Median Perspective

JANUARY 31, 2012 10:19AM

Virtuality

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Sometimes I wish our corporate bosses knew as much about language as we do. Other times, I suspect that they know a whole lot more about language and its power than we will ever dream of knowing.

Years ago, maybe even now in places where people “go” to work--that is, someplace outside their home--a fashionable term to describe the people doing the jobs was “worker bees.” Think about that one. “Worker bees.” Not human, of no particular value, perfectly expendable, perfectly replaceable. Just so many tools. First time I heard the term in workplace context was in a (useless) meeting, spouted by some chick with an admittedly entertaining bust but not a whole lot else going on, at least “upstairs” (although I did come to admire the way she leaned over the conference table “just so.” On a clear day . . . ).

For the past 10 years I’ve been working at home, quite happily, an off-site “employee” of a medical transcription company. Today I’m in the same job, although the company I started with went through a couple of name changes, then a bankruptcy and acquisition by another, larger company, but still an “employee.”

Or anyway, I was.

Now, I’m a “virtual employee.”

Because I’m a fan of dictionaries and have spent many a glorious hour hopping from word to word in the “real” as well as the “virtual” variety, and even was once accused by an older cousin of reading the dictionary, I went in search of “virtual” in online dictionaries. Here is what I found in one:

Virtual:  adj.
1.  Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form or name:  the virtual extinction of the buffalo.
2.  Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination.  Used in literary criticism of a text.
3.  Computer science:  Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network:  virtual conversations in a chatroom.

Obviously, “virtual” has grown in meaning, even taken on a whole different meaning. Words do that sometimes.

So now “virtual” has acquired definition #3, above--“carried on by means of a computer.” Seems innocent enough.

Trouble is, for most of us in the medical transcription business, and maybe anybody over about age 20, the word still carries its original definition and nuance. See definitions #1 and #2, above.

It is no accident that our corporate bosses, all the MBAs of the world, the “bean-counters” and Republicans and so forth, have taken to calling us “virtual” employees. By doing so, they make us “unreal.” They dehumanize us, reduce us to . . . Who the hell knows how their minds work. Upshot of it is, it makes us ever so more easily disposable.

That they now comfortably refer to us as “virtual” means that they’ve already made us disappear, “virtually.” Those of us they cannot replace with computer programs--and computer programs aren’t yet all that good with words, although they are getting better all the time--they will replace with even less fairly paid Indians and Indonesians and I forget who all else. (It is mind-boggling or ironic or something to realize that, before too long, if I want to ply my trade for an American company, I’ll have to move to Asia. Nothing against Asia, but I would rather go to Romania, or Sweden--I know some crazy little women there, and they are HOT.)

Just makes me all proud to be an American.

I‘m really not whining about this. I‘m more Darwinist, I suppose, than anything else, albeit with a strong humanistic streak, and I know that “life is unfair,” blah blah blah. I‘ve never even been ON a turnip truck, much less fallen off of one.

It does strike me, though, that we are about to “telephone-game“ our way into extinction.

Capitalism, free enterprise . . . That worked a century or two ago, when we had lots of space and not a whole lot of people. Capitalism, free enterprise, the “American Creed,” have been passed down from one generation to another over several generations, losing a little something with every passing of the proverbial baton, yet in some important ways never really changing. Its latest transmogrification will impoverish more Americans than it will ever enrich.

What scares me, I think, is the suspicion that America, and Americans, have lost their vision, have lost their dream.

“When you give up your dream, you die,” said a character in a movie, “Flashdance.”

I look at myself and realize that I have become nothing more than a “virtual employee,” and see that I am dead or dying, and by extension, America is dead or dying.

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