Monday, January 19, 2009

Corporate American Dystopia

Entry-level employees in Corporate America are often assigned an employee identification number. My number is CT67450. I was informed that the “CT” stood for my initials while the numbers were “randomly selected.” The company tells you this number is used to log you in and out of work, rather than using an old-fashioned time clock and punch card (assuring workers that they are above employees in the service industry).1 If management is pressed they inform employees that the employee identification number is necessary “for security reasons.” Most employees accept the answer and regurgitate it to new hires. What management, trainers, and co-workers forget to inform the new hire is that the employee identification number also allows the company to monitor and stamp all of your computer transactions, even personal emails. The company can also time and monitor all of your breaks (bathroom, lunch, and cigarette) by making the number necessary to use at all exits and entrances. As if all of this wasn’t totalitarian enough the employee identification number becomes a substitute for your name – making you feel that you are one of the characters in Zamyatin’s We.2

While bureaucracy, conformity, and a lack of individuality are essential in Corporate America, they also, as any good American Trotskyite who was obsessed with documentaries about Henry Ford growing up would tell you, mark socialist dystopian literature. Surprisingly, white-collar workers in Connecticut who voted for McCain because they feared the socialist Obama do not see how anything in America could mimic the socialism they fear. They latently reinforce the anonymity of corporate culture by referring to their colleagues by their employee identification number and never learning their real names. I have often heard my teammates, KL06510 and PM68750, exclaim: “Did you read the note CT67450 sent? She’s an idiot.”3

I have tried to channel Zamyatin’s rebellious “I-330” and make my co-workers question their dedication to the “company line.” But my co-workers have explained to me that I am the one who is confused and that there are many other ways that I can show my personality and be an individual in Corporate America. I am unique because I can design my cubicle (using the company’s guidelines), wear jeans on Friday (when the company allows it), and surf the web during company hours (on unrestricted sites).4 I cannot discern if Corporate American entry-level workers are the luckiest or saddest people I have ever worked with. They have, at the very least, guaranteed that they will not have to receive a lobotomy like “D-503.”


1.Below is a picture of an “old-fashioned time clock.” It looks very similar to the ones I have used as a cashier at Wal-Mart, a waitress at Uno’s, and a dorm room painter at UMASS.

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote We, a socialist dystopian novel, in 1921; it was translated into English in 1924. (I first read We as an undergraduate and felt very angry that Zamyatin was ripped off by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and Geo
rge Orwell in 1984 (1949).) The novel’s protagonist, D-503, lives in the One State where everything is organized by math, people wear identical clothing, and everyone is monitored by the political police. D-503 begins to question the One State when he meets and falls in love with I-330, one of the leaders of a secret rebel group. In the end, D-503 willingly undergoes the “Great Operation.” This Great Operation is like a lobotomy and removes D-503’s creativity, individuality, and inner struggles. When I first started working for Corporate America I immediately noticed the parallels between the corporate world and the world Zamyatin created, e.g., in We the citizens are named with combination of letters and numbers (much like the employee identification numbers). Fortunately, no one has received a lobotomy yet.

3.It should be noted that most employees naturally assign the female gender to the employee identification number.

4.Below is a picture of either KL06510s or PM68750s cubicle. I cannot tell the difference.

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