Job-hopping was, historically, considered to be a bad thing. A job was for life, and anyone who had a CV that consisted of an endless catalogue of short-term contracts was perceived as either being unable to stick at anything, or incapable of obtaining anything more than seasonal or temporary work – usually menial, low-grade employment that was undemanding and required minimal intellect or, worse still, the kind of person who made a habit of getting themselves sacked. Times have changed. Some people actually choose to flit between jobs and call it ‘freelancing’. Others have short-term work forced upon them, and it’s no longer simply the blue-collar types. Offices and ‘contact centres’ (call centres to those who live outside of the corporate environment) are bursting at the seams with temporary staff and staff on fixed-term contracts – to the extent that many large companies actually employ very few staff directly. While the hourly rate for a temp may be higher on paper, subtracting the cost of benefits such as staff pension and sick pay and it’s easy to see why companies do it, although the benefits are immeasurably in their favour over those of the employee. Many of these temporary staff are educated to degree level, yet are still unable to secure permanent contracts. Even in positions that require higher qualifications and levels of experience, the situation is the same: universities are employing teaching fellows on a basis of a semester at a time, for one or two hours of teaching a week.
Again, there is an immense disparity between the idea of job-hopping as a lifestyle choice and the common reality for those who find themselves forced into a life of what Ivor Southwood refers to in his book Non-Stop Inertia as ‘job precarity’. It isn’t fun. And yet recruitment agencies and those who enjoy the ‘freelancing’ lifestyle (usually the kind of people who get head-hunted and land a short-term contract of a year or two in highly-paid executive roles) all emphasise the empowering nature of the ‘freedom’ this approach to employment affords the individual. For those who lack the comfort of a financial buffer and the capacity to earn large sums in short periods of time, the uncertainty and lack of stability that arises from short-term employment contracts is is anything but liberating, and every bit as depressing as being stuck in the same dead-end job for a decade or more.
The endless quest for a new contract and the endless stream of rejections the endless applications elicit is just as soul-crushing as knowing that your life is slowly slipping by while you sit in the same office churning out the same meaningless shit each dull day. At least that unfulfilling rut pays the bills, ensures the rent gets paid and affords the kind of security that comes will a pension, sick pay and all the rest. As a job-hopping freelancer, you are not your own boss: you’re a slave to the quest for the next thing and the search for a new boss to fuck you and discard you along with all the short-term contract trash not worthy of a permanent contract.
Still, surely no employment can be as depressing as Friends Reunited, arguably the first social networking site – if re-establishing contact with people you already know qualifies as ‘networking’. More often than not, people lose contact for a reason: the friends who are worth keeping, you make the effort to maintain contact with, and the effort is mutual. If you want to feel old, look up your old schoolmates. Check out their photos and see how their youthful looks have faded as they’ve grown fat,old, bald and saggy. Read their profiles and see how happy they are with their pathetic lots as they plough through life unquestioningly, aspiring to nothing more than a fortnight in Spain to provide a change of scenery from the 9-5 which, though monotonous, is the pinnacle of their capabilities, and as they like their colleagues and are able to leave their 2.4 children with their parents or grandparents while they go for a few drinks down the pub on a Friday night, it’s no cause for complaint. The ‘successful’ ones are no better really: leaving behind their small-town roots and making for the big smoke after graduation, they’re rich, jet-setting and love their Autumn skiing trips, mini-breaks to Paris and Rome and will have seen the world long before they retire at 50, but none of this changes the fact that they were cunts in school and are still cunts now.
Friends Reunited: keeping track of a bunch of cunts you never liked in the first place
The desire to rebuild bridges with people you were never friends with in the first place is simply a manifestation of the anxiety of ageing, the fear of losing one’s youth and all ties with it. Never mind that you hated school and were bullied mercilessly: you were young and had your whole life ahead of you. Rather than face the fact that you’re halfway through your time on the planet, it’s infinitely preferable to delude yourself that on reflection, school wasn’t that bad, in fact it was good fun. But however hard you work on kidding yourself, however much you force yourself and everyone to swallow the lie that you were cool in school, the bullying was just banter and that you didn’t spend those years lonely, depressed and yearning for something, anything, that would take you out of that hateful environment, every once in a while something will trigger a rush of recollection and it will all come screaming back at you. Sometimes, you can’t help but yield to those pangs of curiosity, when something random makes you remember a name, a face, an occasion and it drags you back like an undertow and you wonder what that person, those people are doing now. And before you know it, you’re trawling Friends Reunited or Facebook. You can’t help yourself, it’s a morbid fascination that makes you recoil in horror at that ageing face, that flabby beer gut, those sagging tits you lusted over when they were pert and teenage and hadn’t been ravaged by three screaming brats by three different fathers, none of whom is the current husband, hanging off them but you still go on through those family snaps, the pictures of the works nights out, the hen night for that slapper who laughed at you when you said ‘crotches’ when you meant ‘groynes’ in geography class. You can still hear that honking sound that ended with a snort and your blood boils with repressed anger even though it was almost a full fifteen years ago now. And that’s why you try not to think about it, because when the recollections resurface, the old wounds open up and you find yourself staring into the gaping gash straight into your fear-filled soul that’s been shrivelled by a decade of corporate dehumanisation. You need to snap out of it, now.
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