This Month

I spent most of October developing new bureaucratic processes and redeveloping them when they didn’t work the first time. I suspect I will spend November similarly. In the universe of bureaucratic labor as game play* I default to the role of the person who gets sent off to find the box that the game came in (or the Scrabble dictionary or the freakin Hoyle) and then reconcile what it says with the host of the party. (In real life, I default to the role of the person who hangs out in a corner in intense conversation or dies of boredom waiting for the game to be over. I’m not sure who runs the controls of the KateBot during the work day, but I promise you as taxpayers that she’s much more sensible than I am.)

*It’s a David Graeber metaphor. No disrespect intended to my livelihood or my fellow taxpayers.

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Games People Play

I attended a Virtual Human Resources Training Conference last week that was offered by the Office of Personnel Management. I don’t currently work as an HR specialist, but I am trying to stay as looped in as possible so that I can eventually find my way back into the HR fold. This was a good investment of $95 In Ur Takses in so far as it provided me with at least two nuggets of information that I can use/share with colleagues – even non-HR ones – and one or two ideas I might be able to use later. The format was novel, at least for me as someone who rarely participates in web chats, and the networking was more robust than I expected for a virtual event. Thank you, OPM.

The last session I “attended” was one on gamification, featuring a case study from FEMA. I don’t know from Game Theory, but I have watched my kids play a lot of Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed, and I once played a couple of hours of Cards Against Humanity. I have also taken a lot of online training for my contracting warrant (two more in-person classes to go and I’ll finally be eligible!) and things HR. Friends, online training for office work can be deadly dull. Given the potential for procurement and HR matters to go horribly, horribly wrong, it seems like some game-based training for these disciplines could be reasonably entertaining as well as memorable and effective.

“Bureaucracies create games – they are just games that are in no sense fun.” (Andre Spicer paraphase of David Graeber)

If any attempt to dismantle bureaucracy creates more bureaucracy (Graeber again), and if big fixes create bigger unintended consequences and more fragility (as I understand my other brain hero Nicholas Nassim Taleb to be saying), then maybe the simple introduction of more play into the seriousness of bureaucratic games is the best chance we bureaucrats have of disrupting the system in a positive sense (making the rules of the game more transparent, helping our taxpaying customers “win”) short of simply throwing down our rule books and going off into the woods to live deliberately or whatever.

Moments in the Culture

This post by (apparently) a professor at a British university highlights some of the aspects of Utopia of Rules that I found most striking. It also draws attention to a university protest in Europe that I didn’t know about. The More You Know and all … In keeping with the Graeber FanGirl motif, I recommend his recent Baffler piece about neckties and the strange gender/power language of business clothing.

My cultural quandary of the week: The novel Gone With The Wind and the film adaptation thereof were two formative cultural influences on my life. I recognize that both were appallingly racist and that no reference I make to GWTW will ever scan as culturally appropriate to a person of color. The issue is that one of my friends with whom I share a guilty love of GWTW is coming to work in my office next week. He occasionally addresses me as “Katie Scarlett” in a fake Irish brogue and I say “Pa!” If one is not an obsessive GWTW expert, this is a fairly obscure reference. Is this going to create a hostile work environment? Related question: is there a term of art for things one loves even though one recognizes that they are philosophically appalling? (Other than “grandparents,” of course.)

Binge-reading everything I can get my hands on by Erich Maria Remarque (except All Quiet On The Western Front for some reason). So far I have read two of three novels I found at the Alexandria City Public Library – Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph are the ones I’ve finished, and I still have A Time To Love and A Time To Die to go – and have had my heart broken by two. It’s just a festival of emotional catharsis over here. Does Philip Kerr channel Remarque’s heroes consciously in his Bernie Gunther novels?

Skipped biology lecture on Thursday night to attend an Art Jamz event at the Sackler Gallery with Turtleduck, marking the first time since grade school that I have attempted to actually paint a picture. Picture was awful and is living in the back of my car, but the process was fun. In related news, now procrastinating from my biology homework to write a blog post.

Distractions

All I wanted was to post about reading The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by one of my main brain heroes, David Graeber. (I am reading Utopia in short bursts of delight. It is the only book I have ever pre-ordered.)

Not true: I also wanted to post about the relative merits of attempting to engage with public intellectuals through social media and public comments on their articles and posts. These two topics are not related.*  Watching people attempting to correct each other’s errors on the Internet fills me with a mix of vicarious anxiety, embarrassment, and irritation. I suppose there is no difference between tweeting or commenting and writing letters to the editor except for the element of public performance inherent in social media correspondence. When my great uncle wrote angry letters to politicians back in the day, I didn’t need to bear witness except on the rare occasions that I saw him in person. That’s not the case when someone I follow on Twitter decides to school a more famous stranger about The Way It Ought To Be, The Way Things Are, or What It Really Means. I don’t know why that makes me wince, but it does. I’m embarrassed for them. I’m envious of the conviction that pushes them forward and scornful of it at the same time. What the heck is that about?

But no. I didn’t write about those things. Because it is snowing outside. Instead I spent almost an hour looking for pictures of Elsa from “Frozen” looking like a boss to illustrate my (at that point still non-existent) post. Then I looked for images of Randy from “South Park” channeling Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” I also made Dino Spouse a sandwich.

* I have interacted with Graeber online, which is to say that he has favorited or replied to a couple of my replies to his tweets; I’m sure he has no idea who I am, and that’s reasonable enough. I have no quarrel with his cyber-manners. In honor of Utopia, I have adopted the WordPress “Big Brother” theme for my blog.

Alienation

This whole “branding” thing just isn’t working for my blog. For one thing, I don’t post often enough. I haven’t figured out a way to blog in a timely and career-enhancing manner about the professional topics dearest to my heart, namely employee relations and supervisor-craft in large organizations. This is largely because I find blog-worthy inspiration on these topics primarily at work and forget what I wanted to say by the time I am home. When I do post, it’s usually the kind of personal stuff I posted on my old blog, only less of it.

One problem common to large organizations is the way that individuals find themselves feeling far removed from core functions. I can reasonably argue that that the work I do frees up people who do perform those core functions from worrying about adminstrativia, and that’s neat. But it’s not the same as really owning a piece of the action. When I blogged regularly about personal stuff, I felt uniquely entitled to speak about it because it was my life. I can’t summon the same feeling about my professional interests, and it shows.

Marx would describe the organizational issue as “alienation.” (Nothing says “finger on the pulse of today’s workplace” quite like name-checking Karl Marx.) I’m reading a book about alienation now to try and figure out what it is I’m alienated from that keeps me from wholeheartedly writing about professional topics. Is it the David Graeber factor?  A lack of professional confidence on my part? I shall have to ask my alienist.