20 June 2013

#fridayflash: beige

A group of British physicists have determined that beige is the colour of the universe. That is, if one takes all the sources and intensities of light in the known universe, then all the sources of non-light, and then if you balance the light over all of that vast nothingness in between, you get the average colour of the universe, and the universe is beige.

If all the sources of light really were averaged — which is to say, if all the sources of energy really were averaged — then the universe would be dead, and entropy would be said to be at one hundred per cent. There would be no hot to balance against the cold. There would be no bright to balance against the dark. Everything would just be sort of... beige.

Beige is the colour of the cubicle walls where I work, and the colour of the storage drawers and the work surfaces. They're too modular to be called "desks" anymore. They're just a collection of multi-fitting components, each connecting with all other types in the set. Some are shelving units to hang off the cubicle walls. Some are racks to hold the shelving units up. It's like working inside of a giant Meccano playset. Except Meccano came in different colours, and here everything is beige.

When we call or instant message each other at work, and we tell each other where our cubicles are, we don't use internal landmarks. They shift around too quickly, are too unreliable. Some people try to say, "You know, I sit right by where Katherine sits," but the reply is inevitably, "Where Katherine sits now, or where she sat before the last move? I'm not sure I've seen her on the sixth floor lately. Does she still sit there?"

So instead we look out the window, figure out where we are by the compass points, and use external landmarks. Someone might say, "I'm easy to find. I'm on the southwest side of the building, and I can see the lake from my desk." Or, "I'm on the northwest side. I'm directly across from the Wal-Mart parking lot, but closer to the McDonald’s side than the mall entrance side." Outside isn't beige. There is still bright and dark, hot and cold.

Everyone I work with, and myself, we've all moved desks at least three times in the last twelve months. The company is trying to reorganise us so we're all grouped with the people we actually work with. It's proving to be a lot more logistically difficult than anyone imagined. Instead of one big move where everyone packs up their workstations one Friday afternoon and walks over to their new locations, we move from cube to cube, slowly finding each other, increasing the average amount of cohesion. Everything is getting more and more beige.

We've all thrown out a lot of printouts so we don't have to pack them over and over again. I can now move my entire workstation and set it up in its new location in under forty-five minutes. People still decorate their cubicles. They put up pictures of pets and offspring. I have neither, so I put up some art postcards a friend of mine made of her photography. Still, you can only really see the personal artifacts when you walk right into a person's workspace.

From the outside, all the cubicles just look beige.

14 comments:

  1. The second paragraph slew me. The notion of averaging the universe being a way of killing was too unexpected and funny, and of course echo through the cubicle life to come. Very clever, Katherine!

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    1. That part about averaging is also true, as best as my poor knowledge of physics can parse it.

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  2. of course these scientists say the universe is beige, they're British goddamnit and Brits do beige like no other nation on earth. Cut us open and we bleed beige. It is the ultimate colour of the jejune and the mondaine. This was a hoot and a blast to read!

    marc nash

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  3. A beige universe scares me. Is this sci-fi or horror you're writing here?

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    1. Mostly it's creative non-fiction. The average colour of the universe thing was on the news a few years ago. Later the scientists dais they forgot to carry a two or something in their calculations, and that the universe really averaged to a pale turquoise green. That's a nicer colour, but harder to work in.

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  4. Beige. That's why it's so relaxing, it calls to the entropy in your brain! One of our old buildings had beige cubes; ours are... a sort of turquoise green. With patterning.

    Bathrooms and breakrooms (and exit doors) are prime landmarks in such a place; they don't move without a lot of work. Adding some kind of potted plant to your overhead is one way to make your cube easier to find: "my cube {is|is next to) the big plant over by the windows."

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  5. Nice one. I've worked places with beige cubicles. Silly me, I always thought everything outside of there was more colorful.

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  6. I just love the way you lead up to the cubicles and transitioned from universe to cubicles. Wonderful idea for a flash and well executed.

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  7. Having worked in a beige cubicle farm, I enjoyed this piece very much. And, yes, we seemed to move frequently as well. ("Restacking" they called it.)

    Very creative tying the beginning to the feel of the office!

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  8. Beighhh. The color that most find plain, yet no one really finds offensive.

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    1. I do! I find it offensive! Especially when people tell me I should wear it to "warm up" my son tone. I wind up looking jaundiced. :-D

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  9. I hate beige. If I had my way, the universe would be purple.

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  10. I pray this is in no way based in real experience because it sounds entirely too likely not to be scary.

    Have you ever seen "The Banger Sisters" with Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon? If not I highly recommend it for their take on beige.

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