Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Work shall set you free

I've tried, most of my life, to be a watcher. To disconnect, to stand apart, to see the bigger picture. I'm not sure when it started. I suspect in school. Learning things came easily to me, so I didn't pay attention much in class. Instead, I focussed on the way my teachers gave their lessons. It was way more fun, and taught me lots about the real function public education serves. (Hint: it isn't about learning the three Rs.)

A couple of decades ago, I decided to stop reading newspapers. I had yet to meet Thoreau, but was already in agreement with him that "...all news, as it is called, is gossip." (David Ase, hero of The Binbrook Caucus, soon to be online, shares this point of view.) It seemed to me the carefully selected factoids—nothing more than variations on the same old, tired themes—were leading to a heavily "directed" world view. In other words, I was being told what was important, what to care about, how to situate my life in context of what "mattered", and I took offense.

There wasn't any Web, and I didn't listen to the radio or watch TV, so ceasing newspapers amounted to a journalistic blackout.

I was castigated by my friends for being irresponsible. "How will you stay informed?" they'd ask. "Informed about what?" I'd counter. "What the Globe and Mail or CTV decides I need to know? Have you ever stopped to wonder how much news they don't report?" My second line of defence was that it's true: news is mostly gossip. If an event is making headlines, someone's sure to tell you.

Shunning journalistic media allowed me to observe how even the astute are hoodwinked into thinking they're informed, when all they really know are facts some editor has pre-digested for them. In Canada, journalism's shift from pseudo objectivity to outright propaganda was more evident to me, I think, than most because I'd chosen to get off the infotainment ride.

The outcome of my habit of avoiding news has been that when I happen on a paper now (typically in someone else's bathroom), the stories read like articles from Mars. The issues they report on don't seem relevant to here-and now, at least not as I know it. Worse, they're disempowering. Deeply flawed assumptions go unchallenged. Most strikingly, the language used—dumbed-down, presumptive, larded with acronymes du jour and obfuscatory buzzwords—is scarcely one I recognize. Most times, if I read the print beneath a headline, I end up wondering: Does anyone believe this shit?

*  *  *

Fifteen years ago, I opted out of the work force. I hoped to, in Marge Piercy's words, "weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses." It was a risk, an experiment, but I've never shied away from playing with my life if it will give me insight into how things really work.

I got a lot accomplished in those fifteen years, but now I have to find a job. Ontario Works demands it. In Québec, where I used to live, I could classify my open source and writing work as self-employment. Bien-être social was perfectly content with that. Here, you have to actively be seeking work. Underneath the Welfare hucksterism ("Ontario Works") lurks more than just a hint of Arbeit macht frei.

If picking up a newspaper's a guarantee of feeling, not so much that I've lost touch, but that society's lost touch with me, reading job descriptions only makes it worse. Perusing Monster.ca, Workopolis and Job Bank Canada, half the time I haven't got a clue what sort of work is being offered. It's as if the writers of the copy missed the point of Dilbert.

Consider this:

"Our goal is to competently enhance value-added infrastructures and synergistically negotiate cost effective opportunities to meet our customer's needs. The successful candidate will smooth the day to day management of the data that resides in the organization's data bases. The role is absolutely critical to ensure an extremely high rate of data cleanliness and integrity."

Half of the above is nonsense cooked up by the sorely-missed Dilbert Online Mission Statement Generator. The other half is from an ad I read today. Can you tell which is which? Most likely not. All of it is twaddle. Yet it's what I face, day to day, looking for a place to use my talents.

As with newspapers, I shake my head and wonder: Does anyone believe this shit?

Then I grit my teeth and fire off another résumé.

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