The Answer is not the Office

We are all different from each other, and we work in different ways. Still, we must all come together to the office, usually an ugly building with lousy coffee, at a predetermined time and stay there for at least 8 hours. Of course, eight hours are just for lazy, uncommitted employees. The real heroes are proud of working night shifts and making you feel bad when leaving the office earlier. Going home on time is a form of treason.

“Strong agree” with this nice article by Fernando Silvestrin about the office as a place in which good (i.e. deep, creative, worthwhile) work can’t possibly get done.

While offices are the only place built specifically for us to get the job done, we don’t actually get any work done at the office – especially creative work. But isn’t answering emails, attending meetings and listening to your boss, what we call “working”? Not really.

Just like us, Fernando has a fine newsletter on the subject of work and idling. Newsletters, my friends! They’re the way to go.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 60. The Fireplace.

A rare opportunity for a minimalist purge arose today. Oh yes indeedy.

When we first moved into Escape Towers over four years ago, this fireplace (pictured) was adrift in the middle of the floor in the otherwise empty main room.

We had no such appliance as an electric fire or television set for it to frame, nor was it attached to the wall in the spot where a wood or coal fire would once have stood. It was just there, in the centre of the room; a heavy, dirty, useless, suburban-looking, possibly Alpine-inspired fireplace.

Since it was surely the property of the landlord and therefore our responsibility to keep safe lest we lose our deposit, we tucked the fireplace sideways into the hall closet and tried to forget about it.

Tried to forget is the key thing here. As a minimalist, I have a sensitive, almost spiritual, awareness of every item under my jurisdiction. If something’s not right–if an alien object should trespass or something of ours should go missing–I’ll know about it. It’s like a disturbance in the Force.

Every thing we own weighs slightly on my consciousness and in proportion to its size, so it was hard not to be continuously aware of this hulking great fireplace: a lump of someone else’s hardware for which we were annoyingly responsible. After bed and chaise, it was the third biggest object in our home.

At war with moths at the moment, I wondered if this fireplace could be offering my winged enemy safe harbor. The little blighters, I’m told, are mad for gloom so I conjectured that perhaps they dwell or find respite in the slim space between the cumbersome object and the wall. I wracked my brains as to how to get rid of it.

Though it felt hopeless, I dug out and scrutinized the letting agents’ inventory on the off-chance that a fireplace was in fact not listed.

Reader, in this thorough inventory, rigorously compiled by a pro-bean counter down to the condition of individual floorboards and cornices, the fireplace was not listed.

It was absent from the list. Which meant (fanfare of fanfares) we were free to get rid!

(It also meant, of course, that we’d had this stupid thing in our lives for over four years unnecessarily. We could have slang it on the day we collected the keys. But let’s not dwell on that. We’re free, now!)

The picture above is of said fireplace, exposed to the rainy Scottish elements, cast asunder and waiting for council uplift, no longer collecting dust or providing a home to the trouser-munching Scourge and their maggotty sporn. Daft really, but the difference it has made to my minimalist temperament is considerable.

Reader, have you ever had the pleasure of casting out some ungainly hunk of matter, perhaps one that you didn’t even own? Refreshing, isn’t it?

The contents of hall cupboards (in-use coats, umbrellas and shoes excepted) constitute dark matter and should be expunged. (And I’m reminded here of a cupboardy tale by friend Henry.) Well, we’ve just expunged some 30% of our pesky dark matter in a single liberating schlep. Oh baby.

UPDATE: Friend of New Escapologist David Cain is enjoying a similar pleasure in purging his pantry. It’s a fun time!

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Analog Sea Review

A former New Escapologist subscriber sent me a very nice letter this week. Among other things, he explains that he recently set up a print journal of his own.

It’s called Analog Sea Review and it offers willfully-offline fingerfood: literary essays and excerpts on philosophy, nature, and living well. Escapological topics essentially.

A pocket-sized and beautifully-typeset hardback, it’s an ideal technology for the Wage Slave who wants to disconnect from her Infinity Device on lunch breaks or while commuting (decolonise your time!); and perhaps also of interest to the escapee who finds that the cables of The Machine are still too present beyond the dayjob.

The Analog Sea team commendably practice what they preach. Their only online presence seems to be a website explaining how to get a copy of their Bulletin (a sample of content along with some lovely paper ephemera and an order form for the Review) by post. No social media.

Their publications are available in an impressive number of reputable independent bookshops across Europe and North America, the list of stockists being something you’d get when requesting a Bulletin.

Here in the future, there’s something eccentric and mysterious about a journal or organisation that is all but completely offline, communicating entirely through bookshops and by Ye Olde Postal Networke, but let’s not forget that this was the norm until relatively recently and that it served us very well.

Anyway, it’s a fun time! Here are some pics of the glorious physical object.

New Escapologist is not motivated to fully forego the Web. But we do have a more personable way to engage with the world beyond social media and that’s our free email newsletter. The February edition is shaping up nicely indeed and you can get in on the action here.

Out of Office

When I press the big red button on the newsletter, sending a digest of this blog (and some additional content) to a thousand or so readers, my phone will start vibrating as twenty or so “Out of Office” messages hit my inbox.

I know there are ways to stop this from happening, to divert such email directly to trash, but I prefer to have a quick look. As a passionate supporter of people being out of their offices by whatever means necessary, you might say I’m a connoisseur of the vacation auto-response.

Reader, I’m pleased to see there’s not a doofus among us. This I can tell because none of your auto-responses are longer than a hand span, none of your signatures are longer than the actual message, and none of you have “I’ll be back on ______” dates from several months or years ago. Truly we are an intellectual lot.

And, by the way, many of you have positions far too responsible to be reading New Escapologist. But I’m glad you do. 😉

On the subject of “OoO” messages, I once received this one from TV’s Alan Partrige:

To: rob@newescapologist.co.uk
From: alan.partridge-bbc@bbc.co.uk

I’m not in the office so both cannot and will not respond to your email. If your email is urgent, perhaps you should have tried calling instead. The very fact you were content to type out your query long hand and settle back to wait for a reply suggests it can wait, even if you’ve put a red exclamation next to your email to make it stand out in my inbox. Won’t wash with me, that.

Is that not a treasure? It should go to Letters of Note really.

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Welcome Home, Peaches.

My friend’s daughter, Caoimhe, has a pet snake called Peaches.

Today we salute Peaches for a daring escape attempt. The little rascal slithered off for four months before turning up again, happy as can be.

Nobody’s sure how she thrived for so long without her heat lamp or a supply of freeze-dried mice. Nor does anyone have know where she’s been.

Welcome home, Peaches.

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“It’s a Living!”

Reader, what are your honest thoughts about automation?

I just got back from buying bread at a local mini-market. All three self-service check-outs were vacant but a woman waited patiently with her shopping behind another customer at the one staffed counter.

As I scanned my items and paid for them, I overheard the woman as she reached the counter say something about self-service machines “putting people out of work.”

This is something I’ve heard many times, as doubtless have you. The thought probably even crossed your mind when you saw your first self-service check-out.

There might be a valid case that these machines and other concessions to automation reduce the potential for important human interaction, but the “putting people out of work” thing surely DOES NOT COMPUTE.

Think about it. You’re saying that labour-saving (and, in this case, queue-busting) solutions should be resisted in favour of people doing work that does not in reality need to be done.

It makes me think of animals being used as household appliances on The Flintstones. Some cement is mixed in the beak of a pelican and he says to camera, “It’s a living!”

Intelligent lifeforms doing what machines can do automatically!

Serving lines of impatient customers in a supermarket–take it from me–certainly felt futile before these machines came along a few years ago; now, since the machines exist, it really is futile.

If we need to create work for people (and we don’t), how about creating work that is useful (in that robots can’t do it yet) or serves to hold back the ecopocalypse, or is pleasant to do, or is at least a little more meaningful than breaking rocks?

OR should we pay intelligent humans with the same internal hardware as Leonardo da Vinci a minimum wage to stand in the corner in case someone needs a convenient hatstand?

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