Tag: work (page 1 of 6)

The clever man often worries; the loyal person is often overworked

Man in field sitting at desk and computer

👏 Blue sky thinking: is it time to stop work taking over our lives?

👍 Attitudes are skills

🤦‍♂️ How Not To Kill People With Spreadsheets

🕸️ Viral Effects Are Not Network Effects

🤯 Inventing Virtual Meetings of Tomorrow with NVIDIA AI Research


Quotation-as-title from a Chinese proverb. Image from top-linked post.

An ounce of good sense is worth a pound of subtlety

Icelandic women's football team

🎨 The Opposite Of ‘Crappy Design’

🙄 In Convenience We Trust

😳 How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole

🤯 The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite

👍 Non-Boring Zoom Breakout Groups


Quotation-as-title from Baltasar Gracián. Image from top-linked post.

Pandemic microaggressions

This article primarily focuses on racism and intolerance to gender differences, but even as a “white, male… heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, wealthy, and educated” man, I recognise some of what it describes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened much of our workforce to a new surge of microaggressions by making coworkers as unwelcome guests in their homes through video meetings. Bosses and coworkers can see our families and furniture. They can hear the background noise from our neighborhoods. They see us with our hair, faces, and clothes less put together than usual due to the closure of the shops and salons that help us assimilate into the mainstream world.

Sarah Morgan, How microaggressions look different when we’re working remotely (Fast Company)

There’s a line, I think between friendly banter and curiosity and, for example, being reminded on a daily basis that I’m getting ever more grey, that I’m looking tired, and my forehead is shinier than a billiard ball.

Microaggressions? Perhaps. But on days when I’m not feeling 100%, it sure does grind me down.

To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others

Illustration of a woman

🧠 Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos

😫 ‘Ugh fields’, or why you can’t even bear to think about that task

👍 The Craft of Teaching Confidence

🏝️ Log on, chill out: holiday resorts lure remote workers to fill gap left by tourists

🎧 Producer 9th Wonder on Producing Beats for Kendrick Lamar


Quotation-as-title by Albert Camus. Image from top-linked article.

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand

Robot saying "I'm not a robot" to people who look like journalists

💬 Welcome to the Next Level of Bullshit

📚 The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

💊 A radical prescription to make work fit for the future

💰 How To Hide A Billion Dollars: Three Techniques The Ultrarich Use To Dodge Ex-Spouses, The Taxman And Disgruntled Business Partners

👣 This desolate English path has killed more than 100 people


Quotation-as-title by Josh Billings. Image from top linked post.

Enforced idleness

Some people think it’s the Protestant work ethic, others that it’s a genetic predisposition. Me? I think it’s to do with the highly competitive nature of western societies.

Whatever you think causes it, the inability of adults, including myself, to spend a day doing nothing is kind of problematic. It’s something I often discuss with Laura Hilliger (and she refers to it regularly in her excellent newsletter)

There’s a university in Hamburg, Germany, giving out ‘idleness grants’ for people to do absolutely nothing. Emma Beddington’s answers to the questions on the application form aren’t too different to how I’d answer:

What do you not want to do? I want not to compare my achievements, or lack of them, with others’. If successful, for the duration of my idleness grant I will crush the exhausting running mental commentary that points out what those with energy, drive and ambition are achieving and enumerates my inadequacies. When one or other of my nemeses tweets the dread phrase “some personal news” (always the precursor to an announcement of professional glory), I will not feel bad, because I will have accepted that “being quite lazy” has inherent merit in 2020.

Emma Beddington, Doing nothing is so easy for me. But how to feel good about it? (The Guardian)

It’s always possible to do more and be more, but sometimes it’s important to just spend time being who you already are.

What man of energy does not find inactivity a punishment?

Base reality as it truly exists vs as presented to mind

🤯 Understanding Consciousness with Color-Coded Cartoons

👍 Four-day working week could create 500K new jobs in UK, study says

💀 The World Memorial to the Pandemic

🤩 Going all-in on remote work: The technical and cultural changes

🎲 How to Add More Play to Your Grown-Up Life, Even Now


Quotation-as-title from Seneca. Image from top linked post.

Saturday spinnings

As usual, I’m taking a month off Thought Shrapnel duties during the month of August. So this is my last post for a few weeks.

In the meantime, consider deactivating your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. See how it makes you feel, and perhaps I’ll run into you on the Fediverse? (start here)


Sinead Bovell

I Am a Model and I Know That Artificial Intelligence Will Eventually Take My Job

There are major issues of transparency and authenticity here because the beliefs and opinions don’t actually belong to the digital models, they belong to the models’ creators. And if the creators can’t actually identify with the experiences and groups that these models claim to belong to (i.e., person of color, LGBTQ, etc.), then do they have the right to actually speak on those issues? Or is this a new form of robot cultural appropriation, one in which digital creators are dressing up in experiences that aren’t theirs?

Sinead Bovell (Vogue)

This is an incredible article that looks at machine learning and AI through the lens of an industry I hadn’t thought of as being on the brink of being massively disrupted by technology.


How Capitalism Drives Cancel Culture

It is strange that “cancel culture” has become a project of the left, which spent the 20th century fighting against capricious firings of “troublesome” employees. A lack of due process does not become a moral good just because you sometimes agree with its targets. We all, I hope, want to see sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination decrease. But we should be aware of the economic incentives here, particularly given the speed of social media, which can send a video viral, and see onlookers demand a response, before the basic facts have been established. Afraid of the reputational damage that can be incurred in minutes, companies are behaving in ways that range from thoughtless and uncaring to sadistic.

[…]

If you care about progressive causes, then woke capitalism is not your friend. It is actively impeding the cause, siphoning off energy, and deluding us into thinking that change is happening faster and deeper than it really is. When people talk about the “excesses of the left”—a phenomenon that blights the electoral prospects of progressive parties by alienating swing voters—in many cases they’re talking about the jumpy overreactions of corporations that aren’t left-wing at all.

Helen Lewis (The Atlantic)

Cancel culture is problematic, and mainly because of the unequal power structures involved. This is an important read. See also this article by Albert Wenger which has some suggestions towards the end in this regard.


Woman working at a laptop

How to Stay Productive When the World Is on Fire

The goal of productivity is to get the things you have to get done finished so you can spend more time on the things you want to do. Don’t fall into the busy trap, where you judge your self-worth by how productive you are or how much you’ve contributed to your company or manager. We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water. I hope these tips will help you do the same.

Alan Henry (WIRED)

As I wrote yesterday on my personal blog, I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism. So this reminder, along with the other great advice in the article, was a timely reminder.


Why you should be thanking your employees more often

If you treat somebody with disdain, of course, you give that person a psychological incentive to diminish your opinion and to want you to be less powerful. Inversely, if you demonstrate understanding and appreciation of someone’s contribution, you create a psychological incentive in the individual to give greater weight to your opinion. And that person will want to strengthen the weight of your opinion in the eyes of others. Appreciation and gratitude breed appreciation and gratitude.

Bruce Tulgan (Fast Company)

Creating a productive, psychologically safe, and emotionally intelligent environment means thanking people for the work they do. That means for their day-to-day activities, not just when they put in a herculean effort. A paycheck is not thanks enough for the work we do and the value we provide.


Old blue boat

Nostalgia reimagined

More interesting still is that nostalgia can bring to mind time-periods we didn’t directly experience. In the film Midnight in Paris (2011), Gil is overwhelmed by nostalgic thoughts about 1920s Paris – which he, a modern-day screenwriter, hasn’t experienced – yet his feelings are nothing short of nostalgic. Indeed, feeling nostalgic for a time one didn’t actually live through appears to be a common phenomenon if all the chatrooms, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to it are anything to go by. In fact, a new word has been coined to capture this precise variant of nostalgia – anemoia, defined by the Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known’.

How can we make sense of the fact that people feel nostalgia not only for past experiences but also for generic time periods? My suggestion, inspired by recent evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, is that the variety of nostalgia’s objects is explained by the fact that its cognitive component is not an autobiographical memory, but a mental simulation – an imagination, if you will – of which episodic recollections are a sub-class.

Nigel Warburton (Aeon)

In the UK at least, shows like Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife are popular. My view of this is that, as this article would seem to support, it’s a kind of nostalgia for a time that was imagined to be better.

There’s a sinister side to this, as well. This kind of nostalgia seems to be particularly prevalent among more conservative-leaning (white) people harking back to a time of greater divisions in society along race and class lines. I think it’s rather disturbing.


The World Is Noisy. These Groups Want to Restore the Quiet

Quiet Parks International (QPI) is a nonprofit working to establish certification for quiet parks to raise awareness of and preserve quiet places. The fledgling organization—whose members include audio engineers, scientists, environmentalists, and musicians—has identified at least 262 sites worldwide, including 30 in the US, that it believes are quiet or could become so with management changes….

QPI has no regulatory authority, but like the International Dark Sky Association’s Dark Sky Parks initiative, the nonprofit believes its certification—granted only after a detailed, three-day sound analysis—can encourage public support of preservation efforts and provide guidelines for protection. “The places that are quiet today … are basically leftovers—places that are out of the way,” Quiet Parks cofounder Gordon Hempton says.

Jenny Morber (WIRED)

I live in a part of the world close to both a designated Dark Sky Park and mountains into which I can escape. Light and noise pollution threaten both of them, so I’m glad to hear of these efforts.


Header image by Uillian Vargas

There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it

Mental health, imagination, and post-pandemic futures

I guess, given that this is the third straight week I’ve written on the subject, that this could be considered a blogchain on post-pandemic reality. I’m fine with that, and although there’s no need to read the previous two posts, you might want to do so for background:

  1. People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character
  2. We have it in our power to begin the world over again

In this post I want to talk about the effect of this period of lockdown on our collective mental health and ability to imagine the future.

The caveat is that I don’t inhabit anyone else’s brain than my own, and therefore am extrapolating from one specific example. I’m told that in statistics that’s not recommended.


There are five very broad categories of people during this lockdown. You can imagine it as a spectrum, as there are those who are:

  • Working from home, and have done for a while
  • Working from home, and are new to it
  • Working at their usual place of work
  • Not working because they are unemployed
  • Not working because they are ill/retired

It’s fair to say that the lockdown affects these groups in different ways. However, I think that they share quite a lot in common.

For people in all five groups, whatever their current status, they had plans for the future. Let’s look at those out of work first: if you’re ill, your plan is probably to get better; if you’re retired you may have plans to visit the grandkids; or if you’re unemployed the chances are you’re looking forward to getting a job.


If you’re employed, no matter where you work, then you’re looking forward to any number of things: that promotion, the conference you’re attending in a few months’ time; or even just finishing the project you’re working on.

Muppets

Instead, you’re stuck at home. And as Christine Grové points out in this article about the longer-term effects of the coronavirus on education, that can have mental health implications ⁠— what some term a ‘social recession’:

A social recession can have profound physical, economic and psychological effects. Though we are in uncharted territory, data suggests that quarantine can seriously affect people’s mental health, leading to anger, confusion and post-traumatic stress symptoms. As this pandemic continues, the continuous provision of mental health information is critical. Honest and fast communication about how to reduce isolation and increase connection while physically distancing is essential. Health messages need to also include specific ways to look after your mental health. As governments and health regulatory bodies respond to the impacts of the pandemic, an interdisciplinary expert task force on the short- and long-term mental health effects is urgently needed to address the potential risks and repercussions for children, youth, adults, parents, families and the community.

Christine Grové

Thankfully, thanks to an unprecedented government intervention it seems most people in the UK don’t need to worry about being out on the streets. They’re covered in some way. Meanwhile, the Spanish government is apparently planning to roll out basic income, not temporarily, but in a way “that stays forever, that becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument”.

We’re all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as represented as a pyramid, but these days it tends to be represented in sociological research in a more dynamic way, with overlapping needs that can take precedence at any given time.

Dynamic hierarchy of needs
Dynamic hierarchy of needs (CC BY-SA
Philipp Guttmann)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s great that most people in developed countries are going to be able to have their safety needs met throughout this crisis. What’s not certain is that psychological needs will be met, never mind those around belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

That’s because the short version of the problem with the world pre-pandemic is ‘capitalism’ but the slightly longer and more accurate version is ‘neoliberal capitalism’. That modifier is an important one.

Writing in The Financial Times, author Arundhati Roy writes about India’s response to the coronavirus. She explains how it could be a great leveller:

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Arundhati Roy (The Financial Times)

Normality for too many people in this world is predicated on a logic that enriches a very small number of people while hollowing-out the world for the 99%. This is done through markets and competition being introduced to every area of life, so that ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in life is reduced to an individual’s responsibility.

Shaun the Sheep

Under such conditions, neoliberal societies are geared towards short-termism, as evidenced by our woeful response to the dangers of climate change. As Dark Matter Labs put it:

Our underlying structural capacities and incentives are deeply coded to advance short-term thinking and decision-making. This fundamental societal deficit in future-oriented thinking, permeates our psychological, cultural, technological, legal, financial and political infrastructures—amplifying a bias towards the present—resulting in short-sighted and vulnerable subjects, short-term financial investments, waste economies and a growing political fracture between intergenerational relations.

Dark Matter Labs

This is an unprecedented opportunity for societies to change track and to get off the neoliberal rails. One way of doing that is to use tools to think about the potential impact of the changes we’re experiencing. Only then can we think about potential solutions that benefit the many instead of the few.

In a preview for a new book coming out soon, Scott Smith explains a simple technique to map impacts and implications:

Source: How to Future, Changeist, 2020.

He gives the example of the majority of people in ‘professional’ occupations now working from home. What are the first, second, and third level impacts? What kind of impacts are they?

Image via Scott Smith (S=social, T=tech, E=economic, P=political/legal, V=values)

Some of these are positive impacts, some negative, and some neutral. Some have individual effects, some are felt at the organisational or societal level. Either way, now is probably a good time to be thinking about a new venture that will both help people and be profitable in the post-pandemic landscape.


One thing we’ve taken for granted over the last couple of decades is that everything is manufactured in China. However, Matt Webb has been reading the runes and thinking about this:

The hegemony of manufacturing in China is assumed. But my feeling is that the threshold between centralised and local is a fine line, and it’s closer than it looks.

I was reading recently about loo paper, because of course I was. Apparently it’s always made close to the place of sale because it’s cheap and not very dense and so disproportionately expensive to ship. So where else are these fine lines, and how quickly could we tip over them?

Matt Webb

We no longer live in a world where there are defined groups of people that neatly fit previous pre-conceived media groups. I can remember reading about DINKYs (Dual Income No Kids Yet) back when I was doing Media Studies as a GCSE student. The world has moved on.

But now we’ve got micro-targeted advertising and e-commerce. It’s absurd to stock physical stores with items that probably won’t be bought, just to make a particular size and colour available. And there’s no ABC1 sociodemographic group now, people form their own communities. You can launch a micro-brand on Instagram in an instant (and either keep it niche or scale it to billions). Where’s the requirement for mass anything? The logic collapses.

So maybe the logic supporting centralised supply chains has collapsed too.

Matt Webb

There’s many people coming together to think through the implications of the coronavirus and what a post-pandemic landscape could (or should) look like for them and their sector. One I found particularly illuminating was on Subpixel Space, where Toby Shorin had a chat with his friends and shared the result.

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck

I don’t agree with all of the predictions, but a few really jumped out at me. For example:

Media and content brands with membership models will likely do very well, as will games, both indie and platforms like Roblox. We’ll see more brands which do not hold any assets whatsoever, but are simply groupings of individuals giving themselves a name and a presence.

Toby Shorin, Drew Austin, Kara Kittel, Kei Kreutler, Edouard Urcades

I think this is already happening. For example, a few educators banded together to create the (now quite slick-looking) Higher Ed Learning Collective. This started with one guy sitting on his couch creating a Facebook group.

Given all of the digital tools at our disposal, there’s no reason for people to wait in order to experiment, or even to gain financing for their idea. In fact, getting people in on the ground floor is a great way of sharing ownership of the project.

Building brands around shared ownership with customers will probably be increasingly important. Expect to see more crowdfunding, patronage, community, and membership-based go-to-market strategies which make ownership an explicit part of the brand experience. Several crypto-adjacent teams are exploring this territory already.

Toby Shorin, Drew Austin, Kara Kittel, Kei Kreutler, Edouard Urcades

We’ve spent the last decade living most of our social lives online out in the open. That’s becoming less and less tenable now that pretty much everyone is online. We’re collectively looking for smaller spaces to share ideas with people who will read us in the right way.

There will need to be new types of interface and digital social environment to support the continued proliferation of lifestyles. We’ll probably see a flourishing of new, social micro-networks. They will not be for everyone. They will be private in nature, and will support between 20 and 1000 people.

Toby Shorin, Drew Austin, Kara Kittel, Kei Kreutler, Edouard Urcades

Although life may feel a bit boring and repetitive right now, we’re in a period of time where the scale is about to tip. The thing is, we’re not just not sure which way.

Scales

Although it’s difficult, especially when we’re feeling anxious, or lonely, or uncertain, now is the time to band together with like-minded people and to create the future we want to inhabit. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world.


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Quotation-as title from George Eliot. Header image by Martin Widenka.

We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet

Pandemics, remote work, and global phase shifts


Last week, I tweeted this:

I delete my tweets automatically every 30 days, hence the screenshot…

I get the feeling that, between film and TV shows on Netflix, Amazon deliveries, and social interaction on Twitter and Mastodon, beyond close friends and family, no-one would even realise if I’d been quarantined.


Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost points out that Every Place Is the Same Now, because you go to every place with your personal screen, a digital portal to the wider world.

Anywhere has become as good as anywhere else. The office is a suitable place for tapping out emails, but so is the bed, or the toilet. You can watch television in the den—but also in the car, or at the coffee shop, turning those spaces into impromptu theaters. Grocery shopping can be done via an app while waiting for the kids’ recital to start. Habits like these compress time, but they also transform space. Nowhere feels especially remarkable, and every place adopts the pleasures and burdens of every other. It’s possible to do so much from home, so why leave at all?

Ian Bogost (The Atlantic)

If you’re a knowledge worker, someone who deals with ideas and virtual objects rather than things in ‘meatspace’, then there is nothing tying you to a particular geographical place. This may be liberating, but it’s also quite… weird.

It’s easy but disorienting, and it makes the home into a very strange space. Until the 20th century, one had to leave the house for almost anything: to work, to eat or shop, to entertain yourself, to see other people. For decades, a family might have a single radio, then a few radios and a single television set. The possibilities available outside the home were far greater than those within its walls. But now, it’s not merely possible to do almost anything from home—it’s also the easiest option. Our forebears’ problem has been inverted: Now home is a prison of convenience that we need special help to escape.

Ian Bogost (The Atlantic)

I’ve worked from home for the last eight years, and now can’t imagine going back to working any other way. Granted, I get to travel pretty much every month, but that 95% being-at-home statistic still includes my multi-day international trips.


I haven’t watched it recently, but in 2009 a film called Surrogates starring Bruce Willis foreshadowed the kind of world we’re creating. Here’s the synopsis via IMDB:

People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates — sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It’s an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don’t exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

IMDB

If we replace the word ‘robotic’ with ‘virtual’ in this plot summary, then it’s a close approximation to the world in which some of us now live. Facetuned Instagram selfies project a perfect life. We construct our own narratives and then believe the story we have concocted. Everything is amazing but no-one’s happy.


Even Zoom, the videoconferencing software I use most days for work, has an option to smooth out wrinkles, change your background, and make everything look a bit more sparkly. Our offline lives can be gloriously mundane, but online, thanks to various digital effects, we can make them look glorious. And why wouldn’t we?

I think we’ll see people and businesses optimising for how they look and sound online, including recruitment. The ability to communicate effectively at a distance with people who you may never meet in person is a skill that’s going to be in high demand, if it isn’t already.


Remote working may be a trend, but one which is stubbornly resisted by some bosses who are convinced they have to keep a close eye on employees to get any work out of them.

However, when those bosses are forced to implement remote working policies to keep their businesses afloat, and nothing bad happens as a result, this attitude can, and probably will, change. Remote working, when done properly, is not only more cost-effective for businesses, but often leads to higher productivity and self-reported worker happiness.

Being ‘good in the room‘ is fine, and I’m sure it will always be highly prized, but I also see confident, open working practices as something that’s rising in perceived value. Chairing successful online meetings is at least as important as chairing ones offline, for example. We need to think of ways of being able recognise these remote working skills, as it’s not something in which you can receive a diploma.


For workers, of course, there are so many benefits of working from home that I’m not even sure where to start. Your health, relationships, and happiness are just three things that are likely to dramatically improve when you start working remotely.

For example, let’s just take the commute. This dominates the lives of non-remote workers, usually taking an hour or more out of a their day — every day. Commuting is tiring and inconvenient, but people are currently willing to put up with long commutes to afford a decently-sized house, or to live in a nicer area.

So, let’s imagine that because of the current pandemic (which some are calling the world’s biggest remote-working experiment) businesses decide that having their workers being based from home has multi-faceted benefits. What happens next?

Well, if a large percentage (say we got up to ~50%) of the working population started working remotely over the next few months and years, this would have a knock-on effect. We’d see changes in:

  • Schools
  • Volunteering
  • Offices
  • House prices
  • Community cohesion
  • High street
  • Home delivery

…to name but a few. I think it would be a huge net benefit for society, and hopefully allow for much greater civic engagement and democratic participation.


I’ll conclude with a quotation from Nafeez Ahmed’s excellent (long!) post on what he’s calling a global phase shift. Medium says it’s a 30-minute read, but I reckon it’s about half that.

Ahmed points out in stark detail the crisis, potential future scenarios, and the opportunity we’ve got. I particularly appreciate his focus on the complete futility of what he calls “a raw, ‘fend for yourself’ approach”. We must work together to solve the world’s problems.

The coronavirus outbreak is, ultimately, a lesson in not just the inherent systemic fragilities in industrial civilization, but also the limits of its underlying paradigm. This is a paradigm premised on a specific theory of human nature, the neoclassical view of Homo-Economicus, human beings as dislocated units which compete with each other to maximise their material self-gratification through endless consumption and production. That paradigm and its values have brought us so far in our journey as a species, but they have long outlasted their usefulness and now threaten to undermine our societies, and even our survival as a species.

Getting through coronavirus will be an exercise not just in building societal resilience, but relearning the values of cooperation, compassion, generosity and kindness, and building systems which institutionalize these values. It is high time to recognize that such ethical values are not simply human constructs, products of socialization. They are cognitive categories which reflect patterns of behaviour in individuals and organizations that have an evolutionary, adaptive function. In the global phase shift, systems which fail to incorporate these values into their structures will eventually die.

Nafeez Ahmed

Just as crises can be manufactured by totalitarian regimes to seize power and control populations, perhaps natural crises can be used to make us collectively realise we need to pull together?


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Header image by pan xiaozhen. Anonymous quotation-as-title taken from Scott Klososky’s The Velocity Manifesto

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