Zoom Book Club Is Workplace Culture Unchecked
The following is based entirely on my perspective. I do not ground my ideas in fact or reality. Instead I offer discordant thoughts vague enough to be inoffensive while also specific enough to make it seem like I’ve read a lot more than you. From here on out, I will be communicating to you, my listener, in Book Club mode.
Ask anyone (no one) and they will tell you Virtual Book Club is one of the droopiest cultural consequences to come from this pandemonium. What was already a widely illegitimate social prompt in normal times became an even more tenuous invitation in quarantine.
“OK, but do I have to read the book??? Hehe.”
For those of us already performing functionality in our dysfunctional book clubs, remote “learning” was quite a blow to the system. That’s not to say we didn’t try. The country was but a few weeks into scary-times when virtual book clubs started to surge. On March 25, 2020 TIME magazine proclaimed there were “10 book clubs you could join NOW.” Summer without a beach loomed, we anticipated empty hours, and we worried that our minds were already puddling into mush. People started joining virtual Book Clubs, but, of course, follow-through was quite dubious.
“OK, but who here actually finished? Hehe.”
The truth is that even for its most staunch supporters, Book Club has always felt a little, at least privately, taxing. In being about words and comprehension and stuff, Book Club casts the illusion of homework, which reminds adults of school, which reminds us of work, which is bad, and we do not like it. In cultures that perform busyness, Book Club can fail to deliver the recreational respite it promises. Often it’s like a meeting. More often it’s like a meeting that could’ve been an email.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry to get so, like, heady!”
I’ll pause here to scream that I adore my Book Club. No, no, myyyyyyy Book Club is perfect, and caring, and diverse in that we added Connie last fall. My Book Club doesn’t feel like work at all. If they gave me stock options, I’d take them and make it one year to vest. That’s how much I love my Book Club.
In this moment my mind scours for mooring. I imagine that one GIF of the woman who looks like Claire Danes doing math, and I come to my answer: Zoom Book Clubs are just like work calls
Now, that said, tonight’s Zoom Book Club is a complete mess.
First off, everyone’s a lot drunker than usual. Bill is especially zonked, which is weird since this is only his first month here. Cassie seems to be clearly doing work on her phone for another Book Club, and everyone’s waiting for Matt to offer something constructive rather than ranting about “missed opportunities.” Leo keeps interrupting Danielle right before she gets to her poin— wow, Bill is actually, quite plainly sleeping!
In this moment my mind scours for mooring. I imagine that one GIF of the woman who looks like Claire Danes doing math, and I come to my answer: Zoom Book Clubs are just like work calls — only the culture is wildly unchecked. We’re performing the same dance of commitment and contribution but without judgement. In many ways this transparency is enlightening. In so many other ways this is a crisis.
I don’t know if Leo is a misogynist in real life. What’s troubling is that I don’t think I would know if Leo were a misogynist if I worked every day with him either. Somehow I think that Leo would be much too scared to interrupt Danielle so blatantly (so blatantly!) at his workplace because at his workplace Leo is Leo at work, not just Leo, which is a horrible shade of neurotic that is suffocating everything in (36 inch) sight. Somehow I think Leo’s true underlying nature is just on blast this Tuesday night. Somehow I now know what everyone’s been saying about men, who are very much like me, in that I am one.
According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, 32% of men go a full year without reading a book. This is both alarming and helps to explain what’s happening inside these squares. There is a certain grace lacking from this discourse, and I wonder if it falls along gendered lines. Andy just cast one of the women characters as “an older Mila Kunis.”
At work, Patrick is the one who always creates next steps. We hate him for it because it means our inbox gets new emails.
No one knows how to talk about race. A few people have talked about articles that describe what it’s like to talk about race, but we still feel a few degrees away. For some reason the words “diversity” and “inclusion” feel trite or petty to speak aloud. We don’t know the race of the author. (Uh oh, someone just guessed!) In the book the antagonist’s race is never mentioned. Someone wonders whether that means the author meant for race to be insignificant. Erica thinks that point is significant.
“I don’t know. I think there must be something there. Sorry for rambling.”
At work, Patrick is the one who always creates next steps. We hate him for it because it means our inbox gets new emails. He morphs wayward musings into action items that feel so action-y they usually have a lightning bolt emoji next to them. Tonight at this Zoom Book Club, I’m led to miss Patrick from work. We could really use Patrick in Zoom Book Club right now.
“I feel like we went off on a tangent there! Hehe.”
I guess what I’m saying is it would be nice, and respectful, if we treated our recreational activities with the same level of interpersonal rigor that we do when our jobs are on the line.
I’m lost. I’m bored. I’m mad. What if… instead of Zoom Book Club being workplace culture unchecked… I’m simply bad at Book Club? Am I doing enough? Is anything actually getting done right now or are we just spinning around in our squares? Wailing at the wind in our WiFi? Why does Dani keep turning off her camera? Is she working on another book club during book club hours? Why is Sherwin taking credit for Ashley’s idea? They’re going to fire me from Book Club if I don’t say something profound soon.
“OK, sorry to cut you off—”
“No! You go.”
“No, I was just gonna say—”
“Haha, jinx! Oh my God. No, you go.”
I guess what I’m saying is it would be nice, and respectful, if we treated our recreational activities with the same level of interpersonal rigor that we do when our jobs are on the line. I know that sounds like an assignment (it is), but perhaps Zoom Book Club is the exact opportunity to try out what we’re trying to improve every day. It’s sticky, and it’s tricky, and no one gets it entirely right, but Book Clubs take work too. That’s why we sign up for them.
“Sorry, I was on mute! HA! Let me try again.”
What I was saying is that it would be nice, and respectful if…
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