Seeing like a [Slacker]: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have [Succeeded]

These guys got the right idea!

I’ve been meaning to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of working on the “floor” vs. working at the front of the store. It’s an interesting parallel, especially because they have a lot of overlap. Often when I’m at the counter and ringing out customers at my main job I’m still on the floor facing items, telling customers where to go and so on.

When I’m on the floor I still have to backup the cashier who is up front when there are too many people. But besides that I am almost free to move about as I please. If a manager gives me direct orders to do certain things or go in a certain order then I won’t be much more free than if I was a cashier. But if they don’t, then slacking becomes much easier.

Suddenly I can go just about anywhere I want in the store with little hassle. I can go towards the back and play on my phone, checking social media and chatting with friends on the sly. I can even watch Youtube  videos and participate in intellectual discussions online if I feel bold enough and secure enough in my location.

That boldness and security were two of the essential reasons I did almost nothing a few days ago. A co-worker of mine told me that they wanted to be up front and not do much (which usually isn’t my experience). I said sure and quickly grabbed my phone and lazily went about my business, that is to say, none.

I eventually got pulled into helping a manager take inventory of some wine bottles. But after that the manager and my favorite manager seemed to not care. My favorite manager wasn’t in charge of me so they weren’t giving me any orders and the other manager seemed to busy with inventory to keep track of me, much less control me.

So for hours I would sporadically watch Youtube. Right now I’m in the middle of what’s called a “Nuzlocke” by an entertainment group called Team Four Star. They’re best known for doing Dragon Ball Z Abridged.

But I would also simply check my phone for new text messages. I would look at what was going on online through Facebook and Twitter and I did most of this blatantly. Once my favorite manager left, I was basically free to do as I pleased for a bit. Eventually I was called to do some mopping and later on some sweeping, but I wasn’t monitored.

And so I did both of these things (the mopping in front of the manager who was left) fairly lazily. I showed my co-worker who was up front multiple times that I was just on my smartphone. I showed another co-worker as well and they weren’t super surprised and proceeded to take out their phone. We almost got caught as a manager came around the corner.

Luckily, they were going past the aisle we were in and didn’t look at us.

As time went on, whatever little care I had about my job decreased. Eventually I spent some of my time in the break room where customers wouldn’t bother me and I could continue using my phone in peace. I got called to the front a few times but mostly to help my co-worker with customers or something else. Despite my blatant slacking, I never got in trouble.

This experience re-taught me the value of James C. Scott’s idea about “legibility” and the state. To summarize: The state wants all of us as citizens to be highly legible, e.g. visible to it. That way they can regulate us, tax us and even imprison us if they deem necessary. And this extends to life and death so that they can thus medicate us, surveil our existence and kill us it it finds sufficient cause.

Ultimately the power of legibility doesn’t just help the state but is at the heart of most forms of brutal authority. In the same way that the state needs us to be legible so it can control us, managers need that as well. If they can’t keep track of us or just don’t care to, then it’s up to the worker to self-mange themselves in a job they hate.

I’m all in favor of self-management and under jobs workers might hate, I’m no different. Because at least then they’ll be able to slack and be able to do that more efficiently than if they were closely monitored. Granted, it takes a lot more than good slacking skills to do what I did. You also need to have a certain attitude about slacking.

I would sporadically check in with my co-worker at the front and act unashamed about slacking. They weren’t surprised but it felt really good to have some semblance of control over my person in a work space that I deeply disliked. It certainly helped that I had laid-back managers or managers who were too busy to notice or care.

Whatever the reason, I count Wednesday as an overwhelming success.

It was a useful experience in that it gave me more time to rest up for the following day where I had another shift scheduled. It also  gave me more confidence in my abilities to slack off.

Don’t get my wrong, I still helped my co-worker up front when they needed it. The ethics of slacking are tricky but at this point I firmly lean towards helping my co-workers and putting my extra energy there instead of where my managers might want me to put it. And even when I committed to something I know my managers want, I did it lazily.

So I hope this story can be a ray of hope for folks who think there’s no way to slack in their box office of choice. I work in a mid-sized store and was able to get away with it, except for customers. But most customers aren’t going to know the specific policies of your workplace and even fewer are likely to report you.

As always though, be careful.

Just because I had this luck a few days ago doesn’t mean I always will, although reading my book up front, it’s Catch 22 now, is going well come to think of it. Just tread lightly when it comes to slacking, no two stores are exactly the same and it took a mix of really knowing my store’s layout, knowing who the managers were, what they were doing and knowing who my co-worker was to make Wednesday a total breeze.

Here’s to a future where Wednesday can be everyday.

Until then, happy slacking!

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