01 July 2005


The keyboard clicked, and he liked it. He liked it so much he kept typing, striking keys almost at random, quite pleased that he had finally gotten rid of the old keyboard. The old keyboard didn't click, and a few of the keys usually didn't register, so he had swapped it with the keyboard from the cubicle next to his. The woman in the next cubicle had already gone home for the day, while he was stuck working late. He was supposed to be finishing up a report on the projected impact of a competitor's ad campaign on the janitorial requirements of a distant production facility. He knew there was no impact, but management wanted something, and the overtime was nice for the paycheck.
He stopped typing and stood up to stretch. He didn't need to, but it was a habit he had developed shortly after moving into a cubicle for the first time. He was pretty sure staring at cubicle walls wasn't a healthy activity. The cloth-covered cardboard and metal framework was a physical reminder that his goals, ambitions, and dreams, i.e. his life, could go no further. He started at the same cubicle wall everyday, like a rat in a maze, who upon reaching a dead end, hasn't the common sense to turn around and try another path.
He looked around the office. The windows, quite some distance away, were nothing more than black squares on the walls, like rows of perfectly aligned posters. The lights from outside could not compete with the irritating, mind-numbing flicker of the fluorescent banks overhead. The office was, except for him, devoid of life. Even the janitorial staff had fled to the tiled security of the restrooms for the evening.
He was trapped, and he knew it. Most of the people who worked here during the day knew it. Some didn't care, some tried to make the best of it, coming across as retarded Pollyanna's Others tried to pretend they were someplace else, something made easy by the very indistinct office layout. It could have been an office on the moon, or on a basement sub-level, or in the middle of an office building, which is where this one happened to be. He was trapped, he knew it, he was required to explain the obvious to the oblivious via reports and assessments, and he was powerless to change anything.
On the plus side, his keyboard clicked, so he sat back down and began typing again.
After twenty-minutes or so of typing, he deleted everything he had written and started a new introductory paragraph. He considered trying to find a way to trick management into mandating that everyone have a clicky keyboard, but couldn't come up with a plan. Then, a first for both him personally and the company as a whole, he had a stroke of genius. He wrote his report so that no matter what happened, the ad campaign was going to change things in all of their facilities to such an extent, that the janitorial staffs would need to be doubled in size, at least. The most obvious way to minimize the huge financial impact this would have on the company, and this office in particular, was to remove unnecessary furnishings, primarily the cubicle walls. He finished the report, e-mailed it to his manager and a half-dozen assistant vice-presidents, and went home. The next morning, everything was moving as normal. He had received several letters of acknowledgment regarding the report, vague statements of intention to read it later. He never received any feedback at all on the report, but that afternoon, people began to dismantle the cubicle walls. It took them two days to remove them all, but they were gone. The metal framework, the cardboard filler, the cheap tattered cloth. Gone. All of it.
He was greatly enjoying his newfound freedom. Able to see clear across the floor without having to stand up, being able to see if it was safe to sneak an extra break into his schedule, and being able to see things happen. And he saw things happen. He saw impromptu meetings, he saw reports typed, he saw calls made and taken, he saw everything, and he had made it happen. He hadn't planned on everybody else seeing everything, which also happened. The cloth and cardboard that padded his cell was to many others a comforting blanket, shielding them from the office and the people in it.
Productivity skyrocketed. Everybody was working harder. There was no daydreaming, no staring into empty space, no mindlessly typing away on clicky or non-clicky keyboards, no playing with pens, no paperclip-tiddlywinks, nothing but work. He didn't mind this part, always being under someone's scrutiny kept him working, and when he was working, he tended to get lost in his work, not noticing where he was or how long he'd been there. He was no longer a rat in a small, square dead end, he was in a very large dead end, with a lot of other people.
He was singled out though. When the ad campaign began, and the nothing he had always known would happen did finally happen, the janitorial costs didn't budge. His report didn't say that though, and the lack of change was credited to his astute recommendation that they remove cubicle walls. Management believed he had saved the company millions, and he was promoted.
One of the perks of his new position was his own office. Since he was still far below the assistant vice-presidents in stature and salary, it was a rather small office. Just enough space for a desk, chair, and maybe a potted plant. There was a large window next to the door. Through it he could see the hallway, and the door of the office opposite his. He tried to work but couldn't, something just didn't feel right. He stood up to look around, and noticed the view hadn't changed at all. He sat back down and thought that everything would be fine again, if only his new keyboard clicked.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You left out the end of the story. When the other workers continued using unprotected workspace they began to have strange mental breaks.

The cubicle became the office furniture industry's answer to a problem discovered in the 1960's.

Workers using newly designed close-spaced office workstations began having nervous breakdowns.

Cubicles are designed to block side or peripheral vision to prevent the repeating subliminal detection of threat movement.