a mental and emotional construct, not a tangible thing. That is, I loaned you $500 and now we both have the memory of that event, we share the opinion that you now need to pay me back that $500, and we share some values that you would be a garbage friend if you didn’t pay it back (unless you couldn’t, yada yada). So debt is the word that encompasses a bunch of ideas that we both have, that creates a relationship between us.

    But those beliefs can also exist in the head of a single individual. Maybe you asked for $500 as an outright gift, because you knew you’d struggle to pay it back. But I misunderstood and thought it was a loan. And now the debt exists in my head, but it doesn’t exist in yours. FRAUGHT.

    It’s an excellent read. Check it out, especially the points about the difference between technical and emotional debt as a way to stay mentally serene in the face of having a negative hi-score.

    *

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