We left the audio on as we worked. I read and searched to the sound of his typing, then later I typed to the sound of occasional outbursts of indignation as he graded papers. Sometimes we shared something we’d found, or thought, or a chuckle would make the other ask what was so funny. I did more work on my trial lecture in our shared quiet than I’d done all day.
I loved sharing an office with Frank, back when we were working on the MOO project. We had a screen between us, a good view, ample space for books and things – and our wonderful shared quiet. I’d lean back with a question, we’d share silly or useful things we found on the web or get up to see if there was any coffee left.
Before that I liked the shared study halls. Not the anonymous ones for undergrads, with dozens of strangers and rubbish left behind by people who didn’t care about this shared space, but the one we had when we were Masters students, where we had our own desks and books and a little kitchen to chat in.
A good workspace needs a fridge and a kettle, it needs calm but also the knowledge that people are working nearby. I like my office at the university, but the doors to other offices are all shut, there’s no fridge or kitchen or shared space to hang out, and we’re still working on getting all us humanistic informatics people together, in the same floor, the same hall. I can’t just lean back and chat with someone, or even reliably meet a close colleague if I go to buy a coffee. Instead, I have to deliberately knock on their doors. That means I have to have a reason to see them – a chuckle I want to share isn’t really enough.
So when I’m doing writing and research I work at home. I like my fridge, the sofa, the view. iChat has surprised me by bringing me some of the company of the shared office space. This non-geographical cluster of friends and colleagues are closer to my field of research than my local colleagues. Oh, Elouise is home, grading, I see from her status message. I don’t ping her today, but I know she can see I’m here too, and I imagine a smile. Mark video chats me for a minute or two wanting to be reminded of the name of a game. Anders videos me for a chat about our upcoming defences. James texts me to wish me good working, I moan to Elin about something, ask Vika about American etiquette. I talk with Scott for an hour and then the best bit of all comes, totally unexpected: we stop talking and just work. With shared quiet and shared chuckles.
You’d never leave the phone on like that. Where I work, we don’t even leave our doors open like that.