Thursday, June 25, 2009

Paper Jam

Over dinner one night while we were in India my boss and I were talking about the experience of being in India. I.e. what was the most similar, what was the most different, etc.

What I said was the most similar was that at some level India was still just filled with people getting by and living their lives. People worrying about when raises will comes, how they will afford to send their children to a good school, meeting their girlfriend's parents and trying to make a good impression, bowling with friends, etc.

What I said was the most different was the amount of people. I really think it drives just about everything else that would be 'different'. The crazy traffic, the competition for jobs, the dependence on human power rather then machines, etc. When you have 1 billion people in a country one third the size of the US, and most of those people living in the few selected 'growth' areas of the country, you get high population densities.

As far as I could tell the competition for non-professional jobs is fierce, and there is always someone else ready to jump in and take your job. The amount of people and low wages also means that places can afford to hire people to do the smallest tasks.

For example, there was a guy who's job it was to be a bathroom attendant and squeegee the counter by the sink when you dripped water on it. One evening I saw the army of people who came in to clean the cubes each night (in addition to the army of people who cleaned the building during the day). There was also a rotating cast of guys who sat by the printer watching for paper jams.

I never really knew what the person in the corner was doing, until I tried to print something and the paper jammed. As it happened the guy was gone at the time so I spent a while trying to figure it out, a developer came over to try to help, and we generally messed around with the printer for a bit unsuccessfully. All of the sudden the guy who watches the printer came sprinting back.

I mean sprinting, as in all-out-run.

He quickly and matter of factly pushed his way to the front, fixed the jam, reprinted my job and handed me the papers. All the while, I assume, terrified that the one time he left his post the idiot from the US comes and jams up the machine, and now he was going to get fired. And I'm sure if I had complained he probably would have been. After all, his job was to watch the printer and he wasn't when it mattered, and there were probably 20 people outside who would have been glad to sit in the corner and watch the printer all day long.

The whole situation makes me sad, that someone would have to work under that kind of scrutiny. But I don't think it is out of the ordinary at all, as I had other similar experiences with other people in service jobs while I was in India. I'm sure there are lots of people waiting to take my job if I fail, but at least I have some degree of control over that. Being dependent on the whim of some jerk taking exception with the speed at which you brought out their bread before a meal would be horribly stressful.

Anyways the moral of the story, I guess, is that if your job is to watch the printer, make sure that you are.


Shawn said...

Interesting perspective. So what does that mean as the population explosion continues in those areas of the world? 10 years? 30 years? 50 years?

McBrideFarm said...

We noticed the same kind of thing when we were in South Africa. We once drove by a work crew that was breaking up an old road for repaving, and I commented that they should just use a jackhammer or bigger machine instead of doing it by hand, like they were. Our South African friends said they could do that, but then the crew of 20-30 guys wouldn't have a job. They also had people who "helped" you park your car--basically stood by the curb and guided you back into a parallel parking spot or pointed out an open space or whatever. It seems silly until you think about the fact that at least they have a job.

Sri said...

Welcome to India ...