Oct 10, 2006

Company by Max Barry

Company by Max Barry Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program [...] I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. -- Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) from The Matrix.

What if the creators of The Matrix had started their own company rather than designing the ultimate virtual reality? In Company, author Max Barry describes the too-typical American company, Zephyr. A holdings company with no clear purpose or source of profitability, Zephyr is a behemoth of mismanagement and corporate dogma. We witness the lunacy of Zephyr through the eyes of Jones (first names promote unnecessary fraternization), a new employee who dares to ask difficult questions such as, "What does Zephyr actually do?" The answer he gets most often is to not rock the boat.

Barry does a great job capturing the idiosyncratic quirks of all the expected archetypes, Catch-22 logic, and overused buzzwords (“You want me to de-prioritize my current reports until you advise of a status upgrade?”). In long screeds, Barry describes – among other things -- the psychology of upper-management, the self-loathing of employees, and the desire to outsource (“The truly flexible company [...] doesn't employ people at all. This is the siren song of outsourcing. The seductiveness of the signed contract. Just try out the words: no employees. Feels good, doesn't it? Let the workers suck up a little competitive pressure. Let them get a taste of the free market.”)

Highly recommended.

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