“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.” ― Dave Barry
There has been a lot of “talk” about meetings… about Zoom meetings and on and on. I was thinking about this and, as is my wont, writing down notes as a way to discover what I really thought. From my notes:
In my almost half century of working life I have been to… involved with… thousands of meetings. How many have been useful? Thinking hard… the answer is somewhere around six.
Now when I say useful, I know that differs between me and many (most? almost all?) of the others involved – especially the ones setting up the meetings. To me a successful meeting is one that actually accomplishes something… anything. I have been paying attention lately to what most of the folks that schedule these things actually want. They want one (or more, or all) of three things:
Zoom meetings kick this dysfunction up to a new level. I am required to attend a half dozen Zoom meetings a day – from my desk actually at work – where a large number of the attendees are in their living rooms, presumably in their underwear. These meetings can have up to well over a hundred attendees and most are regularly scheduled, repeating meetings. The same four or five people say the same things every time. I can predict the contents and outcome before they begin. It is a frustrating broken Kabuki theater masquerading as work. I end the call unenlightened, de-motivated and angry,.
There are folks that recognize this and are trying to fix it – but I don’t think it is a process problem… it is a people problem.
Sorry for the rant – but I’m sure a lot of people agree with me.
“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
It had been a week since the company had issued new rules saying that employees working from home were required to have their cameras on during Zoom meetings. In addition, everyone was expected to wear AOA – “appropriate office attire.” Since Craig was an Assistant Associate Vice President for Corporate Policies and Procedures that meant a coat and tie. He did not wear pants, of course, and in invisible protest of the new rules he even stopped wearing even the boxer shorts he used to – sitting there in a gray suit and striped tie, naked below the waist.
A typical Zoom call would have fifty or more attendees but only four or five, the same four or five every time, would actually talk. Craig used to leave the meetings and go out for a beer, a walk in the park, or a beer and a walk in the park. He used a mouse jigger – a little USB dongle that would simulate a mouse movement every few minutes – to keep his status light green. If anything important came up he knew the meeting was recorded and he could revisit the content. He never had to.
But now, with the new camera policy he had to actually sit through the things. It was driving him crazy – hours and hours every day of the same farrago of virtue signaling, ass covering, and sucking up to superiors was mind numbing. No work was getting done. Craig had risen to his executive position because of his finely-tuned ability to avoid doing anything – getting credit for other people’s work – and dodging any blame for anything going wrong. Still, these remote working Zoom calls was throwing his uselessness back into his face and he didn’t like it. He preferred honestly goofing off over pretending to be useful
He spent the hours of the camera calls thinking of a way out and finally came up with a plan. A department store near his house was going out of business and selling everything. On a hunch, he drove over there and was able to buy a display dummy from the men’s department. He began to wear sunglasses and a ballcap on the meetings and tried to think about an excuse for this – but nobody ever asked – he doubted anyone even noticed. He stopped shaving and grew out his ragged beard.
A friend of his from college had gone to Mortuary school. He remembered watching the guy learn how to do makeup on model heads, learning how to make a corpse look like life. It creeped Craig out but after all these years it was useful to him. He dropped off the dummy, some photos of himself, and a wad of cash. It only took a few days and the work was done.
Craig lugged the dummy home and dressed in a suit and tie, cap and glasses, and propped in the desk chair – after a tiny bit of blur (a thin streak of Vaseline on the camera lens) the illusion was complete.
As a gift to himself Craig stopped by the big liquor store and bought a half-fridge worth of various craft beers. It would be fun to walk down to the park during meetings and figure out which ones were actually good and which were pretentious shit.
This went perfectly for a few weeks. He developed a route – a walk to a favorite picnic table – where he would sit and sip his brew. The only downside was a homeless guy that would sit at another table a hundred yards away. The guy was wrapped in a dirty blanket, no matter how hot the day was. He was there before Craig arrived and never left while Craig was there. Craig figured the guy would walk up every day from the encampment down where the creek ran into the thick scrub of the river floodplain. Usually they were the only two in this obscure part of the park. The guy never moved or said anything but it still bothered Craig – but even so, this was the most isolated spot, so he grudgingly shared his isolation.
Then one day the guy wasn’t there. Craig looked over and saw him on the ground beside the picnic table. At first Craig thought he must be sleeping, but his position looked uncomfortable – like he had just fallen like that. After he finished sipping his beer, Craig decided he’d better take a look. Sure enough the guy was dead. Cold and stiff. Up close, Craig was shocked at how young he was. What disaster or terrible personal flaw had led someone like that to this ignominious end?
The big question was what to do now? Craig had a vision of a newspaper article, maybe even a short section on a news program about how a dead man was discovered in a public park. Craig was afraid he might be interviewed, photographed, word would get out. He was, after all, supposed to be sitting in from of his camera on a Zoom call – not sipping beer discovering dead homeless guys in a park a short walk from his house. This probably wouldn’t happen, but could he take the risk?
Craig knew right away he couldn’t. He gathered his stuff together and walked home, a little quicker than usual. He dressed (and undressed) and, pausing his camera for a second, switched places with the dummy. As the Zoom meeting droned on, he sat there aggravated.
For the life of him, he couldn’t think of another spot to walk and sip his beer as good as this one, which he would definitely have to give up now.
“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer’s soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.” ― Albert Camus, The Plague
Today, work was a day of Zoom meetings, webinars, and long lists of unanswered questions. Although I go into work every day there is an army of people at home writing PowerPoint presentations and espousing on what is better for everybody else.
Today was the day that Biden’s Covid-19 Mandate hit like a ton of bricks (yes, we employ more than 100 people and yes, we do business with the government) and a lot of folks are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
I am fully vaccinated and have been for a long time. There are some people I know that are strongly opposed to the shot. There are more (mostly vastly younger than me) that are simply too lazy to get the needle. I don’t know.
Now that the best plans are laid – and I take a very close look at them – it really won’t make a difference until early next year. Really. It is all a dance, a show, virtue signalling. Take my word for it.
“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
In January through March of 2019 (that feels like a different age) I went every Wednesday after work clear across town to a bookstore called The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff. I had stumbled into a reading group there that tackled long, difficult books called The Difficult Reading Book Club. We finished our book, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, then had a celebration. For various reasons I skipped the next book (a set of three tomes by Virginia Woolf – though I wasn’t afraid – who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf) and then COVID hit.
For a year we didn’t do any reading, but finally momentum built and for a couple months we did a weekly Zoom meeting read of The Brother’s Karamazov. I actually liked not having to make the long trip after work and a reading group is particularly suited for remote computerized interaction.
And today we had our kickoff meeting for our latest difficult (and long) challenge – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’ve been avoiding spoilers for the novel, but did learn some useful facts from this meeting.
“The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Tonight, I had a Zoom meeting from home. I used to go to these reading group meetings at the Wild Detectives Book Store in Bishop Arts. My favorite was when I’d take the train and trolley from work every Wednesday after work for that week’s meeting on reading Gravity’s Rainbow.
It was fun.
It feels like a thousand years ago.
So now the same group is going to do another “Difficult Book.” We are reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov over the next few months – about a hundred pages a week. We will meet on Zoom every week to discuss what we’ve read.
Tonight was the kickoff meeting – no reading yet… only introductions and strategies. It was a little awkward – everyone seems so lonely. Hopefully, we will all get along. It should be fun.
Ok, here’s the opposite of a Russian novel – some flash fiction from The New Yorker.