An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 65. WFH Presenteeism is Delicious.

God help me, I’ve accepted a work contract. It’s just a short one (six weeks) and it’s a work-from-home position.

The contract presses my old librarian skills back into service, which has so far been very enjoyable and nostalgic. Plus, the money I’m making should compensate precisely for the overspend on buying and decorating our new flat. So why not?

Now, as a writer I always “work from home” in that my writing happens entirely at our dining table. But I don’t really think of it as “work” (i.e. employment) because it’s something I just want to do. But what I’m doing now is what people more normally mean when they talk about “Working From Home,” so I’m finally getting an experience of Pandemic-era WFH.

What I wanted to mention today is the unique flavour of WFH Presenteeism. It’s delicious.

Presenteeism, lest we forget, is when you have nothing to do at your job but you have to sit there and make a show of it because you’re on the clock. Presenteeism corrodes the soul and helps the world not a jot.

When I worked in an office, I’d often brood angrily about some culmination of micro-tasks I couldn’t attend to because I was instead being paid to sit in an office no mater what.

In these moments, I wasn’t even particularly angry about separation from my big non-work projects or from bathing in the sunshine or travelling the world. No, it was things like not being able to reach the post office to collect a package before it closed. Or having a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. Or not having time to shave that morning because there there was a train to catch. If only I could just work from home, I’d think, I could do these things. But instead I just had to sit there and fume.

Working from home and doing those things wouldn’t have been any skin off the company’s nose. So what if I spent five minutes of company time shaving? Or ten minutes washing the dishes? It’s not like that’s any money worth caring about, and any net gain to a worker’s mental clarity and general wellbeing would probably benefit the whole firm. And I wasn’t doing anything for them by being pointlessly present anyway. I was just sitting in an office because That’s What People Do.

In the WFH era, I’ll work for an hour or two and then take a break. Instead of that break being in the company rec-room where I’d have to make chit-chat with other time-wasting and life-cynical employees, I can get those little things done. It’s lovely.

I’m not supposed to leave my “station” and I should theoretically be ready to receive a Zoom call at any moment, so I’m still tethered in the same kinky way of most employment. But I can take out the bins, receive packages from couriers, do my exercises, play a record.

If I really had nothing to do for a few hours, I could probably put my feet up and watch some Netflix. It’s not bad.

This has been a voice in favour of WFH. (And for balance, here’s one against). Are you still working from home, dear reader? If so, what do you think?

For further insight into workplace survival, try my book The Good Life for Wage Slaves out now in paperback.

What Books Are

I’ve been thinking about the future of books. “Struggling to get anyone interested in your novel, old boy?” Well, yes, but I anticipated that. My daydreaming here is more about books and society than books and me.

Googling in the wake of this train of thought, I stumbled upon a 2006 New York Times article by technocrat journalist Kevin Kelly. In it, he says a truly appalling thing:

[books are] isolated items, independent from one another, just as they are on shelves in your public library. There, each book is pretty much unaware of the ones next to it.

Holy Christ. I didn’t know anyone, let alone someone who could be described as a man of words, was carrying around such a thought.

Books are not isolated. Books (plural) are a chorus. You might write a book to put your own subjective vision into the world but then it sits not in isolation but in the Grand Culture of collective human thought.

That’s what writing and publishing a book is. A contribution. A single unit of climate change in a centuries-old intellectual atmosphere.

That Kelly (a founder of Wired magazine, which I liked in its exciting early days in addition to my love of older media, not in opposition to them) doesn’t understand this is aggressively underlined by his “public library” example. The public library is precisely where a book is the least isolated. Public Libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal Classification System, in which all books take their physical place in an ordered spectrum of knowledge.

While a single book might look isolated from others when its sitting on your bedside table, this “isolation” is only physical; it would remain a part of the Grand Culture even were it abandoned on the moon.

To a constant reader, one book leads to another. To even the most casual onlooker (or so I thought), one book is connected to all others whether overtly by reference or implicitly by its very existence.

This doesn’t have much to do with Escapology, does it? Sorry. But I know there are book and library lovers who keep an eye on this blog and I wanted you to share my shocked gasp.

Books! Get ’em while they’re hot. Or even just mildly warm.

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