The Political Life of the Call Center Generation

By in

I just put in 11 hours today.  I’m either a workaholic, or I’m addicted to writing…

Or maybe I’m just pissed off.

As a twenty-something, I belong to that generation that lacks a name. Only two years separate us from Generation X and the generation after Ferdinand Marcos. What exactly are we? There’s no other way to put it: we’re the Call Center Generation. Almost everyone my age is employed by the outsourcing industry. We are the generation that saturates Ortigas Center, Makati CBD, and Eastwood. Beyond the bars, the skyscrapers, and the perceived glamor of Metro Manila’s three biggest financial districts is a world of headsets, lights turned on for 24 hours a day, the ocassional ampethamine, and proxy servers.

Yes, there is something definitely wrong with this picture.

Anyone who works in a BPO will definitely lose an edge when it comes to politics. I should know: these days, I think I have the political edge of a rubber prop knife. And I’m not even a call center agent.

I think the politically-passionate are right to condemn us, the Call Center Generation, for being party animals drinking buckets of San Mig Light every payday. Yet to understand the seeming apathy of my generation, you have to put yourself in our shoes. “Shutting yourself off from the realities of life” is a very poignant rhetorical device: a computer, a headset, and Skype is the absolute “reality of life.”

Emo? Say what you will about skin-tight jeans that prevent circulation to your genitalia, but it’s so effin’ true.

Karl Marx’s favorite metaphor, “chains,” takes a whole new meaning for my generation: electrical wires are chains connected to a computer network (which is a chain in itself) connected to a chain an entire ocean away. You are chained to your job because you’re lucky to have one; you don’t have to walk around wearing your best clothes carrying a brown envelope staving off your hunger with Hong Kong Style Noodle. You don’t know what to protect: your wallet, your cellphone, your reputation, or your resumé.

When people ask you about Meralco, Jun Lozada, or the rice crisis, you either don’t know, or you don’t care. Who reads the papers when your payslip is enough to depress you? Who cares about Meralco bids when your building has a backup generator? Who cares about Jun Lozada’s foibles when there’s the proxy server to get to know more about Jennifer Lopez? What rice crisis are you talking about, when there’s always McDonald’s or ala carte (the sosyalin version of street food) to eat?

Besides, we are cogs in the wheel of what? What is our contribution to history? What do we have a stake on when there’s a newly-opened BPO a few blocks away? What identity do we, the Call Center Generation, hold on to, when it is but normal to us to converse to faceless people on another continent using a faceless name just given to us out of standard practice?

We are no more departed from the self-deprecation that was Generation X, and the self-glorification that characterized the generation that became teenagers with Beyoncé. We are no more politically-passionate than Martial Law alumni, and no more politically-immune than people who were made aware that Fidel Ramos’ cigar was the Vice President of the land. We are a generation caught in between history. We are products of history. We are cogs in the wheel of absolutely nothing.

Emo? Say what you will about side-swept hair made stable by a dollop of Gatsby hair wax, but it’s so effin’ true.

A friend of mine has a rather strange, if not extremely accurate, phrase for it: “Life then is but a tormenting inferno of pain masked behind a fictitious smile in a quasi-state of reality.” Indeed, life for this generation is nothing more than a tormenting firewall behind that assumed smile that you assure some irate customer that you’re making a difference with a brand-new Panasonic DVD player that can play Blu-Ray… if you can place the order.

That – not “apathy” – is the damning thing.

5 comments on “The Political Life of the Call Center Generation”

  1. Reply

    Enjoy your buckets of San Mig Light, Marck, while you can. Life will catch up with you soon enough. Take it from an old geezer like me. And there’s nothing wrong with being part of the Call Center Generation. You are the first truly globally-oriented generation of Filipinos, who grew up with a world view that goes beyond our fair shores, as a matter of course. Your generation will find its political voice soon enough, and when you do, it will boom across the archipelago.

    In the meantime, cheers!

    You are from Baguio aren’t you? This is a non-sequitur. I thought I heard you mention that you are from the north.

  2. Reply

    sir butch:

    problem is, i don’t drink light. :)) i’m more of a pale pilsen guy myself. i do hope that we find our voice soon enough.

    anyway, yes i am from baguio city. 😉

  3. Reply

    Hmmm… I have mixed feelings about this post because it’s not entirely delusions of grandeur:

    1.) There are indeed one-day millionaires. People who don’t save their money to try to upgrade themselves. Their perception about life is like a frog that’s happy inside a cramped well—-never dreamed of leaping to a bigger swamp.

    2.) However, there are souls whose professional niche is within “sales or management” which is why they preferred to work in a BPO, but with intentions to leave the phones and take a manager’s role.

    3.) Then, there are people like me who was sucked into the system because Mass Communication is a pseudo-profession in a third world country. If I were a graduate of welding, then perhaps Jennifer Thorimbert won’t let me go…because technical writing is my cup of tea.

    But why work for her If I can weld ships?

    I’ll stop here. I have my reservations. peace

    • r.Zaf
    • June 9, 2008

    my call center life-and my life as a whole, so far- is not that tormenting enough to make me crush my headset to the ragged floor stomping repeatedly over it or push me to complain relentlessly about the figures on my latest payslip compared against the figures on my bank account balance right after a grand 8-hour Greenbelt night-out or a hot, rowdy Malate escapade..and hey, it has not brought me in any way a tendency or a hysterical decision to make me jump off our 6th floor office (too low..LOL)..
    I got no plans though to do any of the above for I am comfortable and apathetic enough right now to shut up and let live.
    Sure you described me nice and fine but this so-called Call Center Generation is underdefined and has always been wrongly appraised by most peeps.I couldn’t be bothered anyway..
    And another yes, this generation is so vulnerable to shallow lifestyles and disposable values and yet more and more BPO kids are now fast becoming more politically in the know.
    What with more than a dozen proxy servers I have memorized, i can surf both CNN and a hard-porn site simultaneously during office hours, without guilt..
    Thanks for the post.It has been enlightening..

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