I just sat in on a meeting for one hour recapping this past week’s sales. There is plenty of interesting information going around. I would sometimes scribble a note in if I hear something especially provocative. The notebook that I had received during my first day is filled with such scribbles. But, for the most part, I am just sitting there. Since I did not prepare any of slides, I have nothing to contribute to the recap. My supervisor is sitting next to me, and she invites me to these meetings every week Monday at 3 PM. Since she asked me to be here, I am here. I am thankful for being here, listening. But, in terms of my actual contribution to this meeting, I am just sitting here, existing.
I clock in and out of work every day. I also clock in and out every time I take a lunch. In this sense, I get it when people say that the clock is a symbol of capitalistic oppression. It is an artificial structure that confine my mind. When I am taking lunch, my mind is on the clock, frequently unlocking my iPhone throughout the mandatory 30 minutes dictated by NY state law before I could clock back in. It truly takes away the enjoyment of some aspects of life. It quantifies experience into ticks on the clock. With a constant worry of clocking in and out, I measure my entire existence relative to my ability to be a certain somewhere making certain contributions to a certain entity other than myself. But, even so, I still get paid to be exist somewhere.
It is quite a contrast to my job in research last summer, which only paid me whenever I put in hours to complete a task. My wage was directly caused by my immediate contribution to someone else’s work. I would get assigned a task, I would use my time to accomplish said task, and I would be compensated for the time I used to accomplish the same task. My life, at least my professional life, was oriented around one task at a time. My wage, the source of my freedom to live the other half of my life, was oriented around one task at a time. I would only get paid if I had a means to contribute to my employer’s work. If there were no tasks to be done, then I would not be paid.
When I would finish a task, as it often happens with research, then I would not have a means to earn more income. Even when I took two research jobs over that summer, I still had a lot of free time when I could not earn income. I eventually took a third job to fill the time. That being said, I was living at home last summer, so I did not necessarily need the income to pay for rent or utilities or anything. But I was still in a situation where I wanted to make income, only with no means to make income, because my employer did not have a means in which I could contribute to their research. I would log my hours as I do my tasks, and the extent of my existence (relative to my employer) is to finish tasks whenever they would have a task to be finished.
I like the feeling of being paid to exist. I remember in my first waged job, at the Acme in Bryn Mawr, I often got assigned the late shift from 8 PM – 12 AM. It was the summer when I had this job, so I did not mind the late hours. And, during my high school days, 12 AM was not considered late; I consistently go to sleep around 11 PM every night nowadays. I liked the late shift. There were very few customers around that time, and therefore, there was very little to be done by me. In other words, there were very little tasks for me to do, yet I still got paid $8.25/hr for all of the time between when I clocked in and clocked out.
There were very few customers, which meant very few shopping cards to re-organize, very few bags to help pack, very few items to re-stock. I would have to pull all of the items at the end of the night, which refers to literally pulling items from the back of the shelf to the front of the shelf, but that was the extent of my responsibilities. It was much better than the day shift, where I would have to push around shopping carts in the sun or take out the dripping trash to the back or deal with angry main-line moms getting an aneurysm every time their potatoes and carrots are bagged together in the same bag. The night shift was quiet. I had some nice chats with the other associates. I got paid. It was chill.
I conceptualize my summer internship to be similar to my first job that was taxed by the government. I clock in around 8:30 AM. I clock out around 6:30 PM. I clock in and out for lunch somewhere in between. Throughout the day, I get assigned tasks. And, when I finish my tasks, I find more tasks to be finished. But, sometimes, when my supervisor has left and I have finished all of my tasks, I have nothing left to do. I would have to “work” in the sense that cannot do anything explicitly unproductive like going on Facebook, but I could fiddle around with some financial data from my company’s intranet. These are the moments that I get paid to exist. There is nothing to be done, but I am still getting paid until I clock out.
In this sense, my wage validates my existence. I would imagine a salary to further this sentiment. I have a finite amount of tasks, but my wage is not dependent on the completion of those tasks. My existence to my employer is not dependent on my direct contribution to their profit or research or whatever. I exist for existing, and my employer pays me to exist for 40 hours per week. During my time to exist, I make some contributions to my company. I try to honor my employer’s trust in my existence by making the most of my time while I am working. But, regardless of the summation of my contributions of a given day, I still get paid to exist as such.
Is it validating? Should it be? Is my existence dependent on the wage I get for just existing? I’m sure that would boost the egos of individuals working in any industry that pays excessive amounts for “face time” in an office, may or may not including free Seamless orders for up to $30 per night. But, I don’t know; it still feels like I am lacking in something fundamental, when I feel validated for getting paid to exist; it doesn’t feel like something that I should feel at all. Existence, as defined through wage. Existence, as defined through freedom. Existence, as defined relative to others. Of course, I want to make a positive contribution to others. Or is than an abstract thought? I want to make a contribution. Am I still making a positive contribution if I ever end up in consulting recommending layoffs to cut costs? What is wage relative to contribution?
Somehow in being efficient and being clever and being productive, people thought they had the license to just stop thinking about human being and the well-being of everyone else in the system.Michael Porter quoted in Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All