Greasy, shedding things

I listened yesterday to the Fuzzy Typewriter Podcast regarding the movie ALIEN. In light of the forthcoming movie Prometheus, Paul has decided to watch the four Alien franchise movies and discuss them with friends. This podcast covered the first movie, Ridley Scott’s Alien.

I’m not going to talk about the movie. I am going to talk about a feature of science fiction. Namely, that humans are dirty.

I work in a high-tech job. I’m an air traffic controller. The walls of my workspace are 3.5-meter-tall racks of specialized computer equipment, each rack mounted on a raised floor that jets cold, dry air up into the workroom. There are, if I remember the tech tour correctly, over a hundred miles of cable — computer, electrical, telephonic — in my building. The system I work on is triple-redundant. Parts can and are hot-swapped out in under ninety seconds should a component fail.

My workspace is really quite dirty.

It’s dirty because the cleaning contractors do not touch the equipment. This is right and good and proper — I don’t want a stray shot of Windex taking out my scope, and I don’t want my frequencies turned off by a Swiffer. But it means the consoles never get clean.

Occasionally large wafts of grey … stuff … comes floating down from the top of the consoles, the parts of the racks we can’t see. The stuff is, frankly, us. It’s human hair and skin and sweat. It’s the stuff of dust bunnies, writ large. It’s there because we humans effluviate. We shed, we smear, we streak.

We shed our skin every forty-five days. Where do you think it goes?

Just because the future is technologically advanced from right now doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be cleaner. Particularly if the tech involved is a set piece of important gear used by multiple people. If it belongs to no-one, no-one is responsible for cleaning it. If it’s important, then no-one will be allowed to mess with it. When one shift knocks off and the next one comes in, no-one takes the time to scrub it all down. You pick up the pen at the station, you sign in, you adjust the volume knob, and you start touching things. You get to work.

And you get your self all over everything.

I love the Nostromo. It looks right to me, it looks familiar. The old control room floor, the one I worked in for three years before we moved to the new floor, everything on the old floor was beige. Almost nothing in that room had been beige originally. It was beige because cigarette smoking had been allowed in the control room for over thirty years. The crew of the Nostromo smokes. They sweat, they exercise, they work, they sit around. They clean the galley, certainly, and I bet they clean the head. but they don’t clean the console, or the door handles, or the corridor ceilings. And those things are grimy, as they should be.

The place I work looks totally awesome. It’s full of touch screens and swivel arms and lots of HD monitors and blinky lights and there are voices calling out from speakers and people talking in assured quiet voices constantly. It is, frankly, kinda badass. I love it. But the lights are very, very dim. It is a badass high tech environment coated in a thin layer of human.

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