Sunday, 10 November 2013

You're Now Entering... The Comfort Zone

twilight-zone-big-bonusSaturday was a day of two emotions. I sat down at one point to make headway on a project I’ve just started for an American startup. As soon as I sat down and focussed my mind on the task at hand (animating a tree so it sways gently in the breeze), I felt my body relax. My tensions eased and the things that have been preoccupying me in the past week just disappeared. I was actually happy.

The alternative was my other work which preoccupied the rest of my day. I was like a caged beast grinding down my teeth on iron bars. I suppose more than anything I was struggling with myself. The problem comes down to this: I don’t want to install Skype on my PC.

It sounds such a dumb thing to get agitated about but I hate Skype. I hate the way it lurks, ready to spring into life. I hate the presumption that I want to be connected with hundreds of smiling people, all with great teeth and feeling so damn happy. I hate Messenger too, though I’ve very reluctantly installed it. I hate that it sits next to me when I’m working. I dislike the way it informs the world when I’m sitting at my desk and when I’m away. I can, of course, make myself ‘invisible’ but then why have the foul machinery installed in the first place? And what business is it of other people if I am sitting at my desk, if I’m working or idle? Yet if I accept that Messenger is a good way to communicate, then Skype is a step too far. I hate phones, generally dislike mobile phone culture which increasingly cuts us off from the people around us. Phones also break my concentration, allow devious bastards like marketing agencies to bother me. Generally I don’t have them in my room. I’m also not one of life’s great small talkers. I have too many interesting things I could be doing rather than discussing the weather.

Yet as much as I don’t want it, I’m told that I must have Skype. I thought I’d install it on my iPad so I can at least turn it off when I’m working… Except, it seems that’s not enough. I need Skype on my PC so I can be watched as I work. Skype will allow others to see my desktop and others want to instruct me, guide my hand so I’d just be a lump of unthinking meat responding to commands and moving a cursor around a screen. Yet I’m so damn truculent that I can’t accept that. I’m stubborn. This is beginning to feel intrusive. My PC sits in my office which is my studio, my work environment, my writing den, my home. In this space, I have peace and I can think and I can write. I’d want to install Skype on my PC in the same way that I’d want to install a karaoke machine in the corner of the room and purchase a series of sweat soaked drunken Japanese businessmen, one for each day of the week, to take turns singing Barry Manilow classics when I’m trying to write.

Yet I must be wrong. Doesn’t everybody use Skype? Why must I be so damn difficult? Why can’t I just say yes? Why must I stand by my principles?

Still agitated by all this, I then receive an email directing me to this video on the website

I’m told I must watch it. It will ‘help me’. I’m not entirely sure how it would help me or even if I need help. I appreciate that somebody wants to help me but I watched about a minute of this video and wanted to stick my fist through the computer screen. When I agreed to do this work, I didn’t agree to have my psychology tested and changed. I don’t want to be a different person. Other than wanting some success in my writing and cartooning, I’m actually quite happy being me.

But why don’t I just conform? Why do I want to scream at the top of my lungs: I fucking hate self-help gurus promising instant abs, popularity, and success with the ladies? Sending me a video of this kind is like hanging a red rag before a bull. They promise me money and fame and to change my life but I despise every smiling grifting one of them. They’re charlatans, they’re goons feeding on the vulnerable, offering instant fix solutions to age old existential problems that Sartre, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Socrates and Plato couldn’t solve. Yet Bob’s solved it and Bob’s bought himself a luxury house in Florida. And Bob’s success could be your success too…

The tradition of snake oil salesmen is as old as most countries, strongest in American folklore. The Magnificent Oz was the prime example but American culture is steeped in their tales popularized by writers such as Mark Twain. These days, it’s harder for these chancers to sell snake oil. They have to find other ways to promise rewards in exchange for magic. Many of them become SEO experts and the purveyors of that most miraculous magic of all: success at social networking. Others peddle business theory, advice on how to be a great manager. They always talk about teams and positivity, as though it were that easy to dismiss the essential individual yearnings of each of us. I’ve never believed in any of it and it saddens me that other people believe in it. Taking this kind of bad advice destroys many young companies. It’s the reason why group meetings usually involve people sitting around feeling uncomfortable and refusing to speak. Ask anybody in one of those meetings what they want to do and they’ll either say ‘go home’ or at least get on with their work. My last job was made difficult by the same kind of micromanagement that ultimately demoralized the staff. Always told to be a team and be motivated, nobody would actually pull their weight because they knew that anything they did would ultimately be criticized and changed. So they did nothing and eventually the business folded.

None of which solves my problem today except I’m going back to animating trees in my comfort zone.


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