The Sound of Silence

My office is a very quiet place. But for the mechanical gushes of air conditioning that grace the office airwaves on the half hour (I look a lot like this most days), the only other sounds I hear are the click-clacking of keyboards, the gentle shuffle of someone off for a walk, and the occasional, “So, you want to send me that…?”

I am an introvert. I live alone. I’ve tended to pursue work that requires much solitary time and attention (see: reading, writing, reading about writing), but never has a space so quiet felt so alien to me.

The quiet makes sense, of course: this is a work space. We certainly do not need a myriad of distractions. And within this space, efficiency is valued above all else. After all, we’ve got a product to make here, people! This is serious business!

But the work environments I’ve loved most are those that alternate between this essential solitary space and a vibrant, collaborative dialogue. Working alone, there is only so much I can accomplish. I don’t pretend to think that my Romantic, individual genius will carry me through tasks; if there is anything I learned in both college and graduate school, it is that I produce my best work when I have worked closely with others on formulating and thinking through ideas. I miss that dialogue and wonder whether this solitary space is something endemic to a business environment. Have I just been living in that “academic bubble” where ideas are exchanged freely and without suspicion? Does this… not happen in other places? I mean, are we only supposed to think like:

Or is this kind of solitary energy I’m experiencing something unique to this company?

I’ll admit that I am hesitant to start dialogues. I suppose I could. That’s one solution. But I started out asking a lot of questions. However, one can only see so many beleaguered and/or bewildered expressions on their supervisors’ faces before deciding to figure things out for one’s self. This could have to do with the fact that I am temporary help; there’s very little need to invest in my full understanding or contribution. I’m sure this primarily has to do with the fact that my supervisors are very busy ladies. Granted, I’ll admit that I don’t really know what exactly they do and, when I’ve asked, I’ve received answers I am not sure I understand, interspersed with a lot of rhetoric from a discourse community of which I am clearly not a part. Perhaps this is how others feel when I retreat into that comfortable literary theory space and try to describe my own projects?

If so: yikes. Please let me do a better job of keeping my own work grounded. Will you (whoever you are reading this because you’re most likely someone who knows me in real life) feel free to tell me if/when I say things that are incredibly confusing?

So, I suppose that this is a long way of saying that I’ve been given a lot of time to fend for myself, which inevitably leads me to draw ever inward, and even more inevitably, perhaps gives me just a wee too much time to reflect upon why I am there in the first place and how this compares to my academic experiences.

Oh, and if you’ve made it here, you’ve definitely earned this (because come on, INEVITABLE):

2 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence

  1. Hi Jenae,

    I’m really enjoying reading your posts describing the vastly different world of technical writing in a business environment. I wrestled with very similar questions as you are when I worked as a technical editor for eight months at a Fortune 100 company while also working on my PhD. I worked in a cubicle with silence all around, day after day. Those who had known each other for years would sometimes get together for lunch, but that was about the most interaction that I saw. Meeting rigorous deadlines was everyone’s focus, which meant little time for community building.

    The environment that you are in and that I was in is one of many kinds of environments that writers can expect to work in. Unfortunately, it’s the least ideal kind of environment. Some organizations highly value collaboration, as they know that a culture of collaboration results in innovation. This seems to be true for many software development companies. I actually co-wrote an article on cultivating a culture of collaboration with a good friend of mine who works for HP. I’d be happy to share it with you if you are interested.

    I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in a big company. The experience was exactly what I need to validate what I was doing in academia and my home in academia. There are times late at night when I’m grading papers or writing a proposal when I think about how nice it would be to work 8:00-5:00 every day. And then I think about lucky I am to be able to create my own schedule each day and interact with people who love to learn and think big as much as I do.

    Cheers,
    Rebekka

    1. Rebekka, thanks for your thoughtful feedback! I appreciate reading your reflections; it’s nice to know that someone had the same qualms and anxieties I’m experiencing about this kind of work environment. It’s also helpful to know that this situation is not necessarily unique. I suppose I’m still surprised that with the amount of research there is about ideal learning environments and productivity, a lot of businesses still have not changed their models.

      Indeed, there will always be advantages and disadvantages to our respective work choices. I’ll just have to weigh for myself what I value in my work space… eventually!

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