Hey y’all, it’s been a weird past few months, to say the least. I’m still having online classes, working part-time and constantly worrying about my health and those close to me. In the meantime, here’s a podcast that I did a month or so ago and I hope you’ll enjoy it!
John Oliver has been a (somewhat) compelling individual when it comes to the news for a while now. He’s lost much of his charm for me throughout the years as I find his jokes do more to hurt his message than help and I also find the Daily Show style presentation outdated. Nevertheless there’s no denying he can be (at least at times) funny and insightful. Sometimes he even uses his platform on a given topic to give money tthat does good work or otherwise brings attention to folks who he thinks could use the attention (for better or worse).
This video on automation recorded in the first half of 2019 is another video I’ve had on my Watch Later list for a while now. I was never making it a priority to get around to since I always had more compelling articles to analyze, movies to watch, chapters of books to review, etc. But now that I’ve finally watched it I can tell you that my time away from the video didn’t end up mattering much.
The best part of this video is also its worst: It’s a very 101 video on automation; what it is and why it both is and isn’t as scary as pundits try to make it. I already knew a lot of this information and in fact seeing David Autor I was reminded of John Danaher’s excellent articles addressing Autor on automation, all three of which you can find here.
That being said, given I’ve restarted the site and I don’t have any posts (technically) on automation, this may make a solid general introduction for folks reading this site!
Oliver starts the program making the point that kids are often asked about what kind of job they want when they grow up. This is part of our culture’s obsession with work and having it be crucial to our sense of identity. If you don’t know what you want to be adults might look at you disapprovingly or perhaps remind you that you’re still young (so why ask?) and you may figure it out later! If both of these responses seem unhelpful to you that’s probably because the wholeconversation is unhelpful for all involved. You are asking a child what they want to do with their lives. By some estimates, that part of our brains aren’t fully developed till our mid-twenties!
This doesn’t mean we can’t ask kids tough questions or that kids cannot take responsibility for their actions, but that we need to give kids more autonomy to figure that out for themselves.
At any rate, Oliver notes that many folks believe that automation is a “huge part” of job loss in the US especially. But the reality is much more complicated than that with only some jobs actually being taken away from workers. Oliver uses an example that I believe Autor uses as well, the rise of the ATM and the feared decline of the bank teller. Back in the 80s when ATMs were becoming popular, many bank tellers feared the loss of their jobs. But instead of losing their jobs, their jobs simply changed to involve other operations within a bank.
In addition, even when it is true that jobs are being lost, Oliver smartly points out that this can at times be a good thing. Don’t we want less loggers falling out of trees and hurting themselves? Wouldn’t we want industries where workplace injuries are currently rampant to trend downwards so more people wouldn’t get hurt? It’s an intuitive reason to automate for sure.
But automation can also be done for more capitalistic reasons such as profits and the rate of production within a given company. There’s a trend amongst CEOs praising the rise of automation because it’ll allow them to fire more workers and increase the pay for those left over or, better yet, keep it the same and increase profits and production for the whole company.
As Oliver notes, who controls the rise of automation is also very important and right now we have some no-so-intelligent leadership in the White House. But even if we did we still live under capitalism, a point Oliver, of course, doesn’t mention given his liberal tendencies. This economic reality means that automation is ultimately being done to better serve capital, not labor!
There’s also a study that was thrown around a few years ago about 50% or more jobs being automated, but as usual it was a study taken out of context by news sources. What the study was actually documenting was whether jobs fell into the high risk category, which is different from an all-but-guaranteed-automation. And again, even when automation does happen there is the complimentary effect which Autor and Danaher have discussed in the links above, check it out.
On top of that there are jobs that may exist in 50 years or so that we could never imagine. Oliver uses the example of how agriculture has shrunk to a shadow of its former selves. America used to be dominated by independent and small-scale farmers but overtime due to mechanical automation and improvements, the huge size of agriculture became less and less necessary.
Many feared what would happen to the farmers and their equipment but many just found jobs in the city. And now we have many jobs that those people could never have imagined such as coders, Youtubers, Uber drivers and much more. That said, the transition is not always easy from one industry to another. Oliver points out that older truckers are not going to suddenly start coding, despite the threat of losing their jobs thanks to machine learning and self-driving cars.
So what do we do about them?
Oliver mentions tax increases, federal funding for retaining for those who lose their jobs and teaching the young a different strategy. Instead of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You can instead ask them, “What five things do you want to do when you grow up?” which seems much more reasonable given many people don’t have careers in 2020, just a series of jobs.
Whatever the end result of automation Oliver is surely right that it isn’t going to stop anytime soon and that we all need to be better prepared for it and educated about it. Maybe in the process of bettering our strategies surrounding automation, we can also challenge capitalism?
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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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Yeah, the news lately has been 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.
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.
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.
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!).