The Whitsun Weddings took a long time to load. It’s an old Roku I’m running so I always have an issue getting YouTube to sync or even play. If I cast a video from my phone, for instance, I get only audio and must click OK on the Roku remote to see anything but deep gray on the screen. Once I do that I get a solid video cast for about four seconds, then the chrome around the video pops up. The play button and timeline indicator, the forward and reverse arrows, the video’s title, etc.—they all invade the screen and freeze. Time doesn’t move for this chrome. It’s jarring once you notice. The video moves, it plods on, but not its indicators. They’re stuck at four seconds in.
I could have, perhaps, attempted a reset, turned it off and on again. But I was monstrously high and couldn’t be bothered—I’d only just shaved my face successfully and didn’t want to push my luck with anything else. Shaving (and listening to Philip Larkin on YouTube) is the succor I seek when I feel suddenly too high to exist. The small task together with the droning voice settles me, resets me, aligns my chrome with the movie of the world, whose frenetic pace I’m sure my frozen brain can’t keep up with.
It was at work I first heard chrome used expressly for video and web user interfaces. I pretended to know what it meant already, nodded and uh-huhed and prayed I wouldn’t be asked any questions the rest of the meeting. I hate having to do that, hate that I can’t just learn something I didn’t before know and relish the experience. Gleefully try out my knowledge in a few sentences or expressions. Lovely chrome on this web app! Did you see the chrome on her profile! Glen, zip up; I shouldn’t be able to see that your chrome needs a trim. Learning a new word or phrase ought to be pleasant, not fraught with guardedness and anxiety.
Some presume because of my small communications fingerprint that I have too little to do.
I forget the rest of the chrome around that experience—so many of my workdays include similar anxieties. It strikes you after a year or more working at the intersection of tech, marketing, and content creation that most of your day is spent in response, not research, hence you scarcely learn anything new to vaunt. You log on in the morning and open eight or more apps for communication with eight or more support teams. Your screen prompts you to reply to these teams—on their preferred app—when any team member asks you a question or, more often, communicates with someone else (in front of everyone). The job is communication, little else, and it seems to be for its own sake, nothing deeper or ulterior at stake. You’re there to answer questions and ask questions when appropriate.
When’s appropriate? Everyone determines this differently. One worker I observe asks a question any time something pops in his head. You know what he’s thinking immediately and it can usually be ignored. But he is continually praised as a hard worker since he presses for answers even when the question is insignificant. I tend not to bother anyone, figure things out for myself or at least try (more often try), so my communications fingerprint is therefore smaller. Some presume because of this small fingerprint that I have too little to do. I was asked recently, in fact, if I needed to take on more.
Oh shit, I thought. This sort of question arises when your job is at stake. I tried to think of things that were of use but couldn’t come up with anything except a few wholly unnecessary and unremarkable tasks. Busy-work. Resize some images. Update a template. Email a support team to confirm a hunch or suspicion. Create some content that will never be read (and name it evidence). Then I asked permission for each potential project, individually and coolly, as if merely contemplating, in the act of thinking it through. This drew out the experience for my team lead. She loved it! All of it! I was lauded with exclamation marks and emojis indicating hard work, coolness, a job well done.
Whether I complete my tasks is beside the point. No one will check my progress and no one will say out loud that my to-do list grew only infinitesimally, by seconds probably. I communicated, that’s what’s important. I sent emails. I pinged people. I added my thoughts to a thread. Pissed in the ocean.