Friday, March 4, 2011

Work: Dodging the Existential Bullet

It appears that BBC News thinks that “Technology of Business” is a big thing.  When I first encountered an article by Sharif Sakr that listed him as “Technology of Business reporter,” I was not quite sure what to make of the title;  but I found that he had at least one or two interesting observations to make.  Now I see that Fiona Graham is writing under the same title;  and I am beginning to worry that this “department” may have an unhealthy signal-to-noise ratio.

Graham’s piece, submitted yesterday, has the title “The virtual business: Doing deals in your pyjamas;”  and my concern is that it does more to encourage misconceptions than to enlighten.  Start with the caption to the photograph at the top of the article:

Blue sky thinking: Running a virtual business could mean that when you have an internet connection, you're at work

The photograph itself shows a young man who has converted two park chairs into a recliner, his back leaning on one and his feet propped up on the other.  He has neither shirt nor shoes;  but he does have a netbook propped up on his rolled-up jeans.  The implication is that this is the new face of the “man at work.”

My immediate reaction was that this reclining state sort of pulls back the camera view of those insidious billboards advertising the iPad.  The implication seems to be that, whether we are talking about reading or working (the two of which may, of course, be combined), the highest priority is that of creature comforts.  For those of us who remember Fellini Satyricon, life has become all about being a guest at one of Trimalcione’s excessive parties;  and all else is incidental.  (By the way, Fellini was far from the first to pick up on this imagery;  those parties apparently inspired Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby.)

What does this have to do with work?  Does it have anything to do with work?  These questions are the tip of an iceberg that involves far deeper inquiry into the nature of work in the world the Internet has made.  The problem is that neither Graham nor any of the people she interviewed for this particular article care a fig about that iceberg.  The bottom line is that the motto behind this article can be attributed to Frank Zappa:  We’re Only in It for the Money.  Unfortunately, no one involved with this article realized that Zappa was being satirical!

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