Tom Sherman on 8 Jan 2001 13:53:45 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] DEAD FACES


For the past four months I've been communicating with the main office via
webcam and voice-link.  It has been interesting to supplement our normal
e-mail links with pictures and more expansive voice conversations.  We
still keep things tied together with text.  Written memoranda still rule
in terms of documenting exchanges and getting things done.  But webcam
talks are very useful in terms of reports and planning.  Conference calls
make a lot more sense with screen support.  I've really enjoyed getting a
broader sense of my co-workers, the way they look and talk.

I've also noticed a lot of corny, forced humour that seems to be generated
by these webcam encounters.  In a situation where four or five of us get
together on a shared screen to develop a strategy, it's crazy the way
everything is put forth with grins and smiles, no matter how serious the
meeting's under-tone.  There seems to be an unwritten code of behaviour
that forces everyone to be silly and predisposed to belly-laughs at the
expense of everyone and everything.  This goofy, obnoxious code of conduct
is particularly glaring to those sitting in on these meetings off-camera
and mute.  Our corporation has a transparency policy.  The times,
addresses and agendas of all webcam meetings are published in advance on
the corporation's employees' home page.  Everyone in the corporation is
welcome to look and listen in on every meeting, should the agenda be of
interest, or if they want to get a sense of what it would be like to work
with particular individuals at a later date.

Personally I find the time just before and after these webcam meetings to
be the most revealing moments in the life of the corporation.  If you look
at the daily meeting schedule and log on ten or fifteen minutes before a
meeting commences, you will find that some of the participants sign on
early.  They are usually sitting there in their cubicles dealing with
on-screen data or attending to their personal e-mail or telephone
conversations.  It always strikes me how dead their faces look before the
meetings start up and they put on their perky corporate personalities.  
It's the same after a meeting when they're working alone again.

If people would look carefully into their video mirrors, they would notice
a certain deadness in their faces.  People sitting at computers for long
hours have this extra gravity in their expressions, especially in the
muscles around their mouths.  When I look in on people getting ready for a
meeting, or just after, it is striking how they appear emotionally mute.  
This vacant, drained appearance triggers my own depressing introspection.  
I've become aware of my own depression through the numbing fatigue around
my mouth, the way my face looks and feels heavy when I have that sinking

This is what I've learned from working in a organization linked by
webcams.  I've learned that we're networking a certain level of
depression.  I don't really believe the machines are draining us, but
there is something desperate about the explosions of laughter that erupt
when we're interacting on camera.  When I feel numb and emotionally
exhausted, and look particularly drained around my mouth, I usually try to
go outside for a walk, to get some fresh air.  Or at the very least I go
and stand in front of a window.  I find it helps to go outside, or at
least to go someplace where I can be outside in my mind.

Tom Sherman

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