Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Weekend Effect

It's the weekend, and not much has been going on at work, which is why weekends are nice. The weekly crowd leaves, has days off, and it's oh, so quiet. Very few emails are sent down the pike on a weekend, very few phone calls come in.

It doesn't matter whether I'm even there or not: no emails, no phone calls, no voice messages. :)

If one is in the field, actually out hiking around, mapping, taking samples, checking out localities, even driving to drill rigs, the weekend effect is still noticeable. These days, people generally assume that you can be reached by cell phone and email, even when you are in the field concentrating on rocks. Consequently, they call you, email you, leave messages, possibly bugging the hell out of you while you are trying to get things done, trying to have some peace, trying to commune with the rocks (perhaps non-geologists won't understand the "commune with rocks" aspect of the job). I don't usually see these messages (and I don't always hear my phone, especially if I'm at a rig or am banging away emphatically on some recalcitrant outcrop) — until lunch, when I sit down on a rock, or on the ground leaning against an outcrop or my backpack if a suitable sitting rock is not handy. I can then check my phone for emails, missed calls, phone messages — providing that I'm within range, which is not always the case in Nevada. (Thankfully.) In other words, the weekend effect is still in place when I'm out in the field: I'm unlikely to get any field-disturbing interruptions because the weekday crowd is off work, not around.

I'm not sure if the younger generations** realize, what with all the connectivity of today, that many of us got into geology for the solitude and great outdoor getaways — not just for the opportunity to work at scenic, possibly remote field sites, but also for the resulting benefit of getting away from people, from offices, from everything. We didn't get into it to sit behind computers* looking at simulations of rocks and their rocky relationships; we got into it to get out there and actually see, bang on, and map the rocks. (Many of us did, anyway.) I know geologists who are still moderately uncomfortable with computers, and some who've grown into them over the years, gradually and painstakingly. I know geologists who, if they are ever in the office or at home for more than a week or two, just go stark raving nuts and have to leave: they need to get out and get away from offices, bosses, memos, house and home and all that entails — and now, with constant connectivity, they need to get away from emails, cell phones, voice messages, text messages, and the constant on-call nature that these things are bringing to the field geologist who happens to own a cell phone. (I do know at least one geologist who doesn't own a cell phone; I know others who only use them while on the job; I know one or two who never answer, letting all calls ring through to voice mail.) I (fortunately?) can't always hear my cell phone, even if I have it turned to the max. My loss of hearing is the result of being around drill rigs before ear plugs were de rigueur, and from driving down dirt roads with the side window open. My job has given me relief from the current on-call nature of the job.

Anyway, I hope it's a good weekend for you, wherever you happen to be. Me? I've been weeding the garden and will later have a beer — indoors, away from the skeeters.


P.S. This same weekend effect can be created — to some degree, and in some places — by working on holidays, although 3-day weekends in the Mojave and some other field locales can be an absolute drag (to say the least).


* I have nothing against computers (as you might have guessed), and I did own the first IBM-compatible portable computer — the giant, 28-lb Compaq, which could barely be crammed into the overhead compartment for airline travel — but when I got into geology, the closest one could get to a computer was the batch room, where one could turn in stacks of punch cards. The associated keypunch and printout rooms were located part way across campus, miles, it seemed from the batch room. Consequently, most students never saw the mainframe, which was hidden away somewhere, maybe in the closed area behind the batch room attendant, who was possibly a computer science major making a few bucks.

** Updated: I hope it's understood that I have nothing against any of the younger generations, but want to merely note some differences between now and back then. When I first went out into the field, if anyone wanted to get in touch with me, they had to get in a 4WD and drive many miles from any town, or they had to rent a light plane or helicopter and fly out, or - never done - they had to get on a horse and ride out to see me. A more normal practice was for me to drive 10 to 30 miles after a day of field work to call the office from a pay phone, or, if I was too far out, to see my boss back in the office 10 days down the line.

For many years, we saw very few young geologists coming into mininig and minerals exploration, so few that I can probably count the ones I know of now middle years on two hands. The severe lack of younger geologists, who would now be in their twenties or early thirties, was lamented quite frequently by my collegues and I. More recently, in the last 5 years in particular, I have met several fine and enthusiastic younger geologists in meetings, working at remote mines, and on geology field trips. I've also met a lot of geologists of varying ages and broadly divergent fields online through blogging and other related activities.

And maybe I have an unusual point of view, having done most of my work in Nevada and other relatively remote parts of the west, where some cell companies can't, today, provide reliable service even 10 miles from our smaller towns or 10 to 30 miles off our major highways.


Gaelyn said...

Is it really so important to be connected All the time? I'd rather enjoy being in the field with no phone, email, voicemail........

Mike b said...

I'm a manager for a drilling company. It should be no secret that drillers share with geologists the desire for solitude and detachment. We are more connected than 30 yearsago, but most of us still welcome the opportunity to unplug.

Silver Fox said...

I rarely unplug for as much as a whole day, but do get away on occassaion for camping in places that have nada for service, e.g. Great Basin Nat Park.

Have seen drillers (or helpers, anyway) texting on the job!

Mike b said...

Me too, and threatened to throw the phone in the sump the first time I saw it. I've since come to realize it is an effective back channel for questions, parts, maintenance questions and general support.

Now I'm toying with a text aggregating program designed for NGO's that I want to turn into a near-miss reporting system!

Silver Fox said...

Some mines don't allow personal cell phones onsite unless you are a contractor (which would apply to drilling outfits). In fact, before they banned them, some techs were known to text each other at lunch while in the same room. It was kind of funny to watch.