Zooming with Truffaldino

Or, one hacker, ten masters

In this continuing period of white-collar work from home, why stop at one job? Couldn’t a deviously strategic employee hold down several full-time jobs at once, strategically scheduling their biobreaks and Zoom meetings to keep many bosses off the scent? And doesn’t the widespread use of the disgusting term “biobreak” effectively legitimize such mischief?

This idea was the subject of a recent viral post on Hacker News, in which an engineer boasted of having 10 jobs at once! How?

 The bar is so low, oversight is non-existent, and everyone is so forgiving for under performance I can coast about 4-8 weeks before a given job fires me.

More specifically, they target “overly funded growth-mode companies where they're focused on adding unnecessary headcount to work on poorly defined projects.”  

This high-octane chicanery seems very Silicon Valley, but the source code actually dates back to 1746 in Carlo Goldini’s The Servant of Two Masters. This commedia dell’arte play was retold as One Man Two Guvnors in 2011, thus launching the career of James Corden and giving us carpool karaoke. The original story follows the wit Truffaldino in the role of manservant, or what we’d now refer to as fulfillment coordinator. He’s sadly unfulfilled, and as he waits for his master (let’s call him the scrum master), he laments:

With this master of mine there’s not enough to eat, and the less there is the more I want it. The town clock struck twelve half an hour ago, and my belly struck two hours ago at least.

But what’s this? Another lord happens by and asks if the old Truffster needs a job. Like a sotto voce Linkedin profile, Truffaldino is creative with the truth:

You see me, sir. I am without a master. [Aside] My master is not here, so I tell no lies.

And at that point, he makes the same calculation that today’s hacker did:

Wouldn’t it be a fine thing to wait upon both of them, earn two men’s wages and eat and drink for two? ’Twould be a fine thing indeed, if neither of them found it out. And if they did? what then? No matter! If one sends me away, I stay with the other. 

His progress through the play features plenty of mixups and love matches, and one absurd use of chewed bread to reseal an envelope. The 2021 version: Simultaneous video meetings, during which the ploy is to “just disable video and blame it on internet problems.”

Where does it all end? This is the starkest difference between 1746 and 2021. Truffaldino eventually reveals himself in service of yet another master — true love:

It did not last long, 'tis true; but at any rate I can boast that nobody would ever have found me out, if I had not given myself away for love of this girl here. 

The hacker has a more grounded endgame: He’s planning to take all the money he’s amassed to launch his own startup “without having to give up any equity and simultaneously execute on practical customer discovery regarding the needs of modern engineering teams in a remote-only world.”

Does that mean, one commenter asked, that he’s effectively “exploiting employers so that I can found a startup that is able to monitor truant employees?” Yes, he replies, though without the monitoring part. 

Which is too bad, as the best ending would be the creation of a cloud-based Truffaldino magnet that accidentally exposes the secret of late capitalism: It’s Truffaldinos all the way down.

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Quick quips; lightning

“Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
Robert Benchley

“If you don’t want to work you have to work to earn enough money so that you won’t have to work.”
Ogden Nash

“What do you win if you lie on the couch for a month? A trophy.”
— Sarah Murdoch, submitted in response to last week’s issue on dad jokes.


Get Wit Quick No. 103 serves only you, dear reader. Thanks to Kelly Nestruck for the theatre history and Ryan Broderick for the Hacker News link. The modern way to suggest someone is really phoning it in when everyone is technically phoning it in is to declare them fractional. My book Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting can be read on a Zoom call. In Truffaldino’s final speech, he says “I hope that, in consideration of the fun of the thing, all these ladies and gentlemen will forgive me.” I feel the same way about the fun of the thing and implore you to tap the❤️ below.