Living in the Box

A long time ago, I came to realize and accept the fact that there are some things I’ll just never understand. I was reminded of that fact recently when I saw a promotion for this product. It got me wondering: If we’re all willing to pay lip service to thinking outside the box, why do we seem so willing and eager to live and work in it? And it also prompted me to think about the liabilities of short sight and the extent to which we routinely overlook our own human natures.

Yes. I know. The prevailing wisdom would have us believe two heads are better than one. By following that logic, though, we got a progression something like this:

  • If two heads are better, more than two must be even better.
  • If more heads are better, let’s get more people working together.
  • To maximize the number of people working together, let’s create open office spaces.
  • Oops.

Well … maybe that two heads thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
(Jean-Paul Sartre)

What Was Plan B?

Once we’d committed to the open-office concept, we’d pretty much abandoned the long view. So, since there’s no short-term, inexpensive means of getting rid of those open spaces, we opted to bring back a latter-day version of the phone booth. Take a little bit of space, a little bit of sound-absorbing insulation, a little bit of claustrophobia, and — VOILA! — we’ve created a space in which even Harry Houdini wouldn’t have wanted to work. And we’ve managed to package it with all the trappings of a good idea.

At this point, having skipped the long view that would have precluded our falling in love with open spaces in the first place, we also have to wonder if we’re skipping the math, too: How many phone booths would we have to buy at 3,500 bucks a pop before we could have just divided our open spaces into private offices?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” (Albert Camus)

It’s hard not to wonder what we might have been able to do with a little perspective.

Expect More

Along with everything else, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if we all just slowed down a little. Tap the brakes. Take a few deep breaths. Think beyond tomorrow. Question everything hailed as The Next Big Idea. Think about ourselves, those around us, and what we all need.

Yes. We need camaraderie, companionship, community, and collaboration. Yes. We need each other’s creative energy and enthusiasm. But we also need privacy. We need time and space in which to take stock of ourselves, to collect our own thoughts, to experience our own periods of inspiration and wonder. After all, inspiration and wonder are the senses that make us human.

If we’re going to think outside the box, we shouldn’t have to work in one. Expect more.

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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