RW182 - Extrovertville

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the opportunity to shrink down office space in central Seattle to a core for the extroverts who thrive on working in an office and call it Extrovertville and transform the remaining space into housing where the introverts could live and work from home.

Dan was just eating a Peeps, but John has never had one because he doesn't like them. It is like a Fluffernutter. Marshmallow is not where he goes when he is looking for delight. If you gave John a Peeps and almost any other snack, he would choose the other snack, definitely at Easter time when you have chocolate eggs everywhere. Why you would eat a Peeps? Dan finds Cadbury creme eggs way too sweet, but John is talking about a solid chocolate egg, like a Lindt chocolate ball. Those are good. This is also the one season other than Halloween where single serving little Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are proliferated and John eats those so many.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John getting his thumb stuck in a racing game wheel (RW182)

There was a little bodega, what in Anchorage they called a Quick Stop, on the way home from Junior High and there were always two video games there and one time he got his thumb caught in the steering wheel of a road rally game. He had put his thumb in the little punch-outs on the steering wheel supports, little circular cutouts in the arms, and John stuck his thumbs in there as he was driving in excitement and when he got done with the game his thumb had swelled up and he couldn't get it out of the hole.

All his friends sat there with him and tried to get it out for a while, the guy came around from behind the counter and they all worked on it. Pretty soon John’s friends had to go and they left and John was stuck there. Every customer that came in had their own special remedy. A woman was like: ”Oh, get some dish soap from the back and we will soap up his thumb and it will slip right out!”, but the dish soap didn't work. Somebody got some ice from the pop machine and tried to ice his thumb down. It didn't work.

The sun went down and then it was evening and John was just sitting there the whole time with his thumb stuck in there, having interesting conversations with the people that were coming into the Quick Stop. The guy behind the counter got tired of John pretty fast. John was there for several hours before it got night and his mom was going to be home from work. Eventually the guy asked: ”What should I do?” - ”I don't know. Call the fire department?” and he did and the fire department came in a fire truck and they worked on John’s thumb for a while and they couldn't get it out of the machine either.

One of the firemen came with a pair of bolt cutters that are four feet long and they cut the steering wheel on both sides so that his thumb had this stainless steel strut on either side, but he was free of the machine and then they used the bolt cutter to actually cut a little pie shape out of the metal so that it freed John’s thumb. By this point in time, of course, the thumb was three inches around. It was really traumatic.

John didn't stop going in there. The next time they had changed the game out, like ”Ha ha!" and the guy behind the counter was like: ”Ha ha ha! Don't do that again!” and all of John’s friends thought it was real funny. Everybody talks about being a dork when they were young. John was always a clownish figure. His friends always felt: ”What is he going to do now?”, but seldom: ”What kind of fun, crazy thing is he going to do?” so much as it was ”What kind of nutty jam-up is he gonna get into?” John was a Mr. Magoo or an Inspector Clouseau. If there was a banana peel, John would find it and slip on it.

Prioritizing treats over video games, saving vs spending money as a kid (RW182)

This Quick Stop had a little basket by the cash register with little peanut butter cups for $0.05 each, which was an amount of money John could readily lay hands upon because video games were $0.25 and everybody had quarters. John never wanted to spend that much money on video games and the idea that one video game would get you five of these perfect Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? This is why John struggled with his weight his whole life and has never been good at video games. ”In this economy…” For John five peanut butter cups outweighed the fun of any video game. It is not that he ate 50 of them.

Dan was completely the opposite of that, he would have gone without food, not just the luxury food of a peanut butter cup, and he frequently did. His friends would spend their money on hot dogs and popcorn and curly fries at the mall while for Dan this was video game money. You guys are nuts! After his parents got a divorce his dad would send him money every month. It wasn't the child support money, but it was his extension of Dan’s allowance, about $15 a month. It was an automatic to check that would come from his paycheck to Dan, a check that was printed from a bank type thing, he didn't handwrite it out.

Dan would spend 100% of it immediately. He would go to the Don Carter’s All Star Lanes, a bowling alley he could ride his bike to, and they had really good arcade games in there. Dan had his own bank account with about $100 in, he would cash the check on the way to the arcade, and he would spend all $15 dollars of it as fast as he could on the video games. Dan still had his regular dalliance that was in the neighborhood of $3-5 a week, depending on what chores he did or didn't do, and he did not spend that money on the video games, but the $15 bucks he spent on Gauntlet or Afterburner.

By the way: Unless you are at a vintage arcade where they are keeping the original prices, most newer video games at a modern day arcade, even a Chuck E. Cheese, most games are $0.50 to $1, some are more. Most of the games that you have now, you have to just keep feeding quarters into to continue to play. You might get a race for $1, but if you don't win it, which you never do, then it is another $1 or $0.50 to play again. A lot of these shooting games you have to keep pumping in quarters because otherwise you will run out of ammo. Dan doesn't really go to the Arcades anymore unless it is a vintage arcade, in which case: Yeah, definitely.

Every once in a while John will walk past a pizza parlor that has a video game, but if it is more than $0.25 he is appalled and walks out, but hat is crazy because $0.25 in 1982-dollars and $0.25 in 2020-dollars are very different $0.25, but somehow we thought that they were worth $0.25 then. $100 in 1982 is worth $273 today, meaning a quarter is almost $0.70 and John shouldn't be so fussy about paying $70 for some video game. But it is the eel principle: They get you hooked and then you put in dollar after dollar.

Money meant so much more to John than anything that money could buy, so he couldn't get into those economies. Dan totally understands that and it was an unreasonable amount of money, but that was the only thing that he spent money on. He didn't have things really. His friends were always getting cassette tapes, but when a new band would come out with a new album Dan would just hear it on the radio, he was not going to spend money on music if it is on the radio. That is crazy!

Owning money was the thing John was interested in and he had to fight that in the same way that Dan had to fight his germaphobia. He really had to fight that over years and years and years of: ”No, money is not the only thing you want to own! You need to be able to spend money and you need to learn to spend money!” Once John got past it, he had to learn to not prolific it. Managing money is hard for everybody and John always felt like it was easy for him because he just didn't spend it, but that is not the same as managing it.

At some point John started to equate money with travel and spent a lot of the money that he saved when he was young traveling. He crossed the United States and went to Europe before he went as a musician and was doing those things as a high adventure. He didn't have that much money, but if he slept outside, if he hitchhiked, he could make that money last. All that money he saved as a young person not playing video games is what he used to survive when he was hitchhiking around the country when he was 18-21 years old.

Not having much money during his drinking life (RW182)

John never really thought of money as representing things that he could buy. Later on, the really troubling time was when he started to equate money with freedom from work and if he saved money he could not work for periods of time. Dan had friends that would do that. They would work and get money almost like in a pile, then they would use the money that was in that pile until it was gone and then started doing something to get more money to put back in the pile again. For Dan it was always more about the consistency of it. He worked 15-20 hours a week at his part time job and it was always more about the steady income that made him feel good as opposed to getting a lump sum and then working it until it was gone.

During John’s drinking years he really just wanted to drink and every once in a while he had to work because he would get so in Dutch to everybody and get kicked out of wherever he was living and would be in a situation where he had scraped the bottom of every barrel. He would get a job and once he got a job he tried to be a good worker, he would b e interested in what the new job was and interested in those people and interested in putting on a good face, so he scrubbed up and wear clean clothes. He knew how to iron a shirt.

Usually he was doing that stuff on borrowed time, though. He would come over to somebody’s house and be like: ”Can I use your iron?” - ”You again? All right, fine! You can use the iron!” His friends or people that he knew were always hoping that he would get his shit together and finally take this seriously. He would iron his shirt and go to work for a while and save that money, pay out as little as he possibly could against whatever debts he had accrued and he was living on a college top ramen economy. He wasn't saving that money to buy albums, but he was just stuffing it in a sock because he knew h was going to lose that job and when that happened he needed as much of a cushion as he could to tide him through that next long period where he didn't want to have to work.

It was a pretty shabby life but Seattle was a small town and a community of Punk Rockers and Rock’n’Rollers. Everybody was a drug addict and there was a stone soup sensibility. John wasn’t living in Harvard Yard and wandering around, but he was in a community of people that were all struggling to get by for various reasons. A lot of it was that they were also working the same shitty jobs John was and they were spending their money in stupid ways, probably on video games and certainly on drugs, but also on albums and studs for their leather jackets.

John’s friend Mike Squires always had a great job, but he never had any money because if he walked past a shop and looked in the window and saw something he liked, some feather boa or a hat with a skull on it, he would walk in and buy it and wouldn’t even haggle with them.

John finding an uncashed check over $350 (RW182)

John was going through a box of papers a couple of years ago that had accumulated and he found an uncashed check for $350 from 1993. He looked at this check and was trying to imagine what set of fucked-up circumstances would have allowed him to let $350 go uncashed. $350 was a massive amount of money to him and he knew the business that the cheque had come from, he remembered the time, and at that point in time there wasn't any way that that $350 wouldn't have been an incredible boon to him.

It is one thing that he would have dropped it and lost it, but the idea that he would have had it this whole time! It was in an envelope that he hadn't opened. He was working at this company and had called in sick way more times than you could get away with calling in sick and he was already really at the end of his tenure at this place. He had worked at this job for quite a while and developed relationships with everybody there and he is still friends with a guy that he met at this job at a stock brokerage. John briefly went through a period where he thought that maybe he would be a stockbroker, shadowed some brokers around, trying to figure out if this was a job that he would like and he eventually decided that it absolutely, definitely was not a job that he wanted.

That was the job he was working when Kurt Cobain died and the news came over the radio and John was sitting at his little terminal, working on something, and the news came over the radio and everybody in the office all looked over at John who just stared at his typewriter for a while and then he just stood up and put on his coat and said: ”Well, I guess I am done for today!” and it seemed reasonable, given the situation. It was a strange time to think that a bunch of people in an office building would say: ”Ha, this rock star killed himself. Maybe the kid that is sitting at the typewriter with the soul patch and the combat boots, maybe we shouldn't yell at him today!”

John was out partying and ended up back in this apartment, he could still take you to the apartment now, and he woke up and hadn't opened his eyes yet, laying there on the floor, like: ”Oh, shit. I am on the floor of this person's apartment! It is a work day, not a stay home day, and I am waking up naturally, not by an alarm!” He could hear people bustling around in the room and without opening his eyes he asked: ”What time is it?” and this girl Kirsten said 10:45 or something and most of the people that he knew were working in bars and their workday started at 5:00pm, but John was working in an office and his workday at this point started at 8:00am.

John thought ”Oh man, I am so fired!” and Kirsten said: ”Do you want to use my phone and call your work?” - ”It is so past that at this point! To call them at 10:45 and say: Hey, sorry, I got sick!” There was just no chance. John was just laying there on the ground, defeated and feeling like he did it again. That wasn't such a bad job. He didn't like getting up at 8am, but it paid well and it was working, but it was gone now. And as he was sitting there he felt this thing on his lips and heard a lighter go and he realized that she was putting her pipe in his mouth and said: ”Might as will toke it up, bro!” and without even opening his eyes John was like: ”Yeah, well might as well do a little wake and bake and start a new life!”

John is pretty sure that the only way that that $350 check could have survived unto this day without having been cashed was that it was his final paycheck, it arrived in the mail at a time when he had an address, and John took that envelope, assuming that it was some bad news or letter of reprimand from that business and he tucked it into a book or put it in with a bunch of other envelopes he didn't want to open, not realizing that it was this incredible honey pot. In 1994 that was a lot of money!

Getting your first paycheck as a young person (RW182)

Before John joined Harvey Danger the most money he ever made in a single month was $900. He remembers seeing his pay stub, realizing that he had made $940 that month and feeling like: ”Wow, look at me! That is almost $1000 a month! That is $12.000 a year!” He knew that there were people making a lot more money than that, but for John $12.000 was a lot of cash.

Dan’s first professional full-time job out of college, the thing that he in theory had gone to college for, was $21.500 in 1994. That was bank! He would walk into a restaurant and could order anything off this menu he wanted. He could walk into a Sears and buy that lawnmower if he wanted to buy that lawnmower, but he didn’t want to. That was the only reason he was not buying it, not because he couldn’t. And a dollar in 1994 is $1.76 now, meaning his $21.500 would be $37.954 today. Keep in mind, before that the most Dan ever made was $3.65 an hour.

At his first job at Burger King when he turned 13 he made $3.15 an hour and $3.35 he made at Publix when he started there. By the time that he spent a few years there, he had gotten so many raises he was up to $3.65, it was amazing! According to the Census Bureau the annual median personal income in the United States in 2016 was $31.000 a year, the per capita disposable income was $45.000 as of 2019, so in that job making what is equivalent to $37.000 a year then, Dan would have been right around the median personal income. That was some hot stakes for young people, just out of college.

John was only working part time, he was doing that for a reason because he had more important things to do and bigger fish to fry, but when he joined Harvey Danger they paid him $10.000 over the course of six months. It was incredible, and they were also paying for his transportation, housing and food, so this $10.000 all went into the bank and John spent $5.000 of that $10.000 making the first Long Winters record. At that point in time that $10.000 was not just the most money he had ever seen, but an unfathomable wealth.

Literally nothing that Dan made from that time or really anything except very recently is still around. And yet, that album is still around and people are still listening to it and still love it. That was part of what made making that Western State Hurricanes record this past year is so gratifying because it cost money to do and time, but it was so much better and healthier for John than going on vacation because it cost the same amount as having gone on vacation. It felt like a vacation, but it was like a time travel vacation and he made this thing that made him happy.

Coronavirus has shown what is important and what is not (RW182)

Musicians playing live online

John has been thinking about that a lot in the context of what is going on right now in those Coronavirus times. He watched a lot of his friends go online and play online shows and he felt like that was not the type of entertainer he is. He could surely do it, sit in front of his computer and play five songs and put it on Instagram, but it is just never the way he thinks. He is not a musician in that way where ”Have guitar, will travel” Jason Isbell does think that way, and every day he is on there with his beautiful guitar and: ”Here is what I was doing!” and he just he gives us two minutes of himself playing the shit out of his guitar.

John loves it, he will eat it right up, but the idea of going on and ”Okay, everybody! Every day I am going to give you two minutes of me just playing the green beans out of this guitar!” People would think it was fun or funny, but it wouldn't be what John would do.

We were just able to shut down and it is fine

John really has been feeling so strongly that trying to move to a new neighborhood and leave his old farm behind was all part of this idea that he was going to find some freedom from the things that overburden him and become productive. The productivity that is suggested by this Corona opportunity, which is not to say that Coronavirus is an opportunity, and John has not at all felt like being sequestered or quarantined is a fertile time to get to work on stuff, but the whole thing, the whole shakeup, has been such a revelation in terms of not how fragile things are because things have proved to be pretty resilient, but how easy it was to just shut everything down.

At the time it felt like: ”Wow, are we really doing this? I guess so!”, but all it took was the governor of Washington saying: ”Everybody stay home!” There was about a week where people asked: ”What, really?” - ”Yeah, everybody stay home!” and then all of the bosses of all the companies except very few said: ”Okay, everybody stay home!” and everybody stayed home and nobody drove and nobody went anywhere or did anything. Obviously it was a crazy disaster in a lot of ways, but really, fundamentally, not a crazy disaster. Everything has muddled along now for a month of no-one doing anything and that is astonishing. How much it reveals about how little what we were doing before was necessary.

We don't actually need all those freaking cars. We don't need so much of what we were doing before! It highlights how much all of our modern American and global human endeavor is just busywork, a total fantasy about what we are doing, why we are here, what matters, what we are building. If we don't need cars, obviously there needs to be some transportation and some vehicles, but we don't every one of us in the morning need to get up and get into our own personal car and drive to work and drive home. We always knew it! It just felt that no one of us could do anything about it. You can't just not go, but we could at the drop of a hat all of us just collectively decide not to go.

Really, it is over. It does not feel like a temporary situation where he is building up 1000 errands that he has’t run yet and the day that they release us from quarantine he is going to have to run out and put out 50 fires. It really doesn't feel like that! It feels like most of the stuff that didn't matter is gone. The stuff that does matter found a way. And if quarantine lasted another year and John gradually could allow a few more friends or you could go to the movies if everybody sat 15 feet apart or whatever, a gradual rolling back of civilization, it would be fine!

Environmentalism during the 1980s and 1990s, spotted owl

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the environmentalism that they were practicing at the time had not factored global warming in quite yet. They understood that climate change was a component of it, but it didn't seem like it was fatal. They would have arguments with people where they would say: ”Look, in order to save this ecosystem here in western Washington, we are going to have to tear down the El Ward Dam or we are going to have to log this particular forest because this is the only place this little owl lives”

Nobody cares about the little owl, but they were going to use the little owl as a proxy for: ”You can't cut down this forest” and they were going to use the teeth of the Endangered Endangered Species Act, which was passed to save the bald eagle, to save this forest based on this little owl that nobody cared about. The argument from the other side was entirely economic: How are these lumberjacks going to survive? How are these rural communities going to survive if you take away their livelihood, which is the forests? If they can't harvest forests, all these little towns, Randall and Packwood, all these people are going to be out of work and they are all going to die. They don't really care about the wood either, but their version of hyperbole is: ”We are all going to die from this and you are going to take away the livelihood of all of these people!”

John has talked about this during his run for city council when he went to the carpenter’s union and they told him there were 50 carpentry jobs on that oil rig and what were those carpenters going to do if John was against the Arctic oil exploration and he felt like those 50 carpenters are going to have to find other work and that lost John that union endorsement.

In the environmental years there was always this false combat between these two sides: One group of people who were pretending to really care about a bird when what they really wanted was to stop clear-cutting forests, and the other side was pretending to hate a little bird because what they really didn't want to have to do was find another job. Looking back 30-40 years later you can go to Parkwood today and Randall. Those towns are still there and those people are still there. They are not affluent towns, but they never were. Most of the forest jobs are gone, not because of the spotted owl, but because most of the forest harvesting became mechanized and most of the lumber got shipped immediately to Asia without being processed in the US. The old battle between Hippies and loggers ended up resolved.

What if we didn’t go back to work? Working from home during the lockdown

We are in a state right now where a lot of people aren't going to be able to work from home and there are a lot of people who are out of work. The argument for restarting the economy and getting it back going as fast as we can is premised on the idea that the jobs that everyone was doing that they can't do from home are super-essential jobs and we need to get those people back to work, when what it really is: We have all these people who need to earn an income to pay for their housing and their food.

The people who are doing essential work, like working in grocery stores and gas stations, are still working. Then there is the whole white collar cadre that are all working from home just happily now, but it is the median work somewhere between essential and the truly inessential work of white collar labor where all of the busy work of the modern world takes place. It is one of the things that makes a universal basic income so philosophically appealing because we are in a state of pure potential right now.

What if we didn't go back to work? What if we made an income available to people so that they could weather out this period and gradually go back to work in a new and different way, a way that does not require that 50% of us wake up in the morning every day and warm up our cars and go to the drive thru coffee shop on our way to whatever it is that we were doing before. John can't believe that we are going go back to work the same way. He knows that a lot of people will have to because they have to put a chicken in the pot, but there are a lot of people that don't have to or won't have to unless there is a massive collective failure of imagination.

John’s daughter's mother works in an office where they rent the entire floor of a downtown office building. There are 300 employees. They sit in an open office plan at computers around a central kitchen hub where there are bins full of Cheerios and M&Ms and a microwave to heat up your hot pocket. There are meeting rooms with glass walls that are stuffy and unventilated and there are floor to ceiling windows all around with beautiful views of the Pacific Northwest and elevators that require that you put in a code and three people that sit at a front desk in security guard uniforms. It is the whole American office thing.

That company has gone completely work-from-home and everything is fine, generating as many marketing leads as they were before or more. New customers buying their product are coming online all the time and have been throughout this whole process. They are having an awful lot of freaking Zoom meetings, but it all is working. For the CEO of that company to not look at that and go: ”Wow! When we are looking at things to cut and costs to take out of the bottom line, why are we paying for this office building? Why did we have a $90.000 budget to send 15 people to the Blackhat conference in Las Vegas last year to have a booth where we handed out whimsical T-shirts and tried to get people to sign up for our mailing list? Isn't there a way to rescale all of that?”

The thing is that the CEO is not imaginative because they are a CEO and by definition they are not, so when the quarantine is lifted, that CEO is going to say: ”Everybody back to the office!” Some of them will be so glad to get back to their desk and to put their little bunny rabbit back next to their phone and some fresh cut flowers and: ”We are back!”, but half of those people are going to ask: ”Do I have to? Why? Do I really have to? Do I have to drive 45 minutes both ways to get to work and find a parking spot and then at lunch go out and wait in line at a teriyaki place? Really? I don't want to!” and it is going to be so hard for that CEO to say: ”Well, business can't get done if you don't!” because business can get done.

If John worked in that office he would already be writing up his proposal to be a work from home person after this is all over. When Dan was in the corporate world all he ever wanted was to work from home. He used to know exactly how much time he spent getting ready for work, driving to work, getting in and the amount of time that he spent being distracted from other people, going to meetings that went on too long because so many people just liked the meetings. He spent a decade doing that!

Dan’s side business building PCs

Dan had a side business building PCs for people for many, many, many years. He had two or three different companies doing it and toward the end of high school he had started his own business doing that and he kept coming back to it whenever he would need extra money. There were three stores in Florida and later when he moved to North Carolina and then in Central Florida it was the same thing: They were always owned by Chinese people and they ran a great business because they had connections in China and they could get all of the parts, the motherboards, the RAM, the hard drives, everything was made in China.

They barely spoke English, but you could get a business license for $35 a year which would make you eligible to buy parts tax free from these people at basically their prices. The regular jokers on the street would pay $200 for a hard drive and you could get it for $30 bucks. And Dan knew already how to build these things, so he built pieces for people and sell them at very, very discounted prices compared to what you get from Gateway or the companies that were out at that time and it was really a fun and neat business. He got to meet interesting people and got to build all kinds of crazy computers because they would tell him what they wanted.

At that time the computer Dan had at his main job was half as fast as the one that he had at home. This was back when just opening and closing Windows was slow. The difference between a 486 and a Pentium was ridiculous and Dan had the best computer sitting on his desk at home. He would say to his boss: ”I will be more productive if I could work from home! Let me work from home one day a week!” - ”No, no, no!” Dan used to have bosses that used to say: ”If we can't see you, you are not working!” That was always what he was told. ”What about when you go in your office and I am in here? You can't see me!”

Dan looked at the web all the time, sit there and browse the web and read stuff, because he had a modem and he was the Internet guy at the company. They had a dedicated phone line that was between Dan and the VP of the company who would go online once a day at about 4 pm to check his email. The rest of the time Dan had his computer plugged in and would dial up. He had his own dial-up account at back in the old days and he would dial up and read stuff on the Internet. Of course he needed to because he maintained their Web site and all of that stuff, but they didn't know what the hell Dan was doing in there. He could have done anything! He could have been looking at porn the whole day if he felt like it, they would have no idea!

The fact that whether he was sitting there typing code from his house or in front of their computer in their office didn't matter. But that attitude is still there. It is exactly what John was saying: There are people who believe that you need to be in the same physical location to do a job. A lot of people get a lot out of the social interaction of being in an office.

Dan’s son doing his homework at 6am

Dan’s son right now does not enjoy this remote schooling that is going on. He is like a German shepherd: He needs structure, he needs to know what the rules are, and he needs to understand that there are people at a higher level of him who are in charge of the rules. Left to his own devices, he will only ever play video games and watch YouTube and nothing about him, at least right now at his current age, makes him wake up and want to get the stuff out of the way so he can have the rest of the day off. He is a natural born procrastinator.

These are traits Dan sees in himself that he had to work against and overcome consciously in his own life. Right now his son is struggling because: ”I could do the Spanish assignment or I could not do it!” When he is put in the classroom he does exceptionally well. He responds very well to instruction, he gets it quick, and he can do everything he needs to do and he gets good grades, but when it is just sort of: ”Well, we sent you the e-mail showing what you are supposed to do today!”

He waits until 8pm and will work on it for half an hour, an hour, and he will say: ”I am too tired to do this anymore. I am going to set my alarm for 6am!” and he will wake up at 6am and do it before it is due at 8am. At night when Dan is there at the end of the day he is all stressing out about it and then he is going to wake up early in the morning!

Being unable to measure productivity

There are jobs where you can be doing your work very effectively and there is no way to measure it. Writing code in software development almost comes in waves. You are heads down and very productive for a period of time, and then it is almost like you will ease off the gas for a bit. It is not like you are coasting, but you are kind of coasting on the work that you just did. Software developers spend a lot of time staring at their text editor, not typing anything and maybe not even reading anything. It would appear that they are zoned out, but they are actually thinking hard about something. But how do you measure that? You measure it like: ”Does the application perform the tasks it was required to perform according to the specifications document on the date that it was due?”

But did it take you one week of intense work or did it take you two hours a day for two months or did it happen the night before? Does that matter? As long as it does what it needs to do on the day that it was supposed to be due? That is the struggle with something like that. It is not like somebody working in a helpdesk who can answer tickets and you can say: ”This person had this many tickets that were positively received in an 8 hour period. Therefore, they are a good employee, but this person had half as much, therefore their are a bad employee!” But even then you can't know because maybe the tickets that the second person got involved more research or involved longer explanations to the customer, or maybe they were dealing with a cranky customer. Even when you have a metric to use it can still be difficult.

John’s mom, when she talks about computer programming in the 1960s, she said that the best programmer at the company where she worked, which was Safeco Insurance, was when a woman named Elaine who had hair down to below her belt, a long-haired hippy ladies. Elaine would sit and stare out the window for weeks, never touching her computer, not looking at a pen and paper, but just staring out the window. John was always fascinated by Elaine because you could tell she was a very special person. She had a twin sister who did not have this strange magic.

This was in the 1960s where at her company at least you could not undo the top button of your shirt during the work day and if you loosened your tie someone would come along and say: ”What has happened? What is the matter with you? Get yourself together, man!” It was an extremely old school IBM corporate environment, but no-one ever bothered Elaine. No manager asked her what she was doing. Nobody ever questioned the fact that she was sitting and staring out the window, because when Elaine finally turned to the terminal, she typed up perfect elegant efficient code that never failed and needed no refinement because she had done it all in her imaginarium. She had just worked out everything.

What we are describing is measurable, just on a longer timescale. Not everybody's job can be measured on an hourly basis, or even a weekly basis, maybe not even on a yearly basis, depending on how big a scale it is you are working with. If you are working on string theory, you might not do anything visible for a decade, but if the person or system that is evaluating them has customized the scale to the work that is being done, then there is a way to measure it, unless you are somebody whose job is ”inspiring people”

There are very few actual jobs where the description is: ”We want you to inspire people!” and a lot more jobs have other descriptions and the person doing the job thinks the description is that they are there to inspire people. If your only job was to inspire people, then you have to assume that in measuring those people there would be some way to measure your performance. What we do instead is measure time spent: ”If you are not in the office, you are not working!” which is not a measurement of the work. It is a measurement of the of the time in captivity.

Let the extroverts go back and let the introverts stay home!

Anyone should be able to make the case: ”Here is the amount of tickets that I handled when I was coming into the office every day and here is the number of tickets I handled during Coronavirus when I was stuck at home, and there was a 40% increase in the number of tickets handled. Ergo: I do not need to come into the office!” If you can't make that case, maybe you do need to be in the office. Maybe you do need parental guidance.

Those people who thrive in an office are also typically not super self-reflective. The people that can't wait to get back to the office do not typically think of themselves as the weird ones. People that want to work from home and don't want to go into the office, even if they were in the majority, also tend to have the personality type where they think: ”I am the weird one! I don't want to go into work. I know! I am the problem here!”, but people that want to go back to work, that are excited, that their friends are all there, they are also the ones that think that is normal. It is just a question of self reflectiveness, of introverts versus extroverts, generally.

John fears that all of the extroverts are going to rush back into the world and they are going to drag the introverts kicking and screaming back to work. Except introverts would neither kick nor scream, but slump over in their Eeyore shoulders and go: ”I guess I gotta go back to work!” John honestly thinks that this could be a time period where for instance downtown Seattle massively shrinks in terms of it being a hub of business activity and a lot of those office buildings will get repurposed as housing and the offices that are there are concentrated in a core.

We call it Extrovertville! All the shiny, happy people can go there and they can have workout spaces and they can have coffee pouring out of fountains and they can have pickup basketball games and they can just be having meetings with each other all day long and in the building surrounding them, which have been converted from office space into housing, all of their co-workers who would rather not, who prefer not to, all the Bartlebys of the world (reference to author Herman Melville), can just be doing their work from home remotely and there would be 50% less driving, 50% less busy work, 50% less just showing up, work would get condensed…

It is all the dreams we had about personal computers back in the early 1980s: Paperless offices, heightened efficiency! Everybody could have a 4-hour workday instead of an 8-hour workday because the other 4 hours used to just be getting up and going to a water fountain and back. The relative ease with which we shut down not just Seattle, but the entire world with almost no coercion. The incidences where there were police that had to tell people: ”Turn around and go home!” ended up being a few hilarious memes on the Internet. No-one was forced at gunpoint to get off the streets.

It has to be sustainable in some ways and some proportion, but even if it is only 20% sustainable, that is 20% less bullshit in the world, let alone if it were 40% sustainable. 40% fewer people driving into work every day, 40% less frantic make-work borderline panic that defines this modern hyper-capitalist anxiety state that we were living in until a month ago. John is excited for this reckoning because it can't possibly go unreckoned. John doesn’t work in an office, but if he did, he wouldn't ever again!


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