Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Legion of the Damned

I had thought that 2009 would bring a fun year of joining the "Web 2.0" crowd, what with my new wireless iPod Touch, this little blog, and my new Facebook account. Heck, I may even learn to send a text message before the year is out.

Instead, I officially joined The Legion of the Damned on Jan. 9, 2009.

(Now at this point you're probably wondering why this blog entry wasn't tagged "Comics", so that all of you non-geeks with a life could just skip by it and get on with your life. Stick with me another paragraph or two, folks. I'm going somewhere here.)

The Legion of the Damned are not a group of super-villains. Nor are they any one of dozens of annoying folks -- people who talk on cell phones while driving on a crowded road in a cell phone come to mind -- who will obviously be consigned to one of the lower levels of Dante's Inferno when they shuffle off this mortal coil.

No, The Legion of the Damned are those sad souls who show up to a meeting at work with their laptops or Blackberries, and then spend the entire meeting working on something other than the point of the meeting: typing, reading, or perhaps just surfing the web. They can be distinguished by their vacant eyes, their zombie-like tendency to drool, and the phrase, "Could you give me that question again?" which they state attentively whenever they hear a syllable or two that may resemble their name.

These sad individuals first started appearing at meetings at my workplace a few years ago when we first installed wireless access in some of our meeting rooms. Initially the infection was limited to programmers and their ilk. Then it swept through the marketing and sales staffs. And finally -- despite a vigorous prevention program that included mandatory paper agendas and innoculations conducted with a ball-point pen -- the editorial staff began to join The Legion. Yet somehow through some freakish dart of fate I had managed to avoid indoctrination into their numbers. Oh, I was always a good bet to doodle, to daydream, to play word games against myself, but I had managed to avoid a full-out incident working on something altogether different than the topic of the meeting while sitting in a meeting.

Until yesterday.

It is perhaps worth digressing briefly into my usual work schedule at this point. My typical Monday through Thursday schedule looks more like a game of Tetris than an orderly calendar in my Outlook calendar. Hour after hour of meeting, often compounded by double- and even triple-bookings. This isn't quite as ridiculous as it might seem; my team has a lot of projects going on, which means that there are lots of checkpoints, clarifications, etc., needed. I even occasionally define my job as, "I go to meetings so that everybody on my team doesn't have to."

But the last couple of years I have successfully blocked out big chunks of time on Fridays, so that I actually can accomplish at least a few of the many "action items" that I acquire during those Monday-Thursday meetings. So you can imagine how I felt when I saw that my first post-holiday Friday had been entirely glommed by a debugging and scheduling meeting for a project that I hadn't even been involved in until now. This wasn't even a regular Friday pile that was imperiled, this was three weeks worth of action items that piled up while I was away, many of which were already overdue by the time I got back from my vacation.

So, when the introduction to the meeting contained this phrase, "... and then from one to three we'll look at search paths and subject guide bugs. John, that's the part that we really need you for, " out came the plug, out came the mouse, and the whittling away at the e-mail and action item pile was under way.

It was really quite peaceful giving myself over to The Legion of the Damned. I've heard that dying of hypothermia is similar: just a slow fading away of the world, a growing numbness, and the onset of a quiet acceptance of your fate.

Any questions?

Could you give me that question again?


  1. I've been home and out of the work world for a while- I wasn't familiar with the Action Item jargon. Now when Rich asks what I have planned for the day I can confound him with "I think I have a few action items that require attention today."

  2. Yes, but what will you do when he asks you what the "deliverables" are for those action items?

    Seriously, we use "deliverable" as a noun at my workplace, which is a publishing company. I'm pretty sure that's one of the signs of the coming Apocalypse.