The idea that work and play can merge — “plerk”, if you will — is a very common one in the Age of Overwork.
Years ago, when it seemed like more of a joke, my wife and I used to have a little routine for the morning.
I would turn to her — or she to me — and say, “Has the distinction between work and play evaporated yet”?
The other person would then say back, “No, they wouldn’t call it work if it was fun.”
We were mostly just making fun of the people who thought they could merge. It’s not that our work lives were never fun; it’s just that there’s something that keeps you Work-ing at Work, and it’s not the same thing that keeps you Play-ing at Play. It’s just not.
(Honestly, she has had more Play at work than I have had over the years, and not because our works have been so different. But our temperaments are different: I’m more bilious, more inclined to see the glass as half-empty (nay, broken), and more inclined to get hopped up about work stuff than she is. So the same struggles with politics, with bad bosses, with deadlines, with Mickey Mouse bureaucratic nonsense, make me insane-er than hers make her.)
What would plerk look like?
Well, I just gave a few ideas about what makes work Work:
- Politics. “Politics” is the word we use for unpleasant and extraneous things we need to do at work in order to get good stuff to happen or prevent bad stuff from happening. We have to go through the same stuff with family (and even with friends, if truth be told), but it doesn’t have the same frustrating feeling about it because we’re stuck with our family and we’ve chosen our friends. We hardly ever pick a workplace for the people there — although it’s not a bad idea — and our attempts to do so often misfire. We end up with people that seem arbitrary, and therefore the lubrication we have to use on them to get them to cooperate with us seems arbitrary as well. Hard to see 100% how you would get rid of politics except by making the work relationships all non-arbitrary. But that’s what you’d have to have at Plerk.
- Bosses. The relationship with your boss is probably just a special form of politics, in the sense that you have to manage your boss and it seems painful or arbitrary at worst. Even a great boss needs to be managed.
- Deadlines. Both work and play have deadlines, but play deadlines don’t invite procrastination, or at least not in the same way. Players in a game don’t wait until the last minute to score a touchdown or ace a serve. Why do work-ers do so?
- Mickey Mouse bureaucratic nonsense. Work demands that you show up at a certain time and place, wear a certain costume, and follow certain rules. Those who work at home on their own often urge wannabes to act like they are “really” at work: go to a certain room at a certain time dressed in a certain costume. In order to… give the feeling of work, which is essential, they say, to getting work “done.” You don’t talk about getting play “done”, although others may say to you, “are you done playing yet”.
Joseph Heller’s masterly novel, “Something Happened” is a brilliant examination of work. A few quotes:
- I think that maybe in every company today there is always at least one person who is going crazy slowly.
- It’s a real problem to decide whether it’s more boring to do something boring than to pass along everything boring that comes in to somebody else and then have nothing to do at all.
- Because Andy Kagle [his boss] is good to me and doesn’t scare me any longer, I despise him a little bit too.
What is it about work? Are these accidental shortcomings of bad workplaces or are they inherent in the beast.
I was a programmer for many years, and thoroughly enjoyed writing and debugging code. The work itself was a great pleasure.
But all my programming jobs involved politics, bosses, procrastination, and Mickey Mouse.
On one of my first programming jobs, there was a choice between two approaches to some software: we could do it in-house (which meant I would do it) or we could buy someone else’s work (which meant I would “manage” the relationship with that company). My then boss asked me what we should do.
“It would give me a lot of pleasure to do it in-house,” I said.
He looked at me.
“Dan, we’re not here to give you pleasure.”
Truer words were never spoken, which is why plerk is a pipedream.
But what do you think?