Hello! Are you there?”
One afternoon, a few days ago, this tentative message pinged on my office computer screen. This was not a close friend by any means. In fact, I don’t think we’d spoken for weeks, maybe months. I was intrigued.
“OK, listen,” my friend-like person said. “I have to vent. I need to vent. Will you just listen for a few minutes?”
“Sure. Fire away,” I replied, expecting to hear about some family crisis or romantic trauma.
(2009 and 2010 have been matrimonially fecund for my friends circle. Everyone is getting married or making babies. Utter hormonal mayhem. So you are never too far away from a quarrelling couple needing mediation. Or a wife-mother-in-law scandal that is only one more under-salted Dal Tadka away from homicide.)
My friend: “Thanks. I am going to bitch about my job for fifteen minutes. I don’t know who else to talk to. You were online. So listen.”
Curiouser and curiouser. After I promised to keep the conversation secret, she carried on.
She proceeded to systematically crib about everyone in her office: People she reported to. People who reported to her. People in marketing. People in sales. People in HR. People in general.
After 15 minutes she thanked me for my time and went away. I haven’t heard from her since.
(Yes, I still feel a little exploited.)
Thinking about this over the next few days, however, I realized something disturbing.
There is little or no place left to go and crib about our jobs any more.
The full-bodied, whole-hearted bitch session, one of the great cathartic activities of the cubicle lisfestyle, is under threat.
For centuries, office goers have prevailed over a bad day or two at work by enthusiastically dissing their bosses and co-workers over a beer or ale or woolly mammoth curry.
Indeed, I read somewhere that they have found graffiti inside the pyramids, or maybe on the walls of Pompeii, that says in local script: “By Jove he withholdeth my Form 16! That blackguard in accounts.”
But what has happened now? Why are people using Google Chat to crib? In order to investigate this, and in a rare moment of journalistic vigour, this column phoned Chandni Malik. Malik is a social psychologist who has experience in workplace issues.
“Chandni,” I asked, “why are random people bitching to me about their jobs? What has happened to the human tradition of gathering together and badmouthing our livelihoods?”
“Well, first of all people can’t take their problems home any more,” Chandni explained. “What with this modern penchant for bifurcating work and family. Talking about work at home is bad form. It is taboo.”
What a tragedy. My father was an excellent conveyor of workplace disorder to the living room. Sometimes, he’d come back home in a rage and stay touchy for the rest of the evening. Ask him for anything and he’d say: “I am busy right now screaming into this pillow. Do whatever you want.”
Obediently, I would order pizza.
Chandni continued: “Many people have also stopped cribbing to co-workers. There is too much competition. People are afraid that cribbing might make them look weak. And if other people don’t crib back, they feel terribly inadequate.”
So no cribbing at home. Nor in office. Maybe with friends?
“Not when you meet them just for a few hours every weekend. Who wants to waste the meagre moments of peace and quiet they get at Hard Rock Café, on politics and skulduggery?”
Tut tut. So is there no way to vent your innermost cubicle feelings?
Chandni: “Many people end up resorting to anonymous one-sided cribbing. On blogs or Twitter. But this doesn’t give you the closure of talking to a real human being.”
Which is when I had a brainwave that could solve this dilemma. An idea that could meet the needs both for comfort from strangers, and human presence.
If you use the Web a lot and don’t have a social life, you have probably heard of a site called Chat Roulette (www.chatroulette.com). (Note: Someone else told me about the site.)
Connect a Web camera and log on to the site, and it randomly pairs you up with another user. You now chat for a while. When you are bored, click a button for another random chatter. And you go on till you are suitably amused, or your editor walks by. The site currently has 1.5 million users.
I propose a version of Chat Roulette, called Crib Roulette, meant for office goers. You log on, find another person aching to bitch, and hit it off. When some relief is obtained, you a click a button, find another random cubicle dweller and fire away again. Repeat till adequate therapy is achieved.
In my experience, this service has huge potential in India. And with 3G and broadband coming soon, the bottom line is limitless. Please send all business enquiries to the email id below. Serious parties only. Auction in January.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous articles, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama