Open a Channel

Thesis: work as the partitioning of input-processing channels

Sometimes I think about my job (and not just my current one, but jobs in general, though I was thinking about my current job specifically when I got on this mental track) in terms of the input channels it occupies, and those it leaves open. I’m thinking both raw sensory input (hearing, sight) and more complex experiences (reading for comprehension, parsing (or ignoring!) graphical symbols, listening passively to music, listening actively to speech).

Generally, I’m happier with work that more consistently leaves me an open channel.

My current job has afforded me a lot of music-listening time. It’s the nature of the work — I’m doing a lot of reading and parsing and counting and typing, but there is almost no audio function to the work, and so I can listen to music eight hours a day if I am so inclined. (This has the adverse effect of exhausting the novelty of my music collection, however: I can understand better now how people spend so much money on CDs.)

The music channel stands open almost all of the time. What about language-audio? That’s a bit trickier — if I’m doing a task that doesn’t require any complex active language-processing, I can listen attentively to lyrics or even stand-up comedy. If I’m searching down a lot of word data, though, or parsing phrases instead of pattern-matching single words or symbols. (Ask my wife — I have a terrible habit of reading anything in front of me, and I’ll often lose a bit of conversation because the words on the screen completely hijack my language channel. People who can multiplex this sort of language processing amaze me.) Similarly, there are times when I have to just turn off my music if I’m trying to keep a running count of something — something about catchy rhythms combats my ability to keep a steady addition register going.

So I have an open music channel, with some exceptions. I don’t, on the other hand, get much free eye-time on the job. I’m almost always looking at something, and so I can’t do any reading — not just because of my previously-mentioned one-channel-of-language issues, but because I can only look at one thing at a time.

I can imagine other work environments that would introduce other channels, too — no doubt working in a bakery over-rides a person’s smell channel, as working on a factory floor would over-ride one’s audio channel. A closer (if more contrived) parallel to my own situation: working as a translator hijacks, rather than inhibits, the audio channel. It’s not that the translator (or the court stenographer, or the recording studio engineer) is deprived of audio input as a background activity — they are required to keep the channel tuned to work.

I think of all this, and write about it, in part because I’m pleased that there is an aspect of my current job (besides breaks and lunch) that gives me some unfettered recreational access to my sight and language channels. And with the new site functioning and allowing me to submit posts remotely, I can use that time to wax at great and unedited length about my ability to wax at great and unedited length.

So yes. The thesis: job satisfaction for me is based in part on the availability (and, I think, the variety) of open channels. Secondary, perhaps, to the portion of job satisfaction derived from enjoying the work itself, but that’s another topic entirely.

Author: Josh Millard

I manage and help moderate the community website MetaFilter, where I go by "cortex"; in my spare time I get up to all sorts of creative nerdery on the internet and in Portland, Oregon.

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