Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond
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An Open Letter to Herman Miller
Dear Mr. Miller,
I’m thrilled to be writing you. How admirable that you started a company that eventually created the first cubicle—in the early 1960s, no less. What a frontiersman! After all these years, I continue to be delighted by your decision to create a labyrinth of interconnected workspaces. Unlike the 93 percent of all workers who would prefer to work in another space, I’m one of the proud who hope to be working in a cubicle for my entire life. People should really stop and think about how pretty they can make their cubicles.
Before I address the beauty of the cubicle, I’d like to take a moment to imagine the thought process you underwent when designing it. Forgive me if the process is not exactly accurate: “What can I do to revolutionize the American workforce? Think. Secretaries in bikinis! No. That’s the dream I had last night. [You’re so wild, Mr. Miller, so powerful!] Space … It’s the space that needs redesigning and I can do that! People won’t work at desks where they can see each other. They’ll have desks surrounded by … walls that are not really walls! What can I call these spaces? They’re squares, no cubes … cubicles! By implementing my grand plan, corporations of this great nation will be able to save millions on office space and will pay me millions in return! I’m a genius!” You are smart, Mr. Miller—a sexy Einstein of the office-design world. You probably have an engineering degree. How alluring. And, clearly, you are a caring man. You have done wonders for employees as well.
Employees, you ask? Yes, the employees of this great nation. Why? Because we have cute little spaces entirely to ourselves. Secret: I enjoy painting my fingernails in my cubicle. Flaming red is my favorite color. I also love when everyone decorates their cubicles! Their personalities just shine when they put up brightly colored posters that contrast beautifully with the slate gray. Spotlighted by the fluorescent lighting, the pictures of their family members and friends are so precious. What warmth and happiness! In my humble opinion, my cubicle is the most well-decorated. I’ve strung leis in three colors from my 1996 trip to Hawaii.
Sadly, the office gossip is disgruntled and confused. To her, workers in your labyrinth of interconnected workspaces are stressed because of overcrowding. She says they shout too loudly across the way, asking for a throat lozenge or a tissue or some advice on how to get a man. They lash out in anger, too, especially when they can’t close the deal. (“Cubicle rage,” she says. Can you believe that?) She gets upset when they call and e-mail each other just to feel a sense of ownership of the space, to create a virtual wall between themselves and their co-workers. (I hate when she uses the word “virtual.” It’s so highfalutin!) She gets really annoyed when they forward porn links. They eavesdrop, too, she says. But if you ask me, she eavesdrops the most. She always knows stuff like who’s pregnant long before she’s supposed to. But I think her disdain for cubicles is all in her mind. She’s totally neurotic.
If I know my boss, and I think I do, because I’m his trusted assistant, he sees things like you did in the 1960s. His employees are busy at their stations, working steadily to maintain or improve the bottom line. And my boss is right. The office gossip is wrong! They are behaving like the little figures in that model you must have shown your research-and-development team. You remember, the model of your Action Office, the first cubicle system! That model must have looked like a work of art, because you are a genius.
Once again, I want to thank you for revolutionizing the American workforce, Mr. Miller. You deserve every accolade. I hope your company continues to be a leader in cubicle design.
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