diumenge, 9 d’agost de 2009

Speechles Dilbert

Who's the man behind Dilbert?
"Adams looks exactly the way you'd expect a middle-aged cartoonist to look: laid-back but dignified, dressed in jeans, a black Quiksilver button-down, sneakers, and glasses, all topped by a tidy arrangement of gray hair. He waves to the construction workers, who are unaware that the man wandering around the site is the person who hired them. Adams enjoys an anonymous sort of celebrity: He's sold millions of books, yet he's rarely recognized in public. Even when he is spotted, people usually don't get too worked up over a mild-mannered guy who makes jokes about fax machines.
Adams wanted to be a cartoonist since he was 6 years old, reading old Peanuts collections at his uncle's farm in upstate New York. His father was a postal worker who painted houses on the side; his mother worked in real estate and later labored in a factory to put the kids through college.
Even as a child, Adams found himself negotiating between earthbound practicality and starry-eyed fantasy. Figuring that a cartooning career was a long shot, Adams the realist shunned art school in favor of an economics degree at
Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. But Adams the dreamer never stopped drawing, even while crunching numbers. And though devout pragmatism made him eschew religion, astrology, and anything else that wasn't grounded in fact ("He's got a little bit of Mr. Spock in him," as one colleague puts it), he held firm to his wish-fulfillment affirmations, even turning to them to improve his love life. The competing impulses never went away.
After graduating in 1979, Adams went on to pursue an MBA, which ultimately helped him land a job at Pacific Bell. Once there, he found himself immersed in the futility of bureaucracy—the aimless meetings and senseless doublespeak. He often doodled his observations, turning his cubicle (#4S700R) into an art studio. Over time, two recurring characters emerged: a put-upon, sweet-natured doofus with an upturned tie (Dilbert) and a malevolent, bespectacled pooch (Dogbert). Adams worked up enough strips to send to the syndicates, and United Media, the company that represents such titles as Peanuts and Marmaduke,
picked him up in 1988.
Dilbert came out during the last true blockbuster era of the American comic strip—a time when Calvin and Hobbes resided just a few smudgy inches from Peanuts and The Far Side. "I can never be as good as those guys," Adams thought while scanning the upper tiers of the funny pages. "But these others? I can play in that field."
Initially the strip was picked up by around 150 newspapers—a respectable figure, though Adams still had to keep his position at Pac Bell. He worked in the finance department, but during a hiring freeze in the early '90s, he was reassigned. "From now on," Adams' boss told him, "you're an engineer." Next thing he knew, he was a project manager in the ISDN lab. It wasn't what he had signed up for, but engineering meshed well with his fastidiousness and love of logic.
Around 1994, after several years of spending all his free time cartooning, Adams began to develop a problem with his right hand. Every time he tried to draw, his pinky went into spasms. A doctor diagnosed him with
focal dystonia, a rare neurological disorder triggered by overuse. Adams' brain was forcing his finger to flap around.
"Well," Adams asked, "what's the fix?"
"The fix," the doctor said, "is that you change jobs."
Adams had to believe the doctor was wrong. His career was just taking off—there must be a fix, he thought. Being
Scott Adams, he decided to see if he could solve the problem himself. Whenever he was stuck in a meeting, he'd grip his pen and hold it down on a piece of paper, waiting for the spasm to kick in. Just before it did, he'd pull the pen away, then start again. Each time, his finger grew a little bit steadier, as if he were slowly retraining his brain not to notice he was drawing. The twinges began to quiet, and after a year they stopped.
Soon, the '90s economic boom meant that millions of Americans were herded into teeming, nondescript industrial parks. Dilbert chronicled the rising intraoffice class struggle, in which lower-rung employees toiled under the thumb of nincompoop managers. Readers may have seen Charlie Brown as their pal, but they saw Dilbert as an ally. Circulation skyrocketed: By 1995, the strip was inching toward the 1,000-paper mark, finally allowing Adams to quit his day job. Speaking tours followed, as did a few best-selling office-advice tomes.
Dilbert was no longer just a comic strip; it was a white-collar protest statement. Having a Garfield doll on your desk didn't imply much in the way of subtext (though it did hint at a possible aversion to Mondays). But tacking a few Dilbert strips to the outside of your cube was a way of acknowledging your own powerlessness, albeit in a self-empowering way: This job may suck, but at least I know it sucks."

His problem.
The rules dictated when and where Scott Adams, the chief engineer of the Dilbert comic empire, was allowed to speak. He could neither control them nor predict exactly when they'd go into effect. All he knew was that he'd woken up one morning and found that his voice had turned against him, imposing a set of bizarre restrictions.
Take the rule about crowds. If Adams was at a party with friends, he'd open his mouth to talk, only to find the words tumbling out in a raspy, imperceptible staccato, chopping off sentences before they had a chance to form. If he tried to say, "Tomorrow is my birthday," for example, it would morph into a weak "Ma robf sss ma birfday."
After a few more searches, Adams arrived at his own diagnosis: spasmodic dysphonia. It was another neurological disorder, one that causes the throat muscles to clamp down erratically on the vocal cords, strangling speech. In all of Adams' meetings with physicians, no one had even mentioned SD; the disorder is so rare that few doctors have heard of it. Adams tracked down a throat specialist, who confirmed Adams' findings and told him that SD had no known cure. He'd never regain his normal speaking voice.

The solution.
Gerald Berke, chief of UCLA Medical Center's Division of Head and Neck Surgery, had developed a procedure called selective laryngeal adductor denervation-reinnervation, or SLAD-R. Berke finds the nerve that's being told by the brain to spasm, and severs it. Then he grafts on a nerve from a different part of the neck. After three or four months of healing, the voice is restored—it's very weak at first, but the SD is no longer noticeable. It's like rewiring the larynx.
Adams began getting in touch with Berke's former patients. It turned out that most of the information he'd heard about SD operations was out of date, likely due to the rarity of the disease. Berke had been practicing his procedure since the '90s, steadily refining it over the years; he now claimed an 85 percent success rate in men. The patients that Adams contacted were very satisfied. Adams flew to UCLA and met with Berke in June. On July 15, 2008, he underwent surgery."

Brian Raftery, Wired magazine, Speechles: Dilbert's creator's struggle to regain his voice.