Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The Cubicle Survival Guide
A witty fellow named James Thompson has written a book called The Cubicle Survival Guide. Below are links to an excerpt from the book, and to an interview of its author. He treats the cubicle world as an environment like any other, in a tone that is by turns wise and semi-facetious. He stresses that the makeshift character of cubicles reflects the ruthless flexibility of profit-centered corporations that can expand or contract their workforce at a moment's notice. He also remarks that "cubicle farm(s)" are built around computer technology, which has become ubiquitous. He wants us to know that working in a cubicle is nothing to be ashamed of, not something that it is our fault. "Cubicles are the result of the times," he says. "Not our personalities." That's a relief to hear...
He warns us that how we decorate our cubicles can have negative repercussions. We shouldn't put up anything too sexy, too religious or too political. Cubicles are very much like pigeonholes, or those cardboard dividers in boxes of Christmas tree ornaments. They are designed to hold standardized contents - people who, above all, must fit in. As Thompson puts it, "There is more to your job than how well you work. There's how well you 'work'..."
The excerpt is full of evocative metaphors for cubicle life. Like this passage - "Being stuck in a cubicle is like being sutck in an elevator. You have to assess the situation, assess the people you are with, and appreciate the circumstances. You may not like the state of affairs, but given the reality you must learn to not only like but also trust, the people you are with. Realize that your lives could go up, down, or nowhere... together."
He has witty things to say about the various creatures of the office as well, especially the noise makers. There is the "Office Lamprey" who "sucks the life" out of his co-workers by swinging by their cubicles when they are otherwise engaged and subjecting them to interminable one-way conversations.
Cubicles were invented in the 1960's by a fine arts professor who believed the new design would allow "office workers (to) freely discuss and trade ideas." How sad it is that we have come to despise them, and to view them as the symbol of our own diminishment.
"Excerpt of 'The Cubicle Survival Guide'" from USA Today
"Climbing The Walls" from The Washington Post