Philosophical Accounting

This battered comic strip has been with me for years. I’ve taken it to my classes in Philosophy of Education. I have pinned it to the corkboard on my wall. It is now taped to my office door, because I feel it accurately and concisely describes all my qualifications for my current job.

As I said on my post “First of May”, I have a very simple summer job: I rent rooms to people who come to Toronto for short stays during the summer. Some of our guests are students, some aren’t. Some stay overnight, some stay for a week or two, some a month or two, some stay the whole four months. Some come from far away, some from across town. It’s a very interesting mix of people, and I like the chance to practice my interpersonal skills — something I don’t always get to do with my thesis work. And trust me: those get plenty of exercise in this job, both in quantity and variety of exercise.

The booking system has likely been the same for the last forty years, if not longer. It consists in two binders: the room binder and the people binder. My job is to keep the two synchronized at all times.

The room binder is a big grid chart. The vertical axis corresponds to the rooms we have. The horizontal axis marks the days of the month. Each page describes what happens in a particular house is any given month (five houses, four months, twenty pages).

Each time someone makes a reservation, or cancels their reservation, or decides to change rooms, I mark it on the room binder, like an elaborate game of Tetris. Only the Tetris blocks have needs and are treated with utmost respect. I always knew that all that investment of time and energy playing Tetris in my youth would pay off some day.

The people binder contains the Tetris block’s personal information, such as name, address, email, dates of arrival and departure, whether they want a single or a double room, whether they have read our rules and regulations (which most of them haven’t, I’m not sure I have myself, at least not since 2003. )

This year I revolutionized the people binder by inserting tabs that go from 1 to 31, May to August. This makes it easier to synchronize it with the room binder: if Mr. X is arriving July 6th, my mind doesn’t need to go from A to X to find Mr. X: it just goes to day needed, when needed. The tricky part is to know which is the day needed, an objector might say. To which I reply: that’s why we have the room binder. All very simple.

What about computer programs, you ask. To this I reply: we respect tradition here. Nothing has stood the test of time quite so well as the old pencil-and-paper methods we use. Cleaning staff, porters, bursar’s secretary, building supervisor: we all rely on face-to-face communication for our jobs to run well. No computerized, mechanized, mediated communication here: we want to brush up our interpersonal skills after all. It’s all millimetrically planned.

And that’s why it calls for someone trained in philosophical accounting.

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