The Big Joke

How will we explain commuting 30 years from now?

When I started my first job as an accountant my manager told my about 16-column ledger paper, he freaking loved to talk about 16 column ledger paper. For those of you who don’t know, accountants rely very heavily on computers, and specifically relevant to this story, we use Excel a lot, like all day. Apparently computers haven’t always existed, which means adding large columns of numbers had to be done by hand, or rather by a calculator and then written down by hand. So they made these special booklets for accountants that were essentially widely spaced graph paper and away they went, summing numbers to their hearts content.
My boss talked about spending days, I mean days, writing numbers down in their cells. A lot of accountants found it was faster if you just did the math in your head instead of working back and forth between the paper and calculator. This is why some older accountants have prodigious math skills. Now that excel exists, accountants don’t have to actually be good at math, and most need their 10 key to do the most basic sums, me included. But public awareness has not kept up, everyone assumes I must love math and be great at it since I’m an accountant.

Anyway, my boss recounted his early days working with 16 column ledger paper like it was some kind of funny family legend. Every time I came back with an answer 30 minutes after being given the problem, he’d chuckle and shake his head, giving an estimate as to how long it would’ve taken on 16 column ledger paper.

Frankly, I don’t get it. That sucks for him. Just 20 years later someone dumber and less experienced can do his old job twenty times more efficiently. That is so annoying. I guess what makes it easy to shake-off is that there was no way for him to know how things were going to change. I doubt he ever looked down at his ledger paper and imagined a world with computers. So hey, what can you do.

It was thus inspired that I first thought about what the big joke would be for me when I was a 50 year old accountant. The answer is obvious, commuting. I freaking hate commuting. There are a lot of things I dislike about being an accountant, but most of those things sort of come with the territory. To make an example, I don’t really care for the sedentary aspect of accounting, but I understand that I can’t really do accounting while running through a field, so I accept that sitting in a chair is part of the job, doesn’t mean I like it, but I can at least understand it.

I cannot understand commuting. I don’t hate driving either. If I drive an hour to a golf course, totally fine, an hour to work though, wasting my life. It’s because I can’t just go in the other room and play a nice golf course, but I absolutely can work from home. I drive an hour each way (15 miles) so that I can sit in a 6’x6’ fake room on a computer. If I talk to someone, and I emphasize if, it’s not usually work related, and even when it is, we could have just done it on the phone, or skype, or whatever.

I won’t say that being in the same physical location as my coworkers is a total waste. There are definite and obvious benefits. But you don’t need 8 consecutive hours to achieve those benefits. So why is it everyone everywhere decided we need to all go to work between 8 and 9 and all leave between 5 and 6? Can’t I just work from home until 10 and then come in? Maybe leave at 3 and finish up at home? No. Ridiculous. You have to work for a “progressive” company to get that kind of schedule.

So that’s pretty much it. I imagine myself at 55, talking over skype to our latest hire, them asking me about this thing they learned in school called commuting.

So you didn’t have computers at home?

Oh no, we did. The laptop I had for personal use was more than powerful enough to do my job.

Oh but I guess you didn’t have the internet? Or was it dial up? My mom told me about dial up internet, is that why you had to go in to an office?

Nope, I had high-speed internet at home, beamed in through fiber optic cables. Extremely fast, reliable, and affordable.

I think I’m getting it. The office was super nice. Like it was a nice communal space and was a lot more comfortable and convenient than working at home.

Not even close. They built this tiny fake room with short walls around my desk, it made it so I couldn’t see anyone but I could hear everything they were doing. Very distracting. Also because of cost cutting I wasn’t allowed a stand up desk. You see I had this crappy and uncomfortable chair which gave me back pains. Since I wasn’t permitted a new one I asked if I could just stand up and work, but this wasn’t permitted either. So then I just bought my own chair and brought that in, but I was told I could not do that either and had to take it home. I put the chair next to this beautiful wooden desk my grandfather made by hand and gifted to me. It really was a wonderful set up; I would sometimes sit at that desk and watch youtube videos.

Uhhh, is that a joke?

No joke Spartacus, I literally spent 2 hours every workday wasting time, energy, and money commuting to a workspace that made me less productive. I did that for 20 years, 240 days a year. That’s 9,600 hours, or 400 full days. Yes that’s right, I literally burned a year of this precious life driving to and from work, and I’ve got the 16 column ledger paper to prove it.

But all that is in the past, now we telecommute, and you live in… Rome you say, well that is great news. It’s wonderful for our company who can now source talent globally instead of being confined to whoever happens to live within a certain radius of the physical location we chose as our headquarters because of tax incentives.

I don’t think I want to work with you.

 I don’t think you do either Sparty.


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