The Depths of Silicon Valley
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Conditioning

Today I put 800 foam bases in 800 cardboard boxes, then put 800 plastic bags over the 800 fresh boxes. This day alone should be grounds to start the revolution.

I moved extra fast because Miguel was working next to me. Although Miguel was around my age, twenty-three, he had worked at the plant for years and set his sights on a mentorship position that would elevate him to ten dollars an hour. The ambition fueled his speed, making him especially loud in demanding that others match his spurred pace.

I was moving so fast and so nonstop that I didnít even have time to complain silently. I constantly was picking up a printer, checking the assemblersí work, and then placing it on a box, which required me to spin on my heels about ninety degrees counterclockwise. There was something strangely Buddhist about the work: I lived entirely in the moment, with no time to waste on the past and no incentive to think about impending pressures.

Despite the spiritual inspiration, the cardboard boxes kept jabbing into me, leaving a half dozen cuts on each hand. I found out later my experience was just part of the box load position. Every new box loader realizes he should wear gloves. After he wears a pair for about a minute, he finds he canít open the plastic bags quickly enough. Seconds after this epiphany, the supervisor yells an inappropriately loud "Come on box load!" while staring accusingly at the rookie; at which point, he puts down the gloves, gets cut repeatedly, and never tries to be innovative about his well-being at work again.

By midday, I had learned to be mechanical. Although usually an undesirable state of being, one strove for it on the line. Any disruption meant a buildup of boxes and printer skeletons. Maybe the scanner wasnít working or the boxes were not coming out right, but, whatever the reason, the pressure grew. People who had never spoken to me before rained showers of "Whatís the holdup?" from all down the line. The shouts had no malicious intent (there was very little real curiosity); it was more a knee-jerk reaction. I asked Robert and Fernando about this. I could not imagine caring how many printers we made; in fact, I would have been pleased if slowing down became a line policy. They shrugged and said "I donít know." When I asked Barbara, a four-year veteran, she said: "They want to make target."
    "Why do they want to make target?"
    "I donít know."

Close to the dayís end, the line paused. When I saw four empty boxes waiting in front of my station, my piece of conveyer belt strangely still, I was confused. My hands were lying by the sides of my body, no work to do. I looked down the line, and from my solar plexus, where my deep lungs sit, I yelled: "Whatís the holdup?!" I canít explain why. Maybe I had learned to find comfort in the robotlike activity. A kink thrown into the motions awakened me to reality, and that was offensive. It is strange when being reminded of your humanity is an insult.

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Next Page: Plastics, go into plastics, my son.