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Monday, February 10, 2014

What Snow Days Taught Me

Here in New Jersey we have been beset by inches and inches of snow, waves of freezing rain, and the hollow chill of sub-freezing temperatures.

Some say this is a "snowpocalypse".  Others call it a "polar vortex".

I seem to recall that Back In The Day we called it "Winter".

One of the oldest illusions of the mystic arts of marketing is selling the same old thing in a new package.

Anyway, I think the illusion that this weather is something new gave me a chance to look at it with a fresh set of eyes, and learn a few things:

1. We have an insatiable hunger for adventure 

If you are like me, your job is typing on a computer, making phone calls, attending meetings, and producing powerpoint slides. Fat, dumb and happy as we are in our cozy post-industrial world, we all crave adventure. 

And the snow day allows us to pretend we are pioneers in the wild (our crumbling electrical infrastructure can be helpful in enhancing this experience). We gather food and supplies. We post online alerts and sage  advice about our preparations -- we show what salty survivalists we really are.

In the aftermath, we tell our tales around the campfire -- stories of mountains of snow removed, treacherous commutes navigated, and enormous amounts of wine consumed.

2. "Family Togetherness" has its limits

Human beings are tribal animals. Just as birds have flocks, deer have herds, and dolphins have schools, human beings naturally form into tribes -- groups for mutual support, affection and survival. 

Of course, we evolved this characteristic while wandering nomadic hunter-gatherers, not all holed up in the same cave. 

When we work day to day, we talk about how much we would like to spend all of our time with our family. But after two days of suburban cave-dwelling while bumping into each other, breaking up fights, and watching an ominously growing sink full of dirty dishes, we yearn to roam back to our sterile fluoresent lighted desk and our spreadsheets.

And we understand why, from the book of Genesis to Greek tragedy to Shakespeare,the most common form of drama is about family members picking each other off one by one.

3. We all work way too hard.

Many people, like police, nurses, and road crews (the underappreciated and underpaid soldiers in the ongoing battle against human folly) don't get a snow day. 

But many others of us can plug in and do 90% of our job online from home. In doing so, the snow days show what is really the essential part of whatever we do to earn a living, and how much is tedious, redundant administrative shuffling of paper (or data). "How about those TPS reports?"

And if we can let it go for a day or two, why not the next day, and the one one after that? 

Why not forever? 

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