Tedium

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The anthropology of the office™

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Tedium /ˈtiːdɪəm/ (n.)
1. The state of being tedious; a noun so dull that dictionaries regularly define it by reference to its adjective.
2. Descriptive of the intellectual content of life in a modern multinational. If you don’t find it tedious, you are going to be first against the wall when the revolution comes. The revolution, by the way, is most likely to come in the shape of a chatbot or algorithm and it won’t waste ammunition on you when you are up against the wall — it is simply there that you will find the hook on which your coat is hanging, which you will be invited to get as they hand you your Iron Mountain box and wish you well. You probably won’t even get time for a farewell email.

A short, tedious history.

Merriam Webster is amusing on the etymology:

Words frequently change their meanings, and some even will go from meaning one thing to meaning something almost opposite (such as “nice”, which in its earliest use meant “lewd, wanton, dissolute”). Tedious is not one of these words; its meanings may have shifted over the centuries, but they have always had something to do with irksome, boring, or overlong things. The word comes from the Latin taedēre, meaning “to disgust or weary.” Tedious has been in use since the 15th century and has been included in hundreds of dictionaries, although perhaps none have rendered so poetic and succinct a definition as Nathaniel Bailey’s entry in his 1756 New Universal Etymological English Dictionary: “Wearisome by continuance.”

Tedium and interest

I can’t prove this, but tedium is not the opposite of “interesting”. There is an intermediate purgatorial state which is not particularly interesting in any meaningful sense of the word, but is not especially tedious either. Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska, for example.

Tedium describes any activity which, when you stand back and look at it, serves no real purpose, however formally emollient it may feel. Given how utterly pervasive it is in modern corporate life, it is extraordinary no more research has been done into what tedium is and why we are obliged to endure it.

If, as a young clerk, re-dating a stack of trust deeds at 3 in the morning after a bished execution[1], you have ever regarded the clock, shaken your head and asked yourself, “is there really no better way to do this?” then you have looked into the tedial abyss. Careful, lest it looks back into you.

Superficial tedium versus intrinsic tedium

Most meetings are tedious. Almost all operating committees are. But — and loathe as I am to speak a word in support of these ghastly assemblies, here goes — the idea of an opco isn’t utterly stupid: in a large organisation oversight of the distributed governance is important, so the onus is on those presenting at opcos to present material that is innately important, and therefore interesting — and no, internal audit, that does not include news of your own internal reorganisation — in a way that is likely to impact somehow on the consciousness of those poor saps required to attend.

VARY YOUR TONE, FOR GOD’S SAKE. LEARN THE BASIC RUDIMENTS OF HOW TO ADDRESS A LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE.

Speak to your slides: don’t just read the godforsaken things out.

See also

References

  1. You may think this has the searing scar of verisimilitude about it. You would be right.