No amount of in-office yoga, ping-pong tables and bean bag chairs, nor endless free buffets can distract from the monotony. The clock-watching. The Facebook feed refreshing. Cup after cup of coffee. In the end, it’s these activities that truly make up the working day.
For the hoards of humanities grads in art and tech jobs, the fun-loving, Silicon Valley-style work hub is still ultimately an office. Succumbing to the grind of the 9-5 (or rather, the 10-6ish, for those with flexible hours) personal projects feel less and less plausible. That zine you were going to self-publish might drop a deadline or two, and those night-time sketches you’d promise to keep up are slowly replaced by Netflix binge-watching and endless Tinder swiping.
Long before tech tycoons garnered the prestige of Blockbuster biopics and before we found our work and home lives digitally enmeshed, a group of young people at the very frontier of the Information Economy put out a subversive magazine called Processed World. The first issue appeared in San Francisco in April of 1981. It critically examined the increasing culture of temporary staff (temps) and voiced resistance to computation of the workplace. With cartoons, long-form essays, and fiery letters to the editor, Processed World questioned information work in a way that feels utterly relevant and uncannily similar to discussions overheard in bars during happy hour today.
Like many of the current generation of arts graduates, most of the disenchanted collective behind Processed World wanted to write, paint, draw, and organize. They had marketable skills, but were frustrated with twisting creative desires to fulfil the needs of big corporations that offered limited artistic licence paired with scant monetary return. 32 issues of Processed World were published in total, with a circulation never exceeding 5,000. Inside, contributors spoke of their frustration and ambivalence about career prospects or the possibility of finding creative fulfilment in paid work. Processed World provided an outlet: for venting, but also unencumbered artistic expression.
The cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) appeared in its pages, who went on to regularly contribute to the New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Economist. Ted Rall also sent in comic strips, an artist well known for his political cartoons and illustrated reportage of international current affairs. In its early days, the magazine was printed on an offset press in one of the founders’ garage; later, on a press at an anarchist household in Haight-Ashbury. Illustrators drew satirical pieces about profound boredom or the tyranny of their bosses, and as well as tales of depressed office workers clicking away, the magazine explored topics like housework, sex work, the possibility of unionization, income inequality, and the ways in which computation affected work and life to the detriment of people’s well-being. As the Baffler notes it a exploration of the mag: “one can also find the beginnings of today’s revolt against Silicon Valley and its pernicious mix of libertarian economics, techno-utopianism, and the deracinated remains of the sixties counterculture.”
The two-toned Processed World front covers are especially pertinent for contemporary readers. For issue one, a man’s face—stuck inside of a computer—asks a question that echoes present day data anxieties: “…are you doing the processing… or are you being processed?” For Processed World issue 12, tentacles pull a woman into her screen in a way that’s reminiscent to the hypnotic pull of a Twitter storm. For Processed World number six, monsters don’t crawl out from under the bed but from out of the filing cabinet instead.
You can browse all issues of the magazine here, and I suggest you do. At the very least, it’ll make the time pass quicker before the moment its time to make another cup of coffee.
“From its inception Processed World has sought to end the silence surrounding the underside of the Information Age,” its participants write in a history of the magazine, available to read online. “By utilizing a radical publication around art and humor, PW has re-emphasized the importance of immediate enjoyment, both for surviving this insane world, and for reintroducing fun into radical attempts to change it.”