The Office

David Dexter came into his office late as usual. An ample gray space opened in front of him, gray carpets, gray walls and bright neon lights; he expend a third of his life there.

He went to his cube, turned on his monitor, entered his password and started running a diagnostics program.

As a systems developer Dave created and maintained software applications used by the traders to buy and sell stocks and bonds. He knew he was going nowhere there; it didnít matter how hard he worked, users would never appreciate the fact that the system was running without problems. By definition, the perfect system was the one that is invisible, the one that the user didnít have to think about; this very virtue made David invisible too. The only moments when he was remembered were those when something went wrong with the system, which meant that in one way or another it was his fault.

Dave was just finishing the diagnostic when his phone rang.

- Yes? Ė He said.

- Hi Dave, is Jane from HR, do you have a moment? Can you come to my office?

- Iíll be there. Ė David hanged, wandering about the reason for the call.

When he arrived to the HR office, Jane had a report on her desk.

- Hey Dave, take a sit. Ė Jane said giving him a smile.

- As part of our standard policies we run a background check on all our employees, for investor purposes, you know? Ė Her voice sounded apologetic.

- Yours says you had a ďcar incidentĒ with Mr. Michael Harren on March of last year; there is an open case against you.

Surprised, Dave thought for a moment and started to explain how, last year he had a car accident and how his insurance company was in a legal procedure with Harren. David was ok with the incident; he had nothing to hide. What infuriated him was the fact that the damn company was sniffing in his personal life. What did his driving history had anything to do with his ability to write computer programs?

He didnít say anything to Jane, he knew she was just trying to earn a living there, like all the rest of them. He walked back to his desk.

From his chair he could see around the doings of his coworkers as they could see his. He glanced in a couple of their monitors, websites unrelated to the financial matters that concerned the organization. Some looked busy, pretending to be interested in their tasks; the whole art of being a good worker consisted in creating low expectations. In this way, they could concentrate on their work for a couple of ours and then pretend to be doing something useful the rest of the day.

He gazed at the arrangement of the cubes, all disposed in little islands of four; looked from the top, the panels that divided the cubes looked like a cross; all four chairs in the cubes where facing the center of the cross and right there were the computer monitors. The division panels were short enough to be able to see the other three coworker faces. In the gray space there was an endless number of this islands, separated by narrow hallways. A self sustained network of guilt and false pretensions, a careful arrangement to prevent privacy as a hope to increase productivity. Every time anyone around was having a telephone conversation, he could hear it clearly; he could not call his wife and tell her anything private, unless he wanted it to become a public matter. Due to government regulations, all e-mail and phone calls were recorded. Most of the time, people didnít care about this; there was so much information being saved, it was unlikely any one was watching. The hard drives in the computer terminals were backed up every day; the tapes where the information was stored were kept for a month. This prevented information from being lost; it also meant that every single bit of all terminals in the company could be checked. The IT department monitored all Internet activity by user; every single web site visited was kept in a log.

To promote a better working environment, the company had a kitchen fully stocked with a hundred flavors of coffee as well as a nice variety of munchies, which kept workers addicted to caffeine and carbohydrates, both productivity boosters.

The totality of the environment around him was designed to produce as many widgets as possible. The monster of our society -David thought- is the production line; it has caused the annihilation of the soul. Humans are seen as components, pieces to be replaced when they donít perform as expected. The individual has to die to become part of the corporation. All products have to be identical, there is not room for creativity; society has no space for craftsmanship. He felt like just another gear in a big machine, a predictable spinning was all that was expected from him. His dreams, virtues and humanness were irrelevant there. He was measured by his capacity to produce; it was absurd, like trying to measure the quality of a novel by counting the number of words on it.

The irony was that by the very fact for creating a dehumanized environment to increase productivity, people produced less and looked for escape vaults. That was the reason for the policing techniques and the pharmacological warfare; an attempt to suppress the escape vaults.

Why were they there? Why did everyone showed up every day to work? Every Friday someone in the water cooler expressed the ďItís FridayĒ remark happily; they expend their days doing something they would rather not be doing; obviously, if they had a choice they wouldnít be there. David had grown with the idea that he belonged to a free society; that he could choose what to do with his life. But if that was the case, why did people do something they didnít want to do? Freedom is not given by the possibility of choosing; it is given by the spectrum of alternatives.

People were there because they had to. If they didnít play the corporation game, the alternative implied hunger, lack of shelter and finally, isolation from society. On the other hand, if they played the game, they could have food, a place to live and the means to raise their children. It was a matter of survival not of choice.

When David studied Computer Science he had dreams; big dreams; He had bought the visions of wealth and success presented by the media. But as time went by, he realized that these were vapid goals and his dissatisfaction grew.

He was an idealist, a romantic, very sensible for beauty and harmony; these facts where the ones that made him a programmer; he could get lost inside his programs and dream. But he realized that computers were used by his society obsessed with production to produce meaningless widgets, to dehumanize people, to control. He felt dirty; to use his talent to help the corporation to achieve these goals was a perversion, he was selling his soul to the devil, he was wasting his priceless heart beats doing something that didnít satisfied him. The only reason why he was still there, as all the other people in his corporation, was the well-being of his family which depended on his willingness to be part of the machine.

He ran a couple more diagnostic reports on his computer and went out for a walk on the outside of the office complex. He saw the artificial lake, the trimmed grass and the flowers in perfect arrangement; he looked back and saw the enormous crystal building where he worked. He walked to the pinesí forest a few yards away in search of something not molded by the human hand. He spotted two ducks mating on the lake, a beautiful couple of lovers, uninterested and unaware of the nonsensical parody played by the humans inside the building in front of them. Dave saw how they danced, he heard their love songs; they were truly in love, fully living the moment, simply being. Thatís the way one must live, he thought.

He turned around and went straight to the building; he walked down the gray corridor to the cubes, then he turned left and walked to the office in one of the corners. Robert Ross, his boss, was seating there behind a desk; he looked busy staring at his monitor. When he saw David he gave him an smile.

- Hi David Ė He said -- How is the diagnostic going?

David, with a smile and a peaceful face replied:

- Fine, the system seems to be running ok this morning. Ė He paused for a second and proceeded Ė Listen Bob, Iíve been thinking and Iíve taken a decision, Iím bored as hell; my life is going nowhere, I came to tell you that Iím out of here.

Robert looked astonished; he was not expecting a situation like that and he had no idea how to react.

Dave turned around, went to his cubicle, picked up his jacket an left the crystal building.