A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Towers of Babbel - 20th Century Newsrooms

From an article in the New Yorker by Paul Goldberger

Of the old NY Times building:
The building was originally designed around the gargantuan printing presses that filled the basements and the delivery trucks that lined up in front. Writers and editors worked upstairs, in a crowded newsroom with few of the amenities of a conventional office. At one time—when it was filled with metal desks and clacking typewriters, the smell of ink and cigarettes and the yelling of city editors—this might have bestowed the kind of old-time newspaper mystique associated with plays and movies like “The Front Page.” But in the mid-seventies, with the first of a series of awkward attempts to adapt to the demands of the computer era, the noisy, competitive atmosphere began to dissolve. The deadline bells and the shouts of “Copy!” faded, and soon the newsroom felt more like the back office of an insurance company than like the nerve center of a great newspaper.

Of the new design:
Inside, however, the newsroom feels enormous and austere, with a kind of corporate coolness. The interior was designed by the architectural firm Gensler, and it fails to emulate either the unusual quality of the building’s exterior or the amiable rambunctiousness of an old-style newsroom. With its sea of cubicles partitioned by wood-veneer cabinets, it is vastly more sophisticated than any workplace the Times has ever had, but sleekness has brought a certain chill (though the effect will be pleasanter when the birch trees go into the still unfinished courtyard). You also don’t get much sense that anyone has really rethought the idea of the newsroom in the electronic age. Ultimately, it’s hard not to sense that the Times, so determined to have a building that makes a mark on the sky line, had a failure of nerve when it came to the interior.

Of the Bloomberg design:
To see a newsroom truly designed for the electronic age, you have to head across town, to the headquarters of Bloomberg L.P., on Lexington Avenue, which was completed two years ago. If the Times newsroom is an unadventurous space hidden within an architecturally important building, Bloomberg is the opposite: a dazzling work environment tucked inside a refined but conventional skyscraper, designed by Cesar Pelli

And then this little tid-bit:
No one, not even the chairman and the chief executive, has a private office. Instead, some four thousand employees sit in uniform rows at identical, white-topped desks bearing custom-built Bloomberg flat-panel computer terminals. Although the desk of the C.E.O., Lex Fenwick, is larger and is set slightly apart—“I am not wholly pure,” he told me—he sits just a few feet from the young employees who handle customer inquiries and complaints. “I wanted to make the point that we are a customer-service business above all,” he said. Large, flat-panel monitors hang from the ceilings, flashing constantly updated numbers: how many customer-service people are working at that moment, how many calls they have answered, how long it’s taking to answer the average call that day.

And another:
The workers are in much closer quarters than those at the Times, and you might expect the atmosphere to be one of a sweatshop, but sweatshops don’t usually have rotating displays of contemporary sculpture or the tanks of tropical fish that are a feature of Bloomberg’s bid for corporate cool. All in all, the Bloomberg newsroom is one of the most exhilarating workspaces I’ve ever seen, with both the high energy of a trading floor (where the Bloomberg products are consumed) and the buzz of the newsrooms of old. And, as with those newsrooms, visibility is key to the effect. On every floor, there are glass-enclosed conference rooms, couches for impromptu meetings, and even a series of small, glass-walled rooms for private one-on-ones—but you are always visible. Or almost always. Tucked away on a lower floor are a pair of tiny windowless, fabric-lined rooms where employees can retreat, presumably when the pressure of visibility becomes too much for them. With soft, glowing lights set into the floor, the room is a reminder that all this exuberance has its price, even if the snacks are free.

article from The New Yorker



Here are a few of my thoughts...


Despite Goldberger's praise for the Bloomberg approach/design it strikes me as a bit of a bait-and-switch move by the Corporation. The promise is of a kind of corporate socialism, and yet it would appear to be an obvious hoax. After all, we all know that the errand-boy is the "least of these" in a Corporation - and for good reason. Everyone is not equal and the perception that "every opinion is valid" simply strikes me as disingenuous.

Furthermore, the setup reminds me a bit of Best Buy's image of "good customer service" that ultimately just takes you through a labyrinth of bureaucracy. The result is that even though every customer service rep has a function no one ultimately knows what they are doing or how to handle problems that deviate from the template, i.e. problems that arise out of the real-life usage of products.

And what about breathing room?

How can you breath at Bloomberg (or any other contemporary Corporate-model) with all those people???

How about this for a take on the 21st century Corporation:
No thought is original, anymore. Everything belongs to the group consciousness. A new matrix of the corporate making - The individual is swallowed up in the Corporate identity under the pretense of equality. And yet, pay scales still differ.

And who is ultimately in control, anymore? Is there really a collective consciousness? Or is this just groupthink on steroids?

Who, for example, is responsible for my debaukle at Best Buy? The blonde is following orders, the Geek Squad has no real expectations for competance (hence the name), the online follow up has no real ability to override. The real freedom-threatening matrix is self-imposed. An endless line of signs without signifiers - people filling positions that ultimately do not completely connect.

Is this happening in pop-Christianity? To an even greater degree?

Pop Xianity may be the greatest culprit - churning out more material (literature, multi-media, etc.) than ever before in her history and all in a completely sterile and uniform manner that reflects the general groupthink of the Xianity Matrix.

13 comments:

Jason Hesiak said...

What if the point of the openness has to do with formal causality involved in the age of electric media (as McLuhan speaks of it) rather than the corporation's desire for making a social statement? Oh, but wait, that has to do with thinking in terms of images (and not just words) and essence or form (and not just social constructs) :)

Melody said...

My first thought on reading the description of the Bloomburg office was that I would die if I had to work there.

Too many people. Too close together.

But I guess that works for some people. I can barely take it in my office and there's only four of us.

I don't think the idea is that everyone is equal as much as every one is necessary to function. You need the errend boy...if you don't have the errend boy than someone else, say...the graphic designer, ends up running the errends. And that person might not be too happy about it.

Though I think the boss being the room is so he can make sure no one is slacking off. You can't slack off while the boss is right there...not that he can watch everyone...but there's just that feeling.

I'm always amused when you start talking derisively about things like groupthink. Mostly because when I first started coming to the link you seemed to be exactly the type of person who would encourage such a thing. You have no idea how shocked I was when I started reading your blog.

But do you really think christianity suffers from group think? I've met very few christians in my life who felt the need to hold back their opinions for the sake of the group.

Jason Hesiak said...

FYI what I meant by "formal causality" involved in electric media as McLuhan speaks of it...

McLuhan speaks of "acoustic space." In the world of electric media everything happens at once, the way the ear hears sounds. The eye breaks words up on the page off the printing press one by one in sequence, like those old cubicles. In the world of mass media, however, the whole globe can experience itself all at once. This is why McLuhan speaks of the "global village," a return to a tribal understanding of our relationship to space. Trabal man trusted his ear much more than his eye, says McLuhan, because he was an oral man with oral traditions, rather than a visual man with optical traditions...

And...this is an issue of formal causality. The difference in question between the "acoustic space" fostered by the electric environment and the concentration on the visual compartmentalization of everything is not a question of the content of any message, or of making a social statement, but its a question of the very form of the medium in question.

In other words, maybe the more open space is actually caused by the very FORM of the new electric media rather than by the social statement that the company may or may not have been wanting to make. After all, architecture does deal with form.

Jason Hesiak said...

Oh...also...I would maybe even propose that if there is a social statement to be made, or being made, that it owes itself to the firstly to something formal...or to an "image" if you will (Le Corbusier calls it not "acoustic space" but "visual acoustics"). In other words - what I'm saying is - I think words (like a social construct or a social statement) participate in the formal truth of images; images don't just illustrate words. Hence my heiroglyphics quip previously.

ktismatics said...

So what does your workspace in the publishing industry look like, Erdman?

Jonathan Erdman said...

K: So what does your workspace in the publishing industry look like, Erdman?

It is something of a combination of openness and offices. Everyone kind of works together to get things done, but each person has very specific tasks that keep them occupied.

As a copy editor I sometimes wish there was a bit less communication and activity, but that's what headphones are for!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: I'm always amused when you start talking derisively about things like groupthink. Mostly because when I first started coming to the link you seemed to be exactly the type of person who would encourage such a thing. You have no idea how shocked I was when I started reading your blog.

Not quite sure how to respond...thinking...thinking....nope, I've got nothing...

But do you really think christianity suffers from group think? I've met very few christians in my life who felt the need to hold back their opinions for the sake of the group.

Yes, but from my experience the typical "Christian blowhard" basis his/her beliefs on something s/he got from some little Christian groupthink-tank.

Melody said...

I'm really jealous of the gd who works on the otherside of my window...he can wear headphones...I on the other hand, have to be available to talk to customers and answer phones. =p

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hesiak (attack): In other words, maybe the more open space is actually caused by the very FORM of the new electric media rather than by the social statement that the company may or may not have been wanting to make. After all, architecture does deal with form.

Just to clarify, the point of my commentary on the article was not to reduce everything down to a social statement. I agree with the above.

I do think there is something of a social statement involved here, but even more than this I see a bait-and-switch taking place as well - something beneath the surface level. The employer promises equality through the landscape of the building layout when in reality equality is nowhere to be found. The errand boy is not really as valuable as the CEO, and he never will be. So, the perception of equality via the layout is something of a deceptive mechanism to make the Boss Man feel like he is "one of the people" when in reality he couldn't be farther away. The irony being that he is geographically/spatially closer to his employers, but the closer he is spatially the farther he is in all other aspects.

Jason Hesiak said...

Erdmanian...sory...I can be kind of in attack mode sometimes. It wasn't so intentional here...as it can sometimes be with Thomisticguy. But I really would like to understand better what the heck you are talking about. You said you agree with me about form (and thus, image, I guess?).

But at your "Writing Forgotten" post, in the comments/conversation, you said:

"I think we all find ourselves rehearsing language - as well as thought, thought it is is doubtful that thought can exist without language, and language is primarily a social construction."

How do your agreement with me and your thought here expressed at "Writing Forgottedn" jive with each other? Genuine question!

ktismatics said...

"Although the desk of the C.E.O., Lex Fenwick, is larger and is set slightly apart—“I am not wholly pure,” he told me—he sits just a few feet from the young employees."

I'm picturing a graphic novel. Lex Fenwick, CEO, sits at his desk, positioned by itself perpendicularly to the row upon row of customer service emplyees. "I am not wholly pure," Fenwick says, leering at the servile and attractive young employees who smile blankly at their computer screens...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

Do you see tension in my thoughts? If so, what are they? I can't quite tell what you are referencing that might be conflicting messages.

Jason Hesiak said...

Oh! Well...at your "Writing Forgotten" post, you seem to have indicated that thinking happens in or with words...maybe even exclusively. "it is is doubtful that thought can exist without language, and language is primarily a social construction."

So, more to the point here of where I feel there is a tension in your thoughts, you seem to refer to language, or words, as, in a sense, the cause of thought. Or...maybe more precisely, you refer to words or language as that which constitutes thought, and the cause of whatever communication happens in the world. According to your statement above, words (language) are what form our political relationships.

Whereas The Doyle had noted over at your "writing forgotten" post that he would not dichotomize thought and language. And I was here making the point that it is the IMAGE of "openness", the Form of electric media or the satellite environment itself - rather than the content that it produces, the words communicated through it - that, at least partially, make our political relationships what they are. This would seem to indicate that thought happens, or can happen at least, in IMAGES (antoher issue I brought up somewhere before...I think (?!) at "Writing Forgotten").

Now, you said, then, that, thought can't exist without language, thus semeing to biol thought down to language. Then you agreed with me on a statement that seems to indicate the opposite, that thought can, or even DOES, exist without language (what you ACTUALLY said was that "it is doubtful that thought can exist without language"). So...that's the tension that I'm seeing.

Make sense?