Author: Doug Belshaw (page 2 of 48)

Issue [#319]: Operation Twilight

The latest issue of the newsletter hit inboxes earlier today!

đź’Ą Read

đź”— Subscribe

"The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion." (Paolo Coelho)

Insidious Instagram influencers?

There seems to a lot of pushback at the moment against the kind of lifestyle that’s a direct result of the Silicon Valley mindset. People are rejecting everything from the Instagram ‘influencer’ approach to life to the ‘techbro’-style crazy working hours.

This week saw Basecamp, a company that prides itself on the work/life balance of its employees and on rejecting venture capital, publish another book. You can guess at what it focuses on from its title, It doesn’t have to be crazy at work. I’ve enjoyed and have recommended their previous books (as ’37 Signals’), and am looking forward to reading this latest one.

Alongside that book, I’ve seen three articles that, to me at least, are all related to the same underlying issues. The first comes from Simone Stolzoff who writes in Quartz at Work that we’re no longer quite sure what we’re working for:

Before I became a journalist, I worked in an office with hot breakfast in the mornings and yoga in the evenings. I was #blessed. But I would reflect on certain weeks—after a string of days where I was lured in before 8am and stayed until well after sunset—like a driver on the highway who can’t remember the last five miles of road. My life had become my work. And my work had become a series of rinse-and-repeat days that started to feel indistinguishable from one another.

Part of this lack of work/life balance comes from our inability these days to simply have hobbies, or interests, or do anything just for the sake of it. As Tim Wu points out in The New York Times, it’s all linked some kind of existential issue around identity:

If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you?

To me, this is inextricably linked to George Monbiot’s recent piece in The Guardian about about the problem of actors being interviewed about the world’s issues disproportionately more often than anybody else. As a result, we’re rewarding those people who look like they know what they’re talking about with our collective attention, rather than those who actually do. Monbiot concludes:

The task of all citizens is to understand what we are seeing. The world as portrayed is not the world as it is. The personification of complex issues confuses and misdirects us, ensuring that we struggle to comprehend and respond to our predicaments. This, it seems, is often the point.

There’s always been a difference between appearance and reality in public life. However, previously, at least they seem to have been two faces of the same coin. These days, our working lives as well as our public lives seem to be

Sources: Basecamp / Quartz at Work / The New York Times / The Guardian

 

The end of ‘meritocracy’ at Mozilla

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post explaining how appeals to ‘meritocracy’ are problematic, particularly in education. The world is not a neutral place and meritocracy can actually entrench privilege.

I’m glad to see, therefore, that Mozilla have decided to stop using the term:

“Meritocracy” was widely adopted as a best practice among open source projects in the founding days of the movement: it appeared to speak to collaboration amongst peers and across organizational boundaries. 20 years later,  we understand that this concept was practiced in a world characterized by both hidden bias and outright abuse. The notion of “meritocracy” can often obscure bias and can help perpetuate a dominant culture. Meritocracy does not consider the reality that tech does not operate on a level playing field.

Source: Mozilla Stands for Inclusion

Is Google becoming more like Facebook?

I’m composing this post on ChromeOS, which is a little bit hypocritical, but yesterday I was shocked to discover how much data I was ‘accidentally’ sharing with Google. Check it out for yourself by going to your Google account’s activity controls page.

This article talks about how Google have become less trustworthy of late:

[Google] announced a forthcoming update last Wednesday: Chrome’s auto-sign-in feature will still be the default behavior of Chrome. But you’ll be able to turn it off through an optional switch buried in Chrome’s settings.

This pattern of behavior by tech companies is so routine that we take it for granted. Let’s call it “pulling a Facebook” in honor of the many times that Facebook has “accidentally” relaxed the privacy settings for user profile data, and then—following a bout of bad press coverage—apologized and quietly reversed course. A key feature of these episodes is that management rarely takes the blame: It’s usually laid at the feet of some anonymous engineer moving fast and breaking things. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that these changes consistently err in the direction of increasing “user engagement” and never make your experience more private.

What’s new here, and is a very recent development indeed, is that we’re finally starting to see that this approach has costs. For example, it now seems like Facebook executives spend an awful lot of time answering questions in front of Congress. In 2017, when Facebook announced it had handed more than 80 million user profiles to the sketchy election strategy firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook received surprisingly little sympathy and a notable stock drop. Losing the trust of your users, we’re learning, does not immediately make them flee your business. But it does matter. It’s just that the consequences are cumulative, like spending too much time in the sun.

I’m certainly questioning my tech choices. And I’ve (re-)locked down my Google account.

Source: Slate

Bullshit receptivity scale

I love academia. Apparently researchers in psychology are using ‘hyperactive agency detection’ and a ‘Bullshit Receptivity Scale’ in their work to describe traits found in human subjects. It’s particularly useful when researching the tendency of people to believe in conspiracy theories, apparently:

Participants’ receptivity to superficially profound statements was measured using the Bullshit Receptivity Scale (Pennycook et al., 2015). This measure consists of nine seemingly impressive statements that follow rules of syntax and contain fancy words, but do not have any intentional meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”; “Imagination is inside exponential space time events”). Participants rated each of the items’ profoundness on a scale from 1 (Not at all profound) to 5 (Very profound). They were given the following definition of profound for reference: “of deep meaning; of great and broadly inclusive significance.”

[…]

To measure participants’ tendency to attribute intent to events, we asked them to interpret the actions portrayed by animated shapes (Abell, Happé, & Frith, 2000), a series of videos lasting from thirty seconds to one minute depicting two triangles
whose actions range from random (e.g., bumping around the screen following a geometric pattern) to resembling complex social interactions (e.g., one shape “bullying” the other). These animations were originally designed to detect deficits in the development of theory of mind.

I’ve no idea about the validity of the conclusions in this particular study (especially as it doesn’t seem to be peer-reviewed yet) but I always like discovering terms that provide a convenient shorthand.

For example, I can imagine exclaiming that someone is “off the Bullshit Receptivity Scale!” or has “hyperactive agency detection”. Nice.

Source: SSRN (via Pharyngula)

"To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation."

(Chinese Proverb)

Seven coaching questions

Eylan Ezekiel shared this article in the Slack channel we hang out in most days. It’s a useful set of questions for when you’re in a coaching situation — which could be in sports, at work, when teaching, or even parenting:

  1. “What’s on your mind?”
  2. “And what else?”
  3. “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
  4. “What do you want?”
  5. “How can I help?”
  6. “If you say yes to this, what must you say no to?”
  7. “What was most useful or most valuable here for you?”

Source: Huffington Post

Issue [#318]: Blisters a-go-go

The latest issue of the newsletter hit inboxes earlier today!

đź’Ą Read

đź”— Subscribe

Why desk jobs are exhausting

Sitting, apparently, is the new smoking. That’s one of the reasons I bought a standing desk, meaning that most days, I’m working while upright. Knowledge work, however, whether sitting or standing is tiring.

Why is that? This article reports on a study that may have an answer.

Here’s the topline result: There was no correlation between the amount of physical work the nurses did and their feelings of fatigue. “In some people, physical activity is fatiguing,” Derek Johnston, the Aberdeen University psychologist who led the study, says. “But in other people, it is energizing.” The study also found that the nurses’ subjective sense of how demanding their job was of them was not correlated with fatigue either.

Instead, they found this small correlation: The nurses who were least likely to feel fatigued from their work also felt the most in control of their work, and the most rewarded for it. These feelings may have boosted their motivation, which may have boosted their perception of having energy.

Source: Vox