Are you active or inert? They’d pared the greeting down to its bare bones. Perhaps to save time, time being at a premium in those days. But just as likely because no one wanted to hear the positives any more. They were a sensitive spot. ‘Are you good, well, happy, enjoying life?’ Well someone must have been but for the mass of people filing into their cubicles of a morning the unspoken promise that someone, somewhere was seemed easier to digest than the direct truth of it. After all, it wasn’t likely to be one of them and if it were then what? Envy, or awkward internal comparisons? No, keep it simple instead. Active for those who were ready to face the day, inert for those who just needed to endure it. That kept everyone on the same, practical page. With the added bonus of asking absolutely nothing from the enquirer.
It was never a negative question, everyone knew that. To be inert was a survival method, nothing more. After all who could be active for every one of their thousands of days on the production line? It was impossible, but it didn’t mean they weren’t happy outside of it. Some of them must have been, there were too many for happiness to be a completely unknown resource.
It was another matter of motivational necessity that you never saw your colleagues beyond the confines of the work place. It raised too many questions and took away too many comforting uncertainties. Plus, with no time for idle talk in the workplace, other people just sort of lapsed into non-existence. Tools, automata, background to the active or inert day. Again, not a negative, everyone knew that. Just a fact of life, common sense so common that no one ever needed to state it.
Things were getting better too. More common knowledge. The strident march of technology was even catching up with their lives, the news was full of it. Full automation was on it’s way, endless production and a future free of the inert. Tomorrow, maybe the day after, everyone would be active, everyone could even be happy and there’d be no bored, blank faces to either side to politely hide it from.
Until then it was a simple enough routine. Active or inert? As long as you were one or the other there was nothing else to be. And who could say? Perhaps happiness lived at home for everyone. The possibility was everything.