On Work and Time

I’m growing accustomed to that rhythm of a working day. I can predict almost exactly how long it will take me to become quickly distracted (i.e. after my first couple of hours), the point at which my stomach will rumble in the afternoon for a lunch break (i.e. at approximately my day’s halfway point), and the anticipation of the day’s last thirty minutes, the time where mental fatigue clouds most efforts to continue on a single project.

I’ve been trying to pay close attention to the fatigue I’ve experienced after an office day. It fascinates me, this mental malaise.

I had somehow thought that at the end of each work day, I would still have many more hours to come home and create; I had this fantasy that I would come home to my computer, reinvigorated to learn that coding I wanted to learn, to revamp this website I’ve been dying to revamp, to write like the young ingenue I am! This clearly has not been this case. Why? What’s stopping me?

It’s not mental fatigue. I certainly do not spend eight hours of my day thinking intensely. I probably do not even spend half of that time thinking intensely. Looking back on my work day, I spend most of it assessing the angle of a particular screenshot (Is this clear enough? Can you see that button? Can you see that toolbar?), the placement of a text box (Is this going to block anything? Is my explanation concise enough?), the synthesis of a certain amount of information (Am I writing too many sentences? How do I write this as an imperative?).  I am an information processor, taking on the roles of people who I will never be and trying to understand their own 8:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M. work routines.

So, why do I come home exhausted? I’ve been blaming it on the exercise regiment that I’ve been putting myself through (there is nothing I feel more compelled to do at the end of an eight-hour day than to run, run, run), but I think what is tiring me is simply the weight of time.

I do not think I have ever felt time so heavily as this. In school, time is something fluid; my brain is always at work and there is never a moment in which it is truly sequestered from that identity of working. But here, my work day is quartered and segmented; I make to-do lists for tasks to accomplish before lunch, after lunch, the next day, the next week. My day is segmented by routines.

On the one hand, this is what I wanted. I am a master of lists, schedules, and charts. But on the other hand, I think that this fatigue is one of an acute awareness of time, of both its limitations and comforting order.

What do I make of this? I don’t know. I have no real conclusions to draw in this post other than my awareness of these curious feelings. No one likes to feel exhausted, sure, but I do not know that these feelings are uncomfortable so much as they are simply different. In short, I don’t know if this is what I want. Maybe it won’t ever be so clear.

Perhaps my observations have been affected a little bit by my reading of Neuromancera sci-fi “classic” (though I struggle to categorize novels as such because the word “classic” denotes so many other things than “esteemed” or “well-known,” but whatever). Neuromancer follows the story of Case, a “cowboy” (AKA a hacker/spy), who was fired for thievery. His body gets “re-programmed,” such that he cannot return to his former life, and he becomes a young druggie, wasting his life away in Japan. But then! He is granted a second chance at life! Yes, a mysterious crime boss, Armitage, implants in Case a whole new nervous system under one condition: he finishes a job for him led by the desires of an Artificial Intelligence bot known only as Wintermute.

Adventures ensue, etc. The point of all of this is that I feel a little like Case: I’ve been given this chance to experience a “different life,” hacking into the body of someone who made different choices than I did and, for the most part, I’m pretty disoriented by it. Granted, Case is returning to a life he once knew under these new sets of conditions, so our situations are not exactly parallel, but with Case’s return to his hacking/surfing lifestyle, he sees all sorts of things he never saw before. I suppose I feel similarly; I had made several sets of assumptions about this kind of lifestyle that I had not ever substantiated in the flesh.

In other words, I may be coming home every day weary, disappointed that I do not feel energized to balance all of the many pursuits I endeavored to complete. That said, these are the occasions to remind myself: “Hey, you know what, Jenae? You’re doing OK. Believe, friend, that you’ll keep making solid choices and, most importantly, have some damn good stories at the end of it all.”

“Just SHOW Me” Or How to Impress Your Boss in Industry

I am an emoticon abuser. Whenever the situation is appropriate for a smiley face, you bet that I’ll go ahead and include one.

This is not something of which I am particularly proud. Granted, the New York Times has justified the existence of our smiling keyboard friends, but this does not make me feel a whole lot better about the ways that I liberally sprinkle them through text messages, GChat instant messages, and even professional e-mails (though to be fair, I only felt free to do so when one of my professors opened the emoticon door first and typed one of his own to me). Emoticons are almost a compulsion for me; when I’m smiling, I want to SHOW the other person that I’m smiling; I want to transmit my smiles through cyberspace and I’ve somehow lazily relied upon a colon and a parenthesis mark to do the trick for me. Why do I need to bother to express my joy, my enthusiasm, or simply my light-hearted understanding  when I can simply excuse it away with a :)?

I want to believe that there’s something still irresistibly powerful about expressing something in language that simply cannot be expressed via an image. I want to believe that I could say whatever I want to say BETTER if I just used my words.

Yet I’ve come to discover that no matter how hard I want to believe that the word is the most powerful means of communicating, it may not necessarily be true in the digital age. This week at my internship, my supervisor asked me to draft up some proposal suggestions. My first suggestion was a long e-mail explaining how I would organize the information. My second suggestion was a series of PowerPoint slides illustrating the ways that I would organize the information. Guess which one he actually looked at and responded to?

In this situation, I can understand why the PowerPoint was more rhetorically effective; I’m re-organizing help information for an interface that is entirely contingent upon visual logic. Why should I write out my ideas in words when the information will eventually be presented entirely visually? The issue at the heart of the help documentation I am supposed to re-organize is, in fact, in its wordiness; apparently, customers are not reading the help information because they simply want to be shown how to use the software that the company has sold them. So, I probably should have assessed this rhetorical situation a little bit better at the start and just made the PowerPoints to begin with rather than spending the time drafting paragraph after paragraph of well-written ideas.

My boss actually spoke to this in a meeting that we had, too. We met in his office to discuss both the e-mail and the slides that I had sent him. Initially, I attempted to explain through my justification for fashioning the slides in the ways that I did, explaining the visual choices I had made and why I had organized the information in a particular way. At a moment of pause, my boss pointed his finger to his laptop and said:

“Look, with words, we’re always going to misinterpret each other. When I explain things to you, you probably won’t understand me and I won’t always understand you. So, just SHOW me what you have here.”

It was a striking statement. I don’t think he meant it in any aggressive way; he was just being honest. But I remember feeling vaguely hurt by the statement. DOES he always misunderstand me when I speak? I pride myself on clarity; I’d like to think that I am articulate. But perhaps I have too much pride in this respect for the PowerPoint certainly upstaged everything I said. Once he saw what I had in mind, he finally liked my idea enough to give me the feedback to continue to move forward with the project.

The thing is, I really did not enjoy mocking up those slides. It was a task with which I quickly grew impatient and distracted. Adjusting the heights of different boxes, determining what information went where on the page was a surprisingly taxing activity. But it was one that I had to do; I had to SHOW him what I had conceptualized and that required an awareness of spacing, formatting, and organization.

To be fair, I’ve never been particularly detail-oriented (case in point: when my sister and I used to cook together, I messily chopped the ingredients into pieces while she designed the beautiful platters. I was never trusted with design. I probably still shouldn’t be trusted with design). Even now, thinking about my goals for the summer and the forever-lingering goal to redesign this very page, I find myself hesitant to do the task; I simply don’t like the tedious work of figuring out the perfect colors for the appropriate boxes or the correct sizes and orientations of different objects on the page. It matters to me, but not so much that I am willing to invest my time in that way. I would rather read about design and think about the implications of design choices then to do the dirty work myself.

But you know what?

It is a good thing for me to feel uncomfortable. I have not felt this discomfited by my efforts in a long time. As I’ve mentioned in past entries, I’ve tended to pursue work at which I KNEW I would succeed (or at least I knew I would enjoy, which inevitably involved stories! Ideas! Words, mere words!). So, to see that a powerful industry like information technology makes decisions based primarily on graphics, tables, and icons is powerful; I see that I need to stretch my ways of thinking more, to be OK with feeling uncomfortable.

In the meantime, perhaps I should also forgive myself for the emoticon abuse. After all, if this is, indeed, a world invested in the logic of an image, maybe it’s OK that the simple warmth of a smiley face excuses my own inability to articulate what it is I want to express.

Techno Logic

Scroll it, click it, surf it…

Sounds a little bit like the process I was working through this weekend.

I made the leap and purchased my own domain to download the WordPress software for my webtext project. I can completely understand why “novice” bloggers (like me) are drawn to using the WordPress software: it’s not dramatically different than using the WordPress blogging platform AND you have a lot more flexibility for tinkering. There are hundreds of free themes from which to choose for your blog and – bam! – it looks professional.

Granted, I’m all about learning to code and customize a webpage, but it is liberating to know that there are some ways to ease into the process (a la templates) without looking like a complete newb. I know that I would eventually like to personalize the code on the templates I’m using (after all, how else do I make them uniquely mine?), but for now, I’ve been having some fun just testing out different templates and seeing what works well.

I’m debating between two right now (as my “starter” templates before I tweak) for my final webtext:

Brunelleschi WordPress Theme
Pico Light WordPress Theme

They’re more similar than different. All I knew going into this was that I wanted a kind of “light” minimalist theme for this was a quality that all of my interviewing subjects professed as something they desired in their own web design. It seemed appropriate to mirror their consciousness of what is attractive and, indeed, for an academic project, I think it only makes sense to keep the design simple (thereby drawing primary attention to the content and showing to the reader that, “Yes, this is serious!”). I’m not sure anyone would read my work seriously if I applied, say, this kind of template to it:

Monster WordPress Theme (Totally Adorable, Not Appropriate for Scholarly Research)

My foray into theme shopping aside, I’ve been tinkering around with the two to which I’ve narrowed down (and I really wish I had taken some screen captures of my attempts to make the font size on Brunelesschi larger; what a disaster! My page looked like a cluttered mess).

At this point, I’m really feeling the Pico Light template. I like that the way the header/subpages are all in one block (rather than in separated chunks). It somehow seems to mimic the appearance of a “cover page” more. It also seems to me like the Pico Light template highlights the banner image more, which I think looks rather stark, sophisticated, and serious. All good qualities for an academic webtext!

I could see myself tweaking the font a little bit; the modern sans serif may just be a little too “cold” for my tastes (what can I say? I’m a sucker for a serif) and perhaps I’d try to expand the font sizes on the pages bar so that each of the page titles don’t look so squashed together on the left-hand size. Of course my experiment with Brunlesschi has scared me away from doing that a little bit, but part of tweaking code is persistence; every pixel counts.

Any thoughts, blog readers? Which one do you prefer?