This afternoon I went for a walk, into the ceaseless smog of Singapore. Disgusted by the air, I tried to walk across town without opening my mouth, in the possibly forlorn hope that my nostrils would adequately filter the fumes that I breathed.
My promenade took me down to Cecil Street, where I had a series of meetings with advertising companies, within Facebook’s offices. Facebook have pretty nice offices, but to get to them is a little unpleasant. Even if there wasn’t a cloud of yellow muck to walk through, there was a cramped lift that only took you up to their offices sluggishly, the bell chiming for each floor aggravatingly loud. I arrived at the entrance to their offices, via what appeared to be a cargo loading area and then sat around in a chair that was rather too low to the ground, wondering if I should look attentive and excited, or sneak a peek at the newspaper on the table next to me.
Eventually I was gathered up by a Facebooker (Facebookian? Facebookite? Employee of an enormous social networking company?) and taken into a series of meeting rooms to talk with representatives of different companies who want to help us spend more money with Facebook.
Each of those representatives had only flown into Singapore in the last couple of days, so they were battling with jet lag, and I was the last in a succession of possible clients that they’d had to meet. Each one was a brave trouper, trying to keep up their enthusiasm, but then the motion-sensitive lights in the room would shut off, as if the very building was heckling them part way through their speech.
There was only a limited time to spend with each one, and in each case it felt like the start of a rather awkward dance; we already do some things with most of the partners I was presented with, which either means we have plentiful experience with them already, or everything from the rest of the world doesn’t translate into Singapore, and we can’t actually be sure which is which yet. Each of them had some exciting things for us that I hadn’t considered before, which was a great way to learn new things, but as each one was then getting on a plane and leaving again, without any local infrastructure being left behind to work with, it felt like this was a prelude to something greater, only to be seen in a few months’ time.
Or I was encountering some kind of existential crisis brought on by wandering through the smog today. I walked back to the office, away from thoughts of scientific management, and back to more quotidien things than massive multivariate testing and advanced bidding algorithms.
Or away from cargo lifts and rooms where the lights went out if some all-knowing intelligence decreed you weren’t being interesting enough. Perhaps it’s a utopia. Perhaps it’s a dystopia. Perhaps I could do with an inhaler after all.
In the end, I have been habituated to prefer immediate responses and clear feedback. It’s actually a little disconcerting to meet people who are keen to work with you, but who freely admit they’re not quite ready yet. It feels like we might be on the verge of something wonderful, but I’m always a little nervous about having to wait.