If you want a vision of the future, imagine a wage slave typing: “I hate my job. I hate my job. I hate my job,” on a keyboard, for ever. That’s what a Manhattan court typist is accused of doing, having been fired from his post two years ago, after jeopardising upwards of 30 trials, according to the New York Post. Many of the court transcripts were “complete gibberish” as the stenographer was alledgedly suffering the effects of alcohol abuse, but the one that has caught public attention contains the phrase “I hate my job” over and over again. Officials are reportedly struggling to mitigate the damage, and the typist now says he’s in recovery, but it’s worth considering how long it took the court officials to realise he hadn’t been taking proper notes at all.
You can’t help but feel a small pang of joy at part of the story, though. Surely everyone, at some point, has longed, but perhaps not dared, to do the same. In a dreary Coventry bedsit in 2007, I read Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, the tale of a new employee who calmly refuses to do anything he is paid to do, to the complete bafflement of his boss, and found myself thinking in wonder: “This is the greatest story I have ever read.” No wonder it still resonates. Who hasn’t sat in their office, and felt like saying to their bosses: “I would prefer not to,” when asked to stuff envelopes or run to the post office?
For some bizarre reason, it’s still taboo to admit that most jobs are unspeakably dull. On application forms, it’s anathema to write: “Reason for leaving last job: hated it”, and “Reason for applying for this post: I like money.” The fact that so many people gleefully shared this story shows that many of us, deep down, harbour a suspicion that our jobs aren’t necessarily what we want to be doing for the rest of our lives. A lot of us aren’t always happy and fulfilled at work, and aren’t always completely productive.
Dreaming of turning to our boss and saying: “I would prefer not to,” or spending an afternoon typing “I hate my job. I hate my job. I hate my job” into Microsoft Word seems like a worthy way of spending the time. And, as with the court typist, maybe people wouldn’t even notice. In one of my workplaces, before a round of redundancies, on my last day my manager piled yet more work on to my desk and said yet again that she was far too busy to do her invoices. With nothing to lose, I pointed out that she had a large plate glass window behind her, so for the entire length of my temp job, I’d been able to see that she spent most of the day playing Spider Solitaire.
Howard Beale’s rant in Network, caricaturish as it is cathartic, strikes a nerve too: there’s something endlessly satisfying in fantasising about pushing your computer over, throwing your chair through the window and telling your most hated colleagues what you’ve always thought about them. But instead we keep it bottled up, go to the pub and grind our teeth. Still, here’s to the modern-day Bartlebys.