Roland Dürre
Sunday March 29th, 2015

LOCKED IN THE TIME CAGE.

Eisenkäfig (hier: Florenz, ausgehendes 17. Jahrhundert) als Folterwerkzeug

Iron Cage (here: Florence, late 27th century) as a torture tool.

A short time ago, I wrote the article “Golden Wire” (Goldener Stacheldraht), where I described how enterprises take total control of their employees, thus making those persons totally dependent over the years. And it happens in a totally comfortable, even agreeable way.

This article triggered a number of exciting discussions. The time cage in which most of us – be it as employees or as freelancers – are locked in is another issue worth discussing. After all, we measure everything in terms of time: work, mobility, leisure time. And it robs us of our live time.

How absurd is the concept that you have to provide a certain amount of hours each week, no matter what needs to be done? In a “Tayloristic System”, this might make sense. You stand at the conveyor belt, execute certain motions and get some money for each unit you worked on. But shouldn’t Taylorism be a thing of the past for many of us?

The alternative of this system, which by now seems like a matter of course to us, was the system of task-work, which followed the achievement principle and was certainly not easy to work in, either. In this system, you are not paid according to time, but according to the number of items you produced. In structures based on Kaizen, you find the group task-work system. It has a positive side (team work) and a negative side (group pressure). I cannot really think of any more alternatives.

The so-called brain workers, too (formerly known for their white collars and ties and now by the fact that they prefer turtleneck pullovers) are paid by time. They get a fixed income for which they “work away” a number of hours, which means that they have to spend the time either in or for the enterprise. In addition, they get a variable income which is determined in the target agreement (a modern sort of task-work).

This “concept of working time” is so deeply rooted in our brains that we consider it absolutely normal. In my role as InterFace AG managing director, I made the same experience. On some weekdays, I only spent very few hours in my office. Yet sometimes I achieved something really important during those few hours. On returning home to my children early in the afternoon on days like these, my super-ego kicked in and gave me a bad conscience.

In my new life (neuen Leben) I discover what nonsense that is. I try to shape plans according to my priorities. And I use as much time as I need for successfully finishing the tasks. And I feel a lot freer than I used to.

I know many freelancers who feel absolutely autonomous, yet they are locked in the time cage as a matter of course. Why don’t you try to calculate your income as what you earn per hour or per day?

During one of the aforementioned twitter discussions, one person was wondering why the “freelancers” hate to call themselves by that name. In the internet, they often introduce themselves as senior consultant, expert for something or managing director (of their own one-person company). One of the answers to this question was that maybe “freelance” is often considered synonymous or “potentially jobless”. Which definitely did not have a nice sound to it, did it?

In my opinion, a freelancer is a day labourer – and as I see it, this is a rather honourable and not at all a bad word. Even if it sounds a little like “slave”. But then, aren’t we all slaves when all is said and done? Aren’t we all serving a master, a system or a mania?

But then, one might also imagine other (more modern?) systems for income determination. Gebhard Borck, for instance, in his book Dein Preis proposes a value contract as an alternative. This is not at all stupid and I rather like the concept. Due to many time cages installed all around us, however, these and similar ideas are (still?) utopia or at least hard to realize for freelancers.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
I took the picture from Wikipedia. It is of an iron cage (Florentine, late 17th century) on display at the Freiburg im Breisgau Torture Museum (Foltermuseum). The copyright is with Flominator. P.S.
Das Bild ist aus Wikipedia, es stellt einen Eisenkäfig (florentinisch, ausgehendes 17. Jahrhundert), der sich im  in  befindet. Der Urheber ist Flominator.

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