H.G. Wells originally published When the Sleeper Awakes in 1898 as a serial in The Graphic, an illustrated London newspaper. In his preface to the 1910 edition, The Sleeper Awakes, he expressed disappointment with the book, claiming that it was hastily composed and overwrought and that he was badly in need of a vacation at the time. He also claimed that in editing the original he did not rewrite it, as what concerned him at the age of thirty-one no longer did at forty-three. So he cut out some of the fat and reworked the latter part of the book to give it more thoroughness and depth. What has come down to us in this 2003 Modern Library edition, When the Sleeper Wakes, is not one of Wells’ better novels but a template dystopia containing both accurate and inaccurate forecasts, as well as the fundamental dystopian elements of class war and awakening consciousness under authoritarian rule.
Archive for the ‘Work’ Category
Checking the news sites this morning, I couldn’t help but notice that the lead story on Reuters anticipated the Labor Department’s employment report, due out later today. What struck me was not the expected increase in jobs and decrease in unemployment but a factoid that the service sector now accounts for 80% percent of US labor. If true, it confirms my long-held suspicion that the U.S. economy would eventually become a service economy.
When I started temping, the personal-computing revolution hadn’t yet rescued the American economy. The Internet as we know it did not exist—it was something called “The Well,” which had to be accessed by a 96-kb modem and navigated with code. Nor had the metrosexual with horn-rimmed glasses, pudendal goatee and reverse-wind-tunnel hair ascended the fashion throne. Few guessed that clicking keyboards and spluttering hard-drives presaged the splendors of infotainment, info-consumption, info-erotica, info-identity and the morphing of the egghead from social reject to revered guru.
The drawbacks of a positive attitude are clear enough: first, you can assume one in regard to almost anything from the beneficial to the depraved, thus it is arbitrary; second, having encountered a number of very positive fanatics, liars, lunatics and sociopaths in my time, it’s obvious that a positive attitude is not necessarily a correlate of moral excellence and mental health; and third, a positive attitude in the work place matters less than the ability and willingness to do the work. That’s why a certain poster on the wall of the elevator lobby at the Pacific Gas and Electric Company office, where I temped for a time, struck me as absurd the first time I saw it.
About a year ago I bought a gadget that uses wireless technology to play electronic files and Internet radio through my stereo. Not a mind-bending idea. Receivers and transmitters have been around for over a century—telephones, radios, televisions, etc. And these earlier manifestations of our rut toward technological utopia, when finally mass marketed, were fully operational. They were plug-it-in-and-turn-it-on retail products. They required only a limited degree of end-user manipulation—volume, channel, band, tuning—and fulfilled the promise of actually working when you purchased them. Remember?
Getting hired by a temp agency is relatively easy: make an appointment, appear in your second-hand monkey suit, fill out the application, take the software test, and discuss your resume with the “analyst.” Provided you type over forty words per minute, pass the software test and are functionally literate, they’ll hire you. As you leave, however, do not skip, sing, or whistle the theme song to Rocky; you’ll wait before you work. And, as you wait, your day of ostensible triumph will become one of languishing hope, brooding uncertainty, indignant irritation, then cynical indifference. It will become days and days will become weeks and weeks will become months until the day you abandon any chance of the phone ringing as a sucker’s bet. Whatever hopeful signs the analyst gave will cease to evoke hope. Rather, they will evoke abhorrence and disillusionment, thus preparing you for the ultimate sacrifice: that of personal liberty to institutional authority.
For three years I remained a temp or, should I say, impermanent. To those for whom I worked I was as insignificant as the tasks they assigned. And when those tasks were done, I was less than insignificant—I was gone. More than any other class of employee my presence was explained and defined by the job. I repeatedly lived the abridged fate of every office prole. I sustained the lie of my indispensability until I was dispensed with.
During the recession of the late ’80s and early ’90s, big businesses were suffocating in their own fat, bloated from non-performance-related capital the Reagan Administration had pipelined from public coffers in the form of deregulation, tax cuts and corporate welfare. As these companies were actually failing and realized that they would have to practice economy all on their own or cease to exist, they downsized and reorganized (laid off workers, cut salaries and benefits, and reallocated the work). This is the fascinating story of how that historic trend was instrumental to my becoming a stellar white-collar asshole.