Sunday, January 01, 2006

Changes in the air

I am soon starting in a new job, relieved certainly to be rid of the previous position that developed into something quite dismal indeed but also with certain anxiety that is quite new. IT work has no charm for me: it has no esthetic or ethical value whatsoever - but I am reasonably well versed in my modest field and have fairly easy self-confidence in handling the issues. Which is not totally bad from a person with a degree in history of all things. (It does not train you into any practical living but is marvellous education in quite an old fashioned sense.)

But what worries me is the way we are worked nowadays in the industry. It is simple, and I believe totally calculated, psychology, or should I say economics: before you used to routinely require roughly 1 person's workload from one employee and you usually did get something like that, maybe 1.3 if you were lucky and 0.7 if you were not. But these days you can point blank demand for 2,5 or even 3 persons' reasonable workload and you will even get maybe 2, maybe 1,5 - and less after the person inevitably gets less and less effective after being systematically overworked. It is very simple and in the short term effective: if you demand for more than is reasonable, you will get more than what you would get by asking for only that reasonable amount - well, initially that is, and nowadays all the future you need is the next quarter. This is more or less what happened to me in the place I quit in December. I would not be totally surprised to encounter a similar demand in the new firm but after my very recent experience of near total exhaustion I am no longer that confident that I am able to deliver such efficiency at the moment.

I am in the field by accident and have never planned to stay for good: it was almost a lark initially. I often felt like an impostor and had to pretend to know things I had never heard about and absorb huge amounts of new information quickly and efficiently (something the history department was very good in teaching me to do). Now, after almost 7 years I would claim to be a good, experienced professional in the narrow (and relatively non-technical) area I work in. But what started by accident and also through some curiosity has now grown heavy and uninteresting, and at times even scary. I claim to practice intelligent drifting: just making very rough plans if any and take chances if they should appear - but not forcing things, having deadlines, detailed plans of action and ambition. I have aimed to be fundamentally free of these restricting, iron structures of our primitive and brutal society. At weak moments I wonder if that is only a comforting illusion that gets me to work every morning like any good corporate citizen. There are some bleak lines by Larkin that sometimes come to mind: "Half life is over now, / And I meet full face in dark mornings / The bestial visor, bent in / By the blows of what happened to happen." Though it is quite exactly the sentiment that I do not share that I have grown not to share: this air is brutally cold and full of random, deadly danger but it is incredibly beautiful also, and a mystery worth of serious exploration and interest. This is what I think, believe - and also live. When not dead tired, when not exhausted and emptied by the unstoppable flow of daily trivia.

So I do now look for changes in the air: not this current trivial change of work, but for a new course, a better, more organic connection between private happiness and earning an unhappy living to support it. Maybe, probably, nothing immediate but I will keep eyes open for an exit now, for a new beginning. There is change in the air.

3 comments:

helsinkian said...

Hope you will be less overworked in your new job and may 2006 bring you more than 1.0 of your share of personal happiness!

stockholm slender said...

Thank you! At the moment the going is heavy, but I hope things will turn out well in the end. I just wonder how I have ended up having this strange career anyway...

wallace said...

It is important to consider how intimidating really is the IT industry to people who don't understand it. The uninitiated admire people who have mastered a lingo and understand an area that is beyond them. It is not just a matter of "going back to university," it is a matter of growing up in the wrong generation, of not being able to adapt quickly to new information and situations. A matter of not being able to compete in a society that is increasingly geared toward the "control of information." I am not being dramatic here--my friend who is doing IT in the school system in Canada tells me how he has taken entire computers back to his home to work on in the summer holidays so the tech-guy who is somewhere down the totem pole from him will not get access to it, so when classes start in September he will not be out of a job. You have a specialized skill which, working in the system, you perhaps tend to overlook. Keep writing about the IT industry!