How Work turns our Brains Off (And then Blames us for It!)

It’s Not the Best Choice, It’s [Amazon’s] Choice! Source: http://www.carlybird.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Bored_At_Work.jpg
Another video on my Youtube Watch Later list is on the docket and only a couple left! This time we’re talking about the last Big Think video I saved before I unsubscribed to them however many months later. Part of the issue with Big Think is that they’ll have some interesting videos done by cool folks. But then they’ll also have videos by assholes or they’ll try to get “all perspectives” on a given topic, which, just so happens to include right-wing folks. The comments section is also a pretty big cesspool, especially when anything even marginally left-wing is posted.

I once posted that liberals are not leftists (from an anarchist perspective but they didn’t know that) and it got hundreds of likes quickly because people thought I was insulting leftists!

Anyways, this is a fun and interesting video. I don’t think it tells us much we didn’t already know about work but there are some concepts in it that I was unfamiliar with such as the “seeking system” in brains that often get turned off during work. Many people try to keep these systems within our brain active with podcasts, the ones that help with curiosity and discovery. There’s a technical term for this system which psychologist Dan Cable identifies as the ventral striatum but I’ll just call it the “seeking system” for the sake of spellcheck and my sanity.

This seeking system can’t only be held aloft by podcasts, but they do get us thinking and concentrated on something else besides the menial and repetitive work we’re doing. I know when I’m listening to the NeoScum Podcast (a Shadowrun podcast) it helps me laugh, get myself out of my own head a little and make me think about a far away land. But it also doesn’t replace what’s going on in front of me with something better. It doesn’t take that mop out of my hand and give me a wand or make what I’m doing not menial, just a little more bearable.

These seeking systems are important because they help us learn and as a result, when they are minimized or even turned off we can get bored easier. Our brains are trying to tell us something, that it isn’t us but the work we feel as if we need to, as Cable puts it (paraphrasing), “…get through to make it to the weekend”. After all work is where we typically cannot be with our family, friends, loved ones, beloved hobbies or have the time to do as we please and go on a relaxing walk and explore what’s around us. Cable goes so far as to call this experience an “epidemic” and a “humanistic sickness” which tends to drive us to utter boredom.

One thing that frustrates me about his analysis though is that it focuses in not only on how this harms the workers but the organizations they’re a part of. He notes that this streak of boredom can result in a “lackluster performance” from workers but who cares? Shouldn’t the bosses get lackluster performances when they’re giving us lackluster work?

It’s like that saying goes, “Minimum effort for minimum wage!”

Cable traces back the origin of this boredom to the way work has been scaled up in the past few hundred years. Especially through supposed visionaries and industrialists like Henry Ford who, as Cable denotes, saw curiosity as a problem and a bug, not a feature of the workplace he wanted to build and thrive under capitalism. This kind of workplace breaks work into many small tasks which means that individual workers and even groups of them are all cut off from each other.

This likely reflects a capitalist’s dream of making it much harder for workers to communicate easier about their shared issues and then potentially forming a union and striking. This also led to the punishment/reward systems we tend to see these days in modern workplaces. The employee of the year for a punishment and a firm “talking to” or “notice” for valuing our own autonomy.

Generally, tedious and repetitive tasks are going to tend to drive you to listen to podcasts, music, the whirring of the ceiling fan above you that makes your office just a little bit too cold. It’s going to get your brain starved for things to think about, to process, to understand and discover. And through that starvation you’ll often be told that you are the problem in some way. Why don’t you get another job? Why don’t you go back to school? Why don’t you switch departments or talk to your boss? Anything but try to address the issue: Work itself.

Now, Cable claims that smaller companies tend to do better at increasing curiosity because the people involved are more likely to be engaged with their work. If there are only 50 people as opposed to 50,000 you won’t have the corporate decree of “stay[ing] in your lane” as much. And that seems plausible to some extent.

But even smaller businesses can fall into capitalist traps that punish workers for trying to flex their own autonomy in even the most basic ways. In fact, it can often lead to even worse micromanagement because the firm is much smaller and therefore the employees are much more legible to their bosses. And while Cable is surely right that the cultural expectations of a given company matter more than any given standard, those expectations are driven by economic ones.

Ultimately, tackling our cultural expectations around work, the way we victim-blame workers and laud bosses for making work as menial as possible, means tackling capitalism and work itself. Either through worker organizing, worker-owned organizations, individual slow-downs to preserve our own cranial integrity or maybe, just maybe, a revolution someday.


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Plans for 2020 / Play on Purpose

Happy New Year!

Oh.

Oh.

Oh.

Uh, Happy New Year?

Yeah, the news lately has beenĀ bad, no doubt about that. I hope everyone who reads this site in Australia is taking care of themselves and those they love. And that those of us in the US think hard about what we can do to resist future war efforts against Iran or anyone else. My heart also goes out to the Iranian people, should a war start, no doubt they will (and likely have) suffered because of terrible leaders many there may not feel represent them.

As far as this site goes, which feels infinitesimal compared to the world on fire, drowning or a (low though it may be) potential for nuclear war, I wanted to update everyone. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to start over. Mostly for my sanity because republishing everything would be a nightmare of an effort. It’s not even something I’d pay someone to do unless we’re talking in the hundreds of dollars cause it’d likely take a long time for that person and it’d be menial.

At the same time, I don’t want to say goodbye to those posts I loved. The book reviews I published, the movie reviews I wrote, those feature articles that were a labor of love and much more. So I’ll be gradually filling the site with Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday re-posts of “older’ content going back to 2014 once I’m in school (1/21/20). Until then, expect some new content made up of overdue article commentaries, Youtube video commentaries and even a movie review if I get far enough!

For the older content, I’ll be focusing on popular content or content that I feel defines the site. Sadly, I will not be republishing any guest content as I want this new version of this site to focus on my own personal writings. I’ve also had a personal falling out with a few former guest writers which makes reaching out awkward and seem unnecessary in comparison to their peace of mind.

Therefore, I see this as a fresh new start and opportunity for me to begin again and focus on what I love doing, AKA writing and writing on my own terms. My lovely Patrons make it possible to pay for the Digital Ocean server every month which helps a ton, so thank you! If you’d like to give me a small monthly donation every month it (and I can’t stress this enough) literally helps. I’m a part-time worker and full-time student who gets by on food banks and generous help from her partner, friends and family from time to time. So every dollar really helps!

I’m also making it a personal goal to read more this year and use social media less. I find social media tends to dictate my mood far too much on a daily basis, it eats up too much of my time and I often get far too invested in it. Specifically this is the case with Twitter and I should re-invest that energy into things like reading, video games, writing, my personal life, exercise, literally anything else (even moderating the awesome antiwork subreddit which has reached over 80K Idlers recently!) because it’ll likely be better for me and my mental health!

That said, I didn’t just want to come back and tell y’all what I’ve been doing (school, D&D, dog-sitting, playing video games, my job, going to the gym, loving my wonderful partner, seeing friends and family, occasionally reading, watching Green Eggs and Ham which was surprisingly good?) and what I plan to do (write some kick ass content for y’all!) I wanted to show you as well.


Source: http://www.playonpurposeinc.org/freedom-schools.html

So here’s my first new article, it’s about a great video called Play on Purpose:

This is one of those videos I was talking about earlier, it’s been languishing on my “Watch Later” list on Youtube. Okay but hold up, let’s stop for a second to appreciate how great the invention of the Water Later list is! It’s helped me keep track of those videos I don’t have time to watch right now but I’d love to get around to…some day. A lot of these new posts for the next few weeks (before I go into school) will be stemming from my Youtube Watch Later list so I can finally cull it a bit and make it full of the things I plan to get to more readily than say…months?

Anyways, we’re starting off in a fairly moderate way this year (politically speaking) but don’t worry, we’ll get more radical as we go, probably. This time around we have an Ignite talk. I did one of these once (it’s under my deadname, so ignore that)! They’re cool 5 minute talks that you do on a topic of your choice that you love. Jenny Sauer-Klein discusses in her talk why she loves play.

If I had my articles on play I’d link those but that’ll have to be later. So maybe if you’re reading this in the future there’ll be some links after this sentence!

For now, play is a powerful part of human existence and Sauer-Klein calls it a “medicine” for our daily lives. I’d definitely agree given many of the times I’ve engaged in play, whether it’s playing games with my partner, playing video games by myself, playing board games with friends, or something else, it felt healing in a small way. It didn’t remove all of my problems or undo trauma I’ve undergone, but it tends to make life more bearable and it gives me things to look forward to. That’s part of why I’ve reinvested myself into video games in the past few years.

Sauer-Klein wisely states that it is not only helpful for our mental health but that it can enhance trust, build connections and help motivate ourselves. As I just said, it helps me motivate myself to, you know, keep living, so that’s nice. It isn’t just play that I live for but it’s a big part of what makes my life essential. If I didn’t have play then I’d have very little to look forward to!

But OK, what is play? Sauer-Klein defines it as an action we undertake “…for the pure enjoyment of it”. Ever heard the expression, “It’s not the destination, it’s the process”? Or the journey matters more than the destination? Play helps us articulate those sayings and make them more practical in our day to day lives. When you are playing a game and having fun, sure winning or losing matter but honestly, you should be playing for the fun of it. That’s why a lot of disappointment comes from sore losers and winners who lack grace. They are treating play like work.

Unfortunately, as Sauer-Klein notes, this is what makes play difficult for some to wrap their heads around. All this amounts to for some adults is that an interest in play is childish (what’s so bad about kids?) and “frivolous” as Sauer-Klein specifically says in her presentation. But sometimes it’s OK to watch non-serialized shows where the stakes are low. It’s OK that Tom and Jerry never seriously hurt each other in their episodes because then it’d just be sad and horrible.

It’s OK to not have consequences to given things, it has its place in the universe. That doesn’t mean everything should be without consequences or that we shouldn’t take care in how we play with each other. But it also doesn’t mean that emulating kids is always a bad things, especially their curiosity concerning how the world is formed and our premises based on that. Such as unhelpful concepts and abusive or nonsensical power dynamics. Letting ourselves become more curious, playful and flexible allows us to tackle the world is new and exciting ways!

That said, for all of the positives I can list with this presentation, Sauer-Klein comes from a rather privileged background. She’s a successful businesswoman who lauds the integration of mindfulness into capitalism and how work and play can be complimentary. I actually agree in a sense but it isn’t that sense that Sauer-Klein is talking within. I see play as something that can supersede work, whereas Sauer-Klein is talking about work tolerating play.

She’s right that the level of disengagement of workers is high, but merely introducing play, mindfulness and other liberal strategies isn’t enough. It’s not enough to tweak the system, we need to come up with alternatives where truly playful ideas can flourish. Seeing play as an “extended state of mindfulness + fun” seems like a decent way to define it (though, as I’ll link in the future, there are better ways) but it leaves a lot of room to define or insert mindfulness and fun where it simply won’t be allowed as much as Sauer-Klein thinks it will be.

That said, I’m all for play when it “levels hierarchy” and turns strangers into community (if that’s what everyone wants, introverts unite!). It’s also true and fair to point out that Einstein loved play and so did George Bernard Shaw who said, and I’ll let this close this article just as Sauer-Klein has it close out her presentation:

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

A (Non) Work in Progress

So…a lot happened.

Throughout this year my admin had been saying he was going to make some big changes to sites he was helping me manage. I don’t understand a lot about websites so I trusted him to do what was right and thought I had everything backed up. Turns out…I was wrong. When he made those changes I lost everything. Well, Way Back Machine not included, thankfully.

I’m still pondering how to bring the site back, but for now, this’ll have to do.

Please visit the anti-work subreddit I moderate along with other excellent mods.

It’s massively popular (over 75K Idlers at the time of writing) so there is plenty to do there while you wait for me to figure out what to do here. In the meantime, visit our Twitter and Facebook (where I occasionally share anti-work memes and updates on the status of the site!).

As always and forever more, happy slacking!