This is a story about Digital Transformation, believe it or not. More of a musing actually and here is how it goes:
Some 20 years ago, my daily schedule looked like this:
8.30 AM: Wake up, shower, get dressed and out of my house.
9.30 AM: Café con leche con medialunas (2 or 3 pieces) at a typical Buenos Aires Café. (latte with 2 or 3 croissants that is)
10.00 AM: First class at the Conservatorium where I was studying to become a Piano performer (classically trained) and music professor.
12.00 PM: End of class and beginning of lunch.
1.00 PM: Commute to Radio Broadcasting school.
2.00 PM: Start of the first class of the day
6.00 PM: End of the last class of the day
6.30 PM: Café con un tostado de jamón y queso (coffee + grilled ham & cheese sandwich) at another typical café in Buenos Aires
7.00 PM: Beginning of the late shift (not graveyard one though) at the call center I worked for.
2.00 AM: End of my shift, and commute back home
I know it sounds crazy but that was my routine for at least two years before I dropped music school (as I realized I didn’t have any talent or patience) and I graduated as a Radio broadcaster. I changed jobs too. What didn’t change for the longest of times was that I would have breakfast out of my house and I was not home by 6 pm, I would stop to grab something to eat at any café I would find.
Me and thousands (maybe millions) of Argentinians that is. A ritual of my generation and a few before mine: the breakfast of the working class and the business person was usually like that. Coffee and milk (regular) plus 2 or 3 croissants. Oh, and that small almost ritualistic glass of sparkling water or tap water.
It spoke of a rhythm, of a routine. It described a way three, four maybe even five generations worked. We woke up early, hopped on a bus or train, commuted to wherever it was we worked or studied and had breakfast right before starting the day. There was no time to prepare that breakfast home, and then again, you didn’t want to. A special magic thing happened when you ordered a “Café con leche y medialunas por favor.”
That whole thing bonded us, different generations. Some cafés had a few newspapers out there for you to read, and you could ask any of the other patrons sitting at another table for it if you wanted the section he or she was reading. Some cafés would have a radio on or a TV set, and nobody would speak but listen or watch while we dunked the medialunas in the café con leche.
My routine these days is different. I am still building it actually as I have recently made the change from employee to consultant. The fact is for the past ten years I have had breakfast with my wife, in bed and then I would go to work. The first part is still the same but now there’s no office to go to, and no University either.
Sometimes though she has early meetings and I ride along. Early though, doesn’t quite mean what it used to mean. I am talking 9.30 or 10 AM. That’s almost mid-morning for me but not to the younger working people. Most of them don’t even get to the office before that time.
As it is, most of them don’t even begin their days before that time. I noticed they don’t have that rush previous generations (including mine of course) had. They don’t wake up really early, they don’t get out there as soon as they can and they definitely won’t have a café con leche if they can have something more elaborated.
This is where digital transformation comes in. Back in the day, you just needed to wake up early and jump on a bus or a commuter train as soon as you could so to avoid the rush hour or navigate it comfortably. Having a café con leche closer to work and your “punching card” time was better than having a long and luscious breakfast at home, then a slow and long commute. Nobody would be more than 5 minutes late to work. That was unthinkable. When I started working and even ten years ago…home office was not really a thing, and the elements you needed to do your work were at the office. You couldn’t answer an email from your phone (well you could but not everyone had a blackberry), and you couldn’t have a teleconference.
There was a shift. The Company was at the center of the employee productivity universe. The digital transformed that: it is now the employee (and its welfare) that live in the center of the discussion.
9 to 6 was a thing in those years and It spoke more about what employers expected of you than what we as employees demanded out of them. Punch in at 9, work, punch out at 6. The marvelous moment you had your café con leche and ate your three medialunas toke some of that stress out of you even before the day started. The tostado in the afternoon gave you back the strength you needed after long hours of focusing at work. Strength you needed to face 3 or even 4 hours at University late at night and the commute back home before you could have dinner.
I know. It sounds almost primitive…and that is how I felt when I walked in at 9.30 into what I thought was a “café” but was actually a “coffee shop.” A guy with a blue and shy mohawk asked me in accentuated Spanish if I wanted a Latte and I preferred a muffin or carrot cake loaf. He only did that after I said “Hi” 3 times. That’s what it took me to get his attention and unglue his eyes from his phone.
As I paid for what I had, he handed me a paper napkin with the wi-fi code in it and a link to a satisfaction survey. I was completely alone in the place. No radio or TV set but I saw a flat screen displaying a Spotify playlist that sounded all the same to me.
The place was empty and I asked the guy if that was normal and he said yes, nobody comes in before 10 AM. I asked him how full it would get (as I was hoping to see some people there), and he said it only got full after noon as people would come in for brunch there. People start working from home this day and have more flexible work hours. Why would they rush into the traffic? Companies pay full wages for less than 8-9 hours of work anyway plus benefits.
Antique was written all over my face for the look he gave me before he went back to his phone. I took both the latte and the muffin and went to sit down to one of the too clean fake mahogany tables and looked through the window into the street. No one was rushing, no one was running and there was this feeling of loneliness you get when you are in an airport filled with people that just doesn’t look at you.
The latte was bad (as most lattes I’ve ever had) and the muffin as dry as you would expect from anyone doing muffins in Buenos Aires. The wi-fi connection though was excellent. I opened two different online newspapers and started reading them as I sipped the awful latte and took a bite of that sad looking muffin.
It was barely 9.45 AM.
Also published on Medium.