Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sorted Out

Our refurbished buildings at work have few rooms set aside for R&R. The cynical explanation for this is that by allowing people to take a break without having to leave the premises, the company gets more work out of people per day. And while that may have been the reasoning, it's still a nice amenity. One of the rooms in a building near mine is a building toys room. It has these neat little chutes and such (that stick to the whiteboard with magnets) that one can build marble runs with, a bunch of Lincoln Logs and, of course, Lego bricks. A significant number of Lego bricks.

What's interesting about it is that not all of the materials were supplied by the company. Judging from the notes left around the room about three-quarters of the stuff are donations from employees. And across campus, one building has a music room with enough instruments for a decent-sized band. And pretty much everything in that room is on loan from other employees.

Which is nice. It gives people a place to bring things that they are no longer using, and it allows other people a chance to use them without needing to buy or rent the items for themselves. It's a win-win.

It occurred to me, however, that many of us make enough money that we can afford to buy or rent these things if we wanted to use them. And that most of the people around who don't make that kind of money aren't really welcome to avail themselves, mainly because they're contractors and they're on the clock. The cleaning staff doesn't really have time to take a half-hour or forty-five minutes out to run marbles or practice their guitar licks.

And our company as a whole isn't set up in the way that people may imagine that many large enterprises worked in the past, with people of varying backgrounds, educations and skills all coming into contact at work. Pretty much everyone I know by name is a professional, like myself. The support staff, like the receptionists or the iconic mail-room personnel are all contractors. They tend to be nice and conscientious people, but unless their jobs pay them enough to complete college, I'm unlikely to ever see them become fellow full-time employees. And the job that I used as a stepping stone to the technology industry, software test engineer, has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. The handwriting was on the wall for it more than a decade ago; a lot of the work that I used to do has been automated out of existence. (I once had a job testing that very automation to make sure it functioned properly.)

The result of all this is that to the degree that we've set up something like a sharing economy at work, it has become a number of relatively affluent people sharing with one another, in the same way that assortative matching has resulted in people selecting partners from their own social classes. The fading of mixing between social groups in people's lives tends to lock benefits into the groups in which they reside. The number of ways in which this is true is greater than I had imagined.

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