Friday, December 08, 2020

Synchronized Stupidity

There are more ways than ever before to pander to paranoia and boredom in the workplace

Electronic communications continually provide people with yet more frivolous ways to waste their time. Overwork may be endemic, but there’s no need to add to it by wasting a good part of every day on pointless communications and mind-numbing trivia. The culprits are fear and boredom—and there are better ways to deal with both.

Kathy Sierra’s post “The Asymptotic Twitter Curve” is both a fun read and a serious call to stop frittering away your time and attention on pointless communications. It seems that there is no end to the ability of organizations to find new ways to help people spend time doing nothing (except being exposed yet more advertising), and no limit to people’s willingness to do exactly what they want.

All this got me wondering why people act this way.

The first answer I came up with is pretty much the same as the one that Ms. Sierra offers: fear. Specifically fear of being left out, of being “out of the loop,” of being ignored and treated as irrelevant. To this you can add other sources of fear: that people will criticize you behind your back and you won’t be able to defend yourself; that some unexpected “goody” will be on offer and you’ll miss it because you weren’t in the know; that you will miss out in the competitive race through lack of inside information.

Our crazy, competition-obsessed corporate cultures unwittingly encourage this type of paranoia. So does Hamburger Management, with its trademark mix of continual control and management by measurement, along with fear of being in the next round of pink slips. Heaven knows how much time is wasted in such organizations through paranoid watching (and copying) of e-mails, attendance at pointless meetings, and all the behind-the-scenes communication of rumors and gossip. In the attempt to stop people from wasting working time, more and more is wasted. It’s a mad cycle of escalating idiocy.

Is there a cure? Indeed there is. It’s called rational thinking.

When you think rationally, you can quickly work out the following insights:
  • Although you may fear that others are talking or thinking about you, they are not. People spend the vast bulk of their time and attention in thinking about themselves (just as you are doing when you think they are thinking about you). Their concern with you and your affairs is minimal at best.

  • What you are mostly missing if you step out of the loop is other people obsessing about whether they are missing anything. If something important is happening you’ll hear about it, especially if it’s bad. Other people won’t be able to wait to tell you.

  • People will always talk talk about you behind your back. If you are present, personally or electronically, they’ll find another time when you are not. Get over it.

  • If you spent all the time you now waste in useless communication in focusing on your job and your own development instead, the only things people would be saying about you would be along the lines of: “How ever did he or she get to be so successful?”

  • Will you miss out on some “goodies?” It’s possible, I suppose, but there’s no need to worry. Anything put out to be snapped up by the first comer won’t be much. Organizations are not totally stupid. They give serious tasks and opportunities to those whom they wish to have them, not the first person who happens along.

  • Are you paranoid, or are people out to get you? If they really are trying to screw you in some way, the obvious answer is to go somewhere else. And if you are paranoid, you need professional help, not a BlackBerry.
Fear isn’t the only reason why people waste so much time “staying in touch.” There is boredom too.

A great many people are totally bored with their jobs. Of course, if they were logical about it, they would leave and get work that interests them. Sadly, most don’t. Instead, they “manufacture” cures for terminal boredom out of surfing the web, sending silly e-mails (usually containing bad jokes they found while surfing the web), sending Instant Messages, or going to sites like You Tube or Twitter. They fill their heads with this kind of stuff and leave little room for anything else.

It used to be that you had to get up from your desk or workplace and go somewhere else to annoy your colleagues with banal chatter. It was fairly obvious who was actually working and who was simply wandering around the place gossiping, making more visits to the bathroom than a dog with a bladder problem, or hanging around the water cooler in the hope of another fifteen minutes of pointless gossip. Thanks to computers on every desk, the Internet, and electronic communications of every kind, such folk can now stay where they are, try to look as if they are working, and interrupt others at the same time.

That’s the problem with the workplace pest who is bored: he or she wants something to relieve their boredom, but can often only get it by demanding attention from someone else. In a way, all those who waste time with on-line shopping malls or pornography are less of a nuisance. At least they are only wasting their own time. The jerks who send constant e-mails and IMs, chatter on the phone, or pollute the airwaves with text messages are wasting everyone else’s time as well.

So . . . if you find yourself eager to “stay in the loop” all the time, you send messages to all and sundry, you spend hours at work on the Internet, or you join in every meeting that’s going, ask yourself this: “Am I bored or afraid?” It will be one or the other.

If you are bored, get another job, perk up your career, start your own business, go back to school, or do something else sensible to cure your boredom and stop being such a nuisance. If you are afraid, work out what is frightening you and do something positive about it. If you can’t find a rational reason for your fears, they are imaginary. Give them up. If you are afraid little green persons are sending secret text messages about you, seek out a competent psychiatrist right away.

And whatever else you do, keep right away from sites like You Tube or Twitter. Getting an addiction to them will wreck your life as surely as cocaine. Get a life instead.

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