Hip To Be Square?

Corona and the Covid19-pandemic have changed a few things for me, too. Not only have some reactions sparked my ire, it also influenced the way I work.

Due to distancing regulations and the suggestion to avoid crowded situations on public transport, the institute I’m working at only meets once per week, meaning that I’m working from home mostly. Or, rather, from a nearby library.

The above photo not only harks back at another, quite satisfying library stay a long time ago, but also shows an unusually clean, uncluttered work space: no books, no papers, just me and the machine.

This is due to the fact that the library is part of a university of applied sciences where there are (almost) no books or journals of interest for me. Plus, I’m working on a project right now that needs a lot of desktop research poured into Excel. The first time in my life I have to interact with this most un-Humanities-esque (not to say: dehumanising) of all computer programmes!

After a day of filling out square cells in columns and sitting in a square room at a rectangular desk in front of a rectangular screen, I feel how my eyes and especially brain are squared and boxed as well. Yes, Excel can do magic once data has been shoveled into it, and yes, it might be a necessity for many tasks pertaining to quantitative research. Yet, it really makes me long back to the days at archives in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and the USA, where I was also plunged into dark rooms (much darker than the actually nicely lit one at this library) with a laptop in front of me, but with the excitement of ripped and torn and mangled and blotched and … well … interesting documents to read. Alas! Ripping open boxes with old documents is just so much more exciting than filling out boxes on a screen.

As The Doors once sang (more or less):

Square days have found us
Square days have tracked us down
They’re going to destroy
Our casual joys

But other days are sure to come. And, as the title’s reference to another song (from quite another era) suggests, Dooresque hip(pie)ness seems to have lost out against squareness in the long run.


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