New Positions

New Positions


New Positions


Californians sit in traffic one-half  million hours a day.

So much for the new economy.

We are in the middle of the third work-related revolution in the history of civilization: the Information Age. It has come  quick on the heels ( by evolution standards)  of the Agricultural revolution and the Industrial revolution.

Where the accounting systems of the Industrial  Age called people “expenses’  and things “investments’ , in the new economy of the information age, people are ‘resources’ as in “human resources”, and things are, well,  still investments actually.  So it will probably take a fourth revolution of some sort where people can finally be investments.  In the meantime   people work differently  (PC users) or different (MAC), than they did in the old “office age”. Back in those days, of budding unions and adjustments to new rhythms  the concept of overtime was  designed to make it too expensive for employers to keep workers on the job too long.  In the new economy, with its global competitiveness,  the  concept of labor productivity was designed to keep people working harder. People work harder now  for two reasons: 1) to pick up slack of co-workers  who might bring the productivity of the group down , in order to avoid getting fired, or 2) to avoid getting fired.

 In a recent  random scoot around the internet, the following list of new economy related  topics/links to articles was found:

-Working women do more chores than men
-Congress votes to block new overtime rules
-Workers feel overworked, overwhelmed
-CEOs of firms outsourcing got biggest pay
-Democrats criticize overtime pay rules
-A gender split in the executive suite
-Democrats attack overtime rule changes
-Overtime rule changes revised
-Most firms now use background checks
-US offers tips on avoiding overtime pay
(list courtesy MSNBC)

This list might lead a person to think that the new economy is mostly about overtime pay.  Or CEO pay. Or women’s work. When actually,  of course,  we all know that lately it is really about background checks. Or so it seems. 

If you believe IBM and Steelcase,  the office for the new economy is all about meetings and collaboration and tracking (you, your colleagues,  and information). The “Bluespace” project presents the “cubicle of tomorrow”11ftx7ft  (smaller than a taxi).

In “Bluespace”, according to an article in InformationWeek, embedded sensors register when you leave and arrive and send this information  to your colleagues. As you enter  your cubicle, a task light above your desk turns on. Messages are sent to your team members that you are there. Other team members are tracked down wherever they are.  In all fairness, you can temporarily “hide” from the system.  Fair enough.  Keyword: “temporarily”.

A friend in the furniture business told me he once approached Apple Computer with the idea of designing and marketing a new line of office furniture, presumably MAC friendly for the new economy.  Apple apparently hated this idea.  It seems Apple doesn’t want to encourage people to sit at desks in cubicles slaving  away. Apple is about WI-FI and thinking and working differently.  Apple is about  doing and working everywhere and anywhere. 

Which leads me to The Third Place. And eventually to The Fourth Place.

The Third Place,  a term invented by sociologist Ray Oldenburg , defines a place that is neither  1)home , nor 2)work. It is a third place,  “where a person can go to relax and feel part of the community”.   In Oldenburg’s words: ”All great societies provide informal meeting places, like the Forum in ancient Rome or a contemporary English pub”. 

Think French cafes and the French revolution. 

In the US, since WWII and the spawn of suburban sprawl and urban withdrawal,   these crucial  third places have been marginalized. The local bar hasn’t been recreated in the suburbs. There are no Ma and Pa stores in which to hang out and “shoot the breeze” or plan a coup.

 Business to the rescue! What better way to increase productivity than to turn the third place into the second place.

Openplanmeetingfeatureplayroomcreativebrainstormingroleplayinggamingideating  work place.   It seems to work on many levels.  Beanbag chairs.

These are the increasingly prevalent options for office spaces in the new economy and, though they do not necessarily fulfill the original idea of the third place,  they successfully implement this concept for business purposes.  Of course there is the argument that this sort of simulated cityscape, designed to keep people put and working with the premise of stimulating and inspiring each other, may actually starve and dehydrate “creativity”, as a corporate simcity can never come close to the diversity and improvisation of the real thing.

The disappearing third places are being replaced by virtual third places in the form of online chat rooms, instant messaging, the blogoshere and such.  The phenomena of  righteous Mega churches notwithstanding, the physical third places are whimpering away… 

Starbucks? No, Starbucks is a not a third place, but a fourth place.

Starbucks is not a meeting place for communication and exchanging ideas. No French revolution will come out of a Starbucks. Starbucks is a place people go to be alone in public.  Like walking around the city with an ipod in your ears. Like sitting in an airplane and working.

Many people do their best work in airplanes. One friend said: “I sit there and work and as long as they keep bringing me food, I work well, isolated and focused.” Jean Nouvel  once said he did his best work in bed.  I work best wet.  By the pool, in a sauna,  on the beach,  in the bathtub.  Awaiting the WI-FI’d underwater  ibook with Intel inside. My labor productivity will skyrocket. 

In the globally connected economy, everyone is effectively working 24/7.  

To test some of the more recent idiosyncrasies  of the new economy I googled  the sort of cynical phrase “India renderings outsource” and met up on-line with a very talented group of people (Men? Women? Child labor? Old people labor?) who work in conditions I have no idea about , in offices with or without beanbag chairs.  Do they work at home on laptops and network virtually with me? Do they sit in a massive warehouse on the outskirts of New Delhi in neat rows of desks like in Jacques Tati’s film “Playtime”?  They sent me very clean renderings  of the pieces for this New Positions exhibition-the “office chair for the new economy” and the “desk for the new economy” overnight.  I am now a micro-multinational.

In the end,  ideas don’t grow on evergreens.  They are elusive or abundant and it’s hard to say why it goes one way or the other.  If the classic office with rows of desks, punch clocks  and a big hovering boss is now obsolete, well , good.  The codification of the new economy workplace into playrooms goes a long way in getting rid of the desks, but you still have the punch clocks (read- presence sensors) and hovering boss often.  One of the important skills they say is required to make it in the new economy is to “act like you are your own business”. In other words, you are now your own hovering boss. 24/7. To paraphrase Schopenhauer, we live in the nightmare of ourselves. 

According to the experts, the main generic skill required of people in the new economy is the ability to adapt to any reality that is thrown at you. Not really a new concept. As Darwin said:”it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. 

This catalogue was designed by Sarah Lindsey in San Francisco, translated  in Rome,  and proof-read by Marcello Smarrelli in Berlin. Renderings were drawn in India,  construction drawings  of the New Positions pieces were drawn by Sonia Tellini in Mantova  and produced by Roberto Giustini . Marine upholstery by N.D. Nautica  located in the exurbs of Rome.

This text was written ;
-on a plane in a Moleskin notebook
-in bed with pen and paper
-in the Jacuzzi
-running by trees
-on the sofa with a MAC
-at the desk with playing in the background


J.G.  2006