I was doing some stuff around the house today and idly thinking about how I wish the library would hurry up in getting that Berardi book back to me so I could finish being snarky about it. It struck me once again that I am at the same time among the less handy of my extended family and among those who work in the more immaterial labor type jobs. These are related. (I also think there’s a strong gender component to this, about my and others’ sense of masculinity and how that connects to the types of work we’ve done and do – for instance, I only very recently have gotten interested in car and bike repair and am way behind on the curve and will remain so for a very very long time, my delayed interest and the greater interest of some family members and peers was totally a gender thing.) It seems to me that part of why I’m less handy is because I didn’t learn the sorts of skills that other people in my family have learned at work, and that others have learned in order to facilitate the jobs they do. And to the degree that I’m somewhat handy, I’ve learned this at work. For instance, I worked in a plant for a while making trusses that go in the ceilings and floors of large buildings. That mostly involved lifting and carrying things (which still involved a lot of intellect and a lot of sociality, despite the dumb things implied in bad versions of the immaterial labor thesis, for instance getting 4 or 5 people together to flip over a 6 x 20 truss that’s only partially assembled and to do so safely within the time needed by the rate of stuff moving down the line, that take a lot of mental and social capacities, it’s not brainless muscling). It also involved assembling things with screwguns and hammers and nails. I learned stuff doing that, which helped me later get a job as a stage carpenter, where I learned most of the minimal handy-ness skills I have.

None of this is to say there are no jobs that are repetitive and feels mindless. I put phones in a box for a while at a Motorola plant. That job SUCKED. I was transferred into that position from a job at another plant that was eventually closed down, at that place I dug through the scrap of shredded recycled phones, picking out the valuable bits and putting them in one box and putting the trash in another. That sucked too but we worked so slow and messed around so much that it was okay. (Then I got into the loading dock, which wasn’t so mindless, that was kind of interesting – figuring out where packages went, stacking up pallets as tightly packed and well organized as we could, having races with co-workers to see who could load or unload trucks faster, or having overtime stretching races to see who could go slowest without getting caught.) In those jobs, the imposition of the incredibly repetitive dull tasks was deeply resented and a subject of conflict, often individualized or small group conflict along the lines of goofing off together and finding ways to cover for each other (there’s some great stuff about this in Ben Hamper’s book Rivethead). Even those mindless-seeming tasks weren’t really mindless, though, in a literal sense. They involved attention to boring stuff over long periods of time – I think this is what most people mean when we say “mindless task” – but it still took some thought to do the work. Anyhow, on the ‘mindless’ work, I’ve also had ‘immaterial labor’ jobs that were equally mindless or had components that were equally mindless — for instance, working in fast food, telemarketing, canvassing. Those jobs were in some ways worse than putting phones in a box because they made social activities like having conversation into rote mechanical tasks, some of the interactions I’d have with people were little different from putting phones in a box.

Okay gotta run, cutting this short.