Brownout NYC: Welcome Back to Reality

I was having angst earlier in the week because of the incredibly symptomatic means by which one goes about adjusting the temperature in the office building in which I work part-time.  (It is owned by a shiny man whose name rhymes with “Thump,” just FYI).  What you do is email the receptionist (me), who then logs on to a website and submits a service request to adjust the temperature.  Several hours later, if all goes well, a pair of men show up.  One of them flips open the plastic cover of the thermostat and punches the buttons to lower the temperature.

The last time we went through this, I asked the guy (I think he came alone, actually), somewhat desperately, whether he would show me what to do so that next time I wouldn’t have to bother them.  “No, sorry,” he said, “we have to do this.”  It is the building’s job, and tenants cannot be trusted with it.  Or it’s semi-physical, involves the physical world, and so is on the verge of not being white collar.  It is dangerous to your status to know how to adjust your own ambient temperature, even if that involves not adding sticks of firewood to a stove or putting on a sweater, but just pushing buttons.

Alienation from the physical world is so intense on Wall Street that it made what happened today feel somewhat triumphant.  It wasn’t much.  But here it is: Con ed, earler today, in an effort to deal with the record-breaking demand on their wattage in the New York area, implemented their demand side management program, along with some brownouts.  (Demand side management = paying Mr. Thump not to use electricity, from what I can tell.)

Result was that round about three p.m. the temperature in the office began to climb.  And climb.  It felt like I was getting sick, actually.  I sent in a service request, and four seconds later one of my office-mates called to ask me to do so.  And then at some point someone mentioned something: apparently there was an email that had gone around yesterday and today warning about these brownouts. 

So clearly the SR was not going to cut any mustard.  The System, technically, had broken down: the system by which you exchange large amounts of money for the ability to express your will electronically and have the physical world do what you want it to.

Once we realized this (not actually sure of the sequence of events here.  But this sequence works better rhetorically, so there.), the guy who’d called me to ask for the SR came by my desk and turned out the lights in the reception area, and said that hey, I could always just close the blinds.  I did so, and he adjusted the louvers, jumping up on the windowsills in order to get at them.  It was the difference between being a patient and an agent, passive and active, a consumer and a producer.  Just a difference in mindset, a demand made on someone, which lead to being a tiny bit more physical, a tiny bit more connected with the natural world.

Not a bad way to end a Friday.

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One response to “Brownout NYC: Welcome Back to Reality

  1. Actually, I will bet a cookie that such ridiculous-sounding rules are less about ‘the white collar people cannot dirty their hands’ and more about protecting the service people’s jobs from being slowly chipped away …

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