Remotely Remote

Day 19 of #100DaysToOffload

I've lived across the U.S., in big cities and tech centers; but recent years I've been off the beaten path, smaller towns, where the pace is a bit less rushed. When my wife and I get together with one branch of our family from the Northeast, a not particularly low-strung (if that's a word) set of folks, we seem downright chill, though anyone who knows us knows we are most certainly by no means chill, relaxed, or unanxious on the general human scale of such things. By comparison though, we've mellowed since we left that part of the world. There's something about living without so much of the hustle and bustle. I think I may be permanently altered from the anxious young man I once was, growing up in that more frenetic elsewhere.

It's striking to me how much a place seems normal when you're there but then, with distance and time, becomes a foreign country. It's not a matter of dislike or ill-feelings, but shifting light. I can see, for example, why people might find [area of the country where I once lived redacted] insufferable. Or why [another area] has that particular reputation among people who don't live there. I see it now; I didn't before.

I've been working remotely a lot, with my feet here and my mind on the other side of the country. I've seen this as, generally, a good. But I didn't expect the moments of radical break, feeling that what my colleagues are sensing and feeling in their environment, the urgency, the pressures, the mindset of that place where they are, would be so at odds with the vibes from my environment. It's not just a matter of pace. I've been working long hours and as hard as at any point in my life. I can grind. I can hustle. It's not about that. It's about the context. Maybe it's about the agency. I feel like I'm moving fast by choice but — and maybe this is unfair — it feels like they're doing it because they can't imagine anything else. It's what everyone around them seems to be doing. There's so much external pressure. It's an anxiety in the air — are you moving fast enough to stay ahead? Don't answer. There's no time. Just run around more. For me, on the other hand, on the other side of the country, everyone around me isn't doing this. I'm being an odd bird with those hours and that burning the midnight oil push.

And there are other things. Little social cues I suppose. What you're allowed to talk about or what seems a bit verboten. It's something that happens in academic circles too, where I have more extensive experience. There are, for example, right answers, or, rather, the answers that are socially acceptable in various subsections of the professoriate. Maybe it's about the scholarship— like knowing the right kinds of schools or theories or ideas; but it's just as often about things like child rearing or popular entertainment or, yes, politics. In this remote work, I've been feeling more of that difference, that tension.

There are lots of pieces nowadays about the future of remote work. Perhaps Silicon Valley will dissolve as everyone flees the high rents and works from their farms around the heartland of the country. (Just kidding; that's not happening). But I do wonder whether all that remote work will bring others to this place with me, with their feet in their home and their minds and attention interloping elsewhere. And they'll feel this tension, a slight discomfort, watching via Zoom or Meet or Teams, and sense that they are at once both at home and in a foreign place.