21st Century Schizoid Man

I just emailed a friend who sits at a desk most of the day and said are you there? I wanted to phone and ask for opinions on some photographs I intend to try to have displayed in a gallery. I received an email back listing all the busy things that she was right in the middle of and what did I want?

I started to reply that “I wanted to call and if you have time….”

And then I thought FUCK IT! What is it these days that all I ever do is ask people “if they’re not too busy…”

Now in part this is because of my job. I am an IT auditor and so it is my job to ask questions and yet I realise that the people of whom I’m asking the questions obviously have things to do which from their perspective are more important.

However, when I consider many of my friends, they booked their lives like an aeroplane schedule. Last week I Emailed my friends and gave them two weeks notice that I was going to go out for a birthday drink. Many of them couldn’t make it because they were booked up.

I have a friend who arrives at work in London at about 8am and leaves at about 8pm. When he gets home he has numerous tasks to do related to raising six kids.

Kids are definitely part of the problems though not necessarily so. I have several friends with often I call them up and we chat and then the conversation takes some bizarre turn and I realise that, without a pause, they have started talking to one of the kids.

But it’s not only kids. At work it used to be possible to walk up to someone’s desk and talk to them but more and more people have become so obsessed that they require you to book a meeting for the most trivial things. We are becoming a society which values activity as a end in itself.

My own professional is IT and I recall that twenty years ago my day might consist of numerous activities: Writing code, running cables, checking logs, designing systems and cleaning the machine room.

All these activities have now been specialised and so we employ a group of individuals for all tasks. Once this is done it is possible to begin increasing their efficiency. We are becoming no better than the factory workers of the 19th century. We do not move from our desks. We have no change of task. The clean desk policy and the hot policy ensures that we have no personal relationship with our environment or the people sitting next to us.

Our politicians are obsessed with the idea that our schools and colleges should teach skills. They are no longer places for of learning, they are places for training. There is an important difference. Training is something one passively accepts without question. It is to enable one to be able to repeat a process like an automata. Dogs are trained to “stay”, soldiers are trained to kill. Learning is something that one does actively.

I heard a man on the radio say that Marx believed that capitalism survived because it was adept at producing goods but that this activity would eventually grind to a halt and communism would take over.

It certainly seems true that capitalism is better at innovation and production than communism and I myself had speculated that one day the inventions and efficiencies may grind to a halt. When we all have cars, flat screen TVs, iPods, hairdryers, toasters, sandwich makers and marble topped kitchens.

But it occurs to me that our society is moving into a new phase of production. We are now moving into production of virtualised goods. Music, movies, computers games etc. These are the stuff of leisure. If humanity had no need for work we would naturally make music, and sing songs, perform theatre and play games.

Work to Live

Work to Live

But now capitalism has industrialised our leisure time. It has taken our natural tendency toward leisure and play and forced us to pay for this. It has achieved this by dividing the production and consumption components.
Companies employ us to produce products which the marketing machine convinces are indispensable for leisure. At the same time that we must work to produce these products we must also work to buy the products. And of course a cut goes to the share holders.

I was discussing the undoubted increase in material wealth that has taken place in the UK over the past twenty years and a friend said that while it was true that the middle classes now took second cars for granted the real wealth and power stayed with the super rich the same as it always had.


There, I have just had an email back:

“Yes, yes. I started to go through all of your images to identify my favorites. In the middle of this my internet connection went out….. I have about 1/2 hour before I have to pick up my daughter ………..”

Forget Brave New World, forget 1984, what was it that King Crimson sang? “21st Century Schizoid Man”

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