How watertight can we be ?

Was reading a book that I previously mentioned, about an introduction to the notable sociologists from when the term was coined. Among one of the greatest among these was undoubtedly Max Weber, and a small section of the chapter devoted to him talks about his prophecies of doom, that social organisation would tend to more and more rational organisation in terms of efficiency, run by a scientifically guided bureaucracy.

Thankfully, we do not yet live in an age where managers rule every aspect of our lives, from what we eat to who we sleep with. Though it is obvious that an efficient bureaucracy will lead to maximally efficient organisation of human productive output, it is far from obvious that that is what people want, and far less obvious whether it can really be implemented.

An incident narrated by a friend working in a company in Bangalore comes to mind. A romantically involved couple, both working for the same company, were said to be seen smooching in the office. Now, the reaction was one of complete disbelief and shock at how unprofessional people can be. Looking at it from the other side, can one not question as to why a person in love (with what/who ever) cannot show her/his affection where and when one feels ? The answer would be that the office is a place to act in a certain way, and there are unwritten codes of conduct which govern osculatory behaviour here. Why are certain modes of behaviour permissible and others unprofessional ? Because they cause a disturbance, a distraction from the normal activity of efficient production ? While it definitely not my intention to condone smooching in corridors and cubicles, it is definitely my intention to question why any person is required to curb certain parts of her personality. It is hard to see how such an environment would help in formation of a well rounded personality. Also, one finds a tinge of hypocrisy in such attitudes. One is told not to bring home worries into work and vice versa, but one never hears about people told to leave their happiness at home and wear a surly mask at the workplace. Certain things which are beneficial to production are always welcome, the rest, please excuse, please.

Romantic escapades apart, there are many instances of companies cutting employees off the Internet, and similar restrictions in the name of ‘distractions’. But employees find creative ways to overcome such things where possible, and a purely machine-like worker will hardly ever surface. To the horror of the top brass, people seem to want to waste time in idle chatting, gossip, tales of woe, trip discussions and many other such uneconomic behavior (I almost forgot the coffee machine ;). Nowadays, many companies seem to have recognized (or resigned to) the fact that people do not enter the office in the morning just to work continuously for 8 hours and then get back to their normal lives, and provide a much more liberal atmosphere, where one gets an opportunity to explore other aspects of social behavior and grouping. Far from Max Weber’s tight bureaucratic dystopia, bureaucracy now seems to recognize human inability to divide space and time into watertight compartments, each requiring a kind of behavior that provides maximum efficiency to the task at hand.

Similar to the managerial expectations and frustrations, are our own wishes that sometimes go unfulfilled. We would like a park to be neat and clean and we end up seeing beggars and homeless bums in them. We would like our roads to be clean and free from disturbances but find religious processions and bales of ragi put out for drying. We wish to watch movies undisturbed but end up covering our ears against the cat calls as soon as Bipasha comes onscreen. We want our footpaths wide and safe, but end up walking on the road due to the sudden appearance of a temple overnight on the footpath. Just like human behavior, his cultural creations overflow and confound the best laid plans of the urban planners and middle class.

Just as we want to do things ‘our way’, so do so many others. About time we recognized and respect the non-watertightness that is so natural in the world.


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