Are you busy today?

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

The other day I ran into my friend Brian. “How are you doing, Brian?” “Over worked and underpaid. Terribly busy, this is my peak season you know.”

Almost everyone I know gives me a paraphrase of that same answer. It’s been the standard answer for at least a hundred years, and maybe through the entire history of Western Civilization. There’s always more to do than there is time. The boss always has something extra that needs doing. The family is always asking for something, and you know that the house and yard absolutely need to have that spring maintenance work done! Soon!

I don’t like the “So busy!” response. It’s too easy and really doesn’t say anything. Kind of like: “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” The answer bears no relationship to what’s happening in life. Our culture seems to demand that we be busy and fine. Sure, there are people who claim to not want to hear an “organ recital” from this old man, but sometimes “Fine” just isn’t the right answer, and if one of us needs help, advice, or an ear to bend, another answer is the right one.

That said, the main thing that irks me about the “Busy!” answer is that the opposite is probably the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Here’s my story:

This was a long time ago, within a year or two of my taking a job at IBM. They had hired me for a major project, and they even had to move us to a temporary expansion site to make room for all the new people on this project. Then the project was cancelled. If I remember correctly, there was some new technology that was essential for the product. The new technology failed, so that called the entire project into question. Continue reading