Monday, June 08, 2009

"Often Not Subtle"

What prompts this title? 1) Think "Subtle Japan" - if you've read a few books on Japan, you've probably run into that concept somewhere. 2) Think Canadian/Hokkaido winter temperatures in the summer - via overusing air-conditioners in the late 1980's. 3) Think Sub-Saharan heat in the winter - via overuse of heating and windows that are never opened in the years 2008 & 2009.

Now, before I get into high gear with my rant against wild misuse (& non-use) of thermostats in this city, allow me to say that there are indeed subtle aspects to the culture (as there are anywhere, really). Okay - here goes:

There is almost always some context for the way people behave/misbehave, and the background to common overuse of air-conditioning in the late eighties here was that a lot of people had grown up with no air-conditioning, and had unpleasant memories of hot sticky days in August wishing it were cooler. Along came air-conditioning, and suddenly those August dreams of winter Hokkaido breezes were realizable by dialing the temperature way (or all) the way down.

Into this environment I flew in 1984, and I listened in sympathy to women office workers saying how they suffered in the cold - how it was unfair that the men stayed in suits and cooled the air to the point where it was cool with a suit jacket still on.

Jump forward to 2008 & 2009 and - based on the offices I've been spending some time in - things have come full circle. A generation has grown up disliking overuse of air-conditioning; and recently, instead of the offices always being cool, now they tend to always be hot. For the past couple of years, I have found myself nodding in sympathy with people in thin clothing (of both genders, but most often male) fanning themselves in 29C/85F heat, bemoaning the fact that a handful of sickly people (of both genders, but most often female) in the office have hijacked the thermostats and there is nothing to do but suffer the daily purgatory of working in a constant 29C/85F heat - all year round, in winter and summer.

In winter, when questioned why company policy about not wasting energy is being violated to overheat the office, the excuse is that "Some people are cold", meaning that if it drops down to about 27C, some sickly people begin to complain of imminent frostbite. Come summer, suddenly the energy savings is very important - never mind that a majority of the people in the office are baking in the 29C/85F heat.

The thing that's quite irritating about how this issue is discussed here, is that people only say what their perceptions are, and the science of monitoring the actual temperature of the room to ascertain what temperatures are producing what reactions in what percentage of people, is almost completely ignored. Wanting to know exactly what's happening myself, I've been using thermometers (more than one, so I know the device isn't broken) to monitor the temperatures of some of the purgatories I visit, and that 29C/85F temperature is no joke - it's actually that hot.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this situation, except to shake my head in wonder and think "There's nothing subtle about this! These are fairly radical group reactions to something that should be dealt with incrementally!".

Rant... um... over for now.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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