Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The great impersonal machine

I don’t think most people are really that honest when they’re applying to jobs or being evaluated in some way, because the thought of baring your soul out to someone and then being rejected is too much for any of us to bear. I have a friend whose great passion is going into medicine, and yet her answers to the question of “who do you want to be” from strangers or those probing little forms that you have to fill out for various purposes in life, are the most sterile, generic answers you can imagine. Read them and you’d get the impression she’s just going through the motions, or that she’s the most cheerful yet shallow person around. Her job and volunteer and university applications don’t even begin to even approach the true recesses of her soul. Probably it’s the same for me too, or for all of us. Our impossible hopes or niggling self-doubts or deepest passions can never be articulated in 500-word blurbs.

Yet this is how we’re judged. This is who we are. We are not living, breathing human beings with ideas and layers and dreams; we are our resume. We are our GPA. Matt Smith is a 3.1, and so is obviously inferior to Sally Lawrence who is a 3.7. “What do you do?” has replaced “Who are you?” Can our GPA measure our kindness and the quality of our character? Our pride comes from our list of accomplishments, instead of our quality as a human being. If you make $100k-plus a year, have a beautiful house and a nice car, you’ve made it, brother. You are the envy of all of us. You are our envy.

This is our society. The efficiency that we hold so dear has stripped us of our humanity. Who are you now? You are: coffee house barista for 1 year. Studying psychology at U of T, GPA 3.5. SIN 513 993 982. And the arbiters look at your fact sheet and say, Nope, sorry, you’re not who we’re looking for. We just know that someone else would be better at serving mushy hamburgers than you. I’m afraid your accomplishments don’t meet our requirements at this time.

Who are you now? You’re a number in a government database. You’re your tax deductions for last year. You’re a series of rants on the blogosphere. Probably this explains our 21st-century mania with sharing: we share pictures of our meals, our moment-to-moment thoughts, our music and our clothes. We don’t want to be forgotten. If no one’s thinking about us, do we even exist? Our surface thoughts and tastes can be shared, but never our souls.

This mania, to be remembered, to be accomplished, takes a toll on us. We’re exhausted. We don’t sleep. We slave away the night on distractions, on work, on the stuff that doesn’t really matter in the end. We miss something. Maybe we miss honesty. Maybe we miss feeling like a human being, with ideas and layers and dreams.


  1. Interesting thought :) When we were younger all we wanted to do was fit in..and now we want to stand out. I agree with everything said...but how else would you suggest bureaucracy to work if not through resumés and systems . Resumés dont outline your character...but what you do or your accomplishments says a lot about your personality. Whatever one achieves; hard work, determination, strive...these are all qualities one must posses to achieve anything, right? We'er in the age of Instant Accessibility, where everything you have to have it NOW. This is what society has become, how the whole world works. How can one fight that? You ask who are you now? Do you (in a generic sense) a person...know exactly who you are? What defines identity? The government identifies us as a number...but its up to us, as individuals to decide whether that is what we want to be known as.I think that once you've given yourself time to find out who you are...being identified as a number will be indifferent because you'll have the grounds to make a difference in society. You get to decide what your identity one else :)

    1. You're right, of course, Incognito: I don't think bureaucracies can function any other way. Resumes and reference letters are probably the closest facsimile to a measure of character that we can use in the age of furious efficiency.

      That doesn't stop it from being incredibly frustrating, however, for young people trying to make their way in the world. I believe that we all feel anonymous, like loose papers in some filing system from hell. If all out lives can be summed up on a piece of 8 1/2-by-11 for the people who will determine out future, who are we but that sheet of paper? Can we be a unique person in a sea of unique people?

    2. I think thats a process that you have to go through to BECOME the unique person. If it were that easy ..then you wouldn't be unique.
      Although I agree that its EXTREMELY irritating, when you KNOW you have what it takes...but you still dont make it. I think that if everyone had more wouldn't seem like we're floating in a sea.

  2. It's scary how true this is. Like incredibly scary. Beautifully written. And I can't even begin to explain how much I can relate to all of it.


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