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Posts tagged: work

Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Klint Finley

Kevin Drum writes:

The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.

Full Story: Mother Jones: Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.

Two thoughts on this:

1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”

2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.

65% of Advertised Robotics Jobs Are in Health Care

Klint Finley

Vice Mother Board reports on a report robotics job ads by Wanted Analytics:

So even if it seems more intuitive that robots should be taking over brick masonry, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that robotics would also be in demand for health care. The first job of the robots is maintaining people, poetically enough. Still, the fact that Wanted found that 65 percent of robotics jobs were going toward health care is pretty surprising.

The robotics specialists are up to interesting things though. Physicians offices are looking for people to “design, develop, and analyze devices for the expansion of the image guided robotics program for minimally invasive procedures and surgery,” and assist in the use of those programs.

Full Story: Vice Mother Board: Where the Robots Are Creating Jobs

How to Become a User Experience Designer

Klint Finley

Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.

From the summary:

When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.

Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.

The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.

Summary: Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Career Advice.

Or: Download the full report.

How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

Klint Finley

Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties interviewed on how Silicon Valley went from counter cultural cool to mustache twirling villain. Turner talks a lot about Silicon Valley’s connection to 60s communalism, and why that outlook is shaping its modern practices:

One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. […]

A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”

That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.

Full Story: Harvard Business Review: How Silicon Valley Became The Man

See also:

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Turner’s essay on the connections between Burning Man and Silicon Valley, particularly Google (PDF)

The R.U. Sirius’ interview with Turner

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

The California Ideology

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

Klint Finley

Miya Tokumitsu writes about the myth of “Do What You Love” (DWYL):

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work? […]

Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46?percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL era has seen the rise of the adjunct professor and the unpaid intern?— people persuaded to work for cheap or free, or even for a net loss of wealth. This has certainly been the case for all those interns working for college credit or those who actually purchase ultra-desirable fashion-house internships at auction.

Full Story: Jacobin: In the Name of Love

I’ve certainly seen these shenanigans in journalism.

Fred Turner wrote about this blurring of lines between labor and recreation at Google in his Burning Man at Google essay(PDF):

by granting them limited powers of choice over their activities, it simultaneously engages their individual creative interests and encourages them to reimagine their workspace as a congenial, high-trust environment. It also blurs the line between workers’ social and professional worlds in ways that are highly advantageous to the firm. Within their ‘20% time’ at least, the subsidy suggests that engineers should stop thinking of working for Google as just a job and reimagine it as a way to pursue individual growth.

Sara Robinson has traced this trend to the early days of Silicon Valley, and to the writings of Tom Peters.

Previously: Overtime kills productivity

Amazon’s German workers strike as Christmas orders peak

Klint Finley

Reuters reports:

Germany is Amazon’s second-biggest market behind the United States and sales there grew almost 21 percent in 2012 to $8.7 billion, a third of its overseas total. Amazon took its most daily orders in Germany last December 16, when almost 4 million articles were bought, with shipments peaking on December 17.

Amazon, which employs 9,000 warehouse staff in Germany plus 14,000 seasonal workers at nine distribution centers, said 1,115 staff had joined the strike at three sites, but there had been no delays to deliveries.

“Our customers can continue to rely on us for the prompt delivery of their Christmas presents,” a spokeswoman said, adding that Amazon uses its whole European logistics network over the Christmas period to ensure delivery times.

The Verdi union said up to 700 workers joined the strike in Amazon’s logistic center in Bad Hersfeld, plus 500 to 600 in Leipzig. For the first time, the union also called a strike in Graben, where Verdi said 600 workers took part.

“The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger said in a statement.

Full Story: Reuters: Amazon’s German workers strike as Christmas orders peak

See also:

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Hoax Distracts from Working Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Union 2.0: How a Browser Plug-in is Organizing Amazon’s Micro-Laborers

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

Mindful Cyborgs: The End of the Firm as We Know It

Klint Finley

In the latest episode of Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I journeyed to the belly of the beast at Defrag and interviewed investor Chris DeVore from Founders Co-Op on “industrial entropy”:

KF: Yeah, one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that in the 80s there was dystopian sci-fi people would talk about the mega corporation and you would see these big conglomerates but now what seems to actually be taking over or becoming more prevalent or mega networks … so, Y Combinator is one example though. Maybe the founders [00:04:06] would be as well but Paul Graham has explicitly said that part of the point of Y Combinator is to be a distributed peer to peer replacement for the traditional company to give the members of it the benefits of being part of a large company without having to be part of the structure of a large company. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think that’s actually happening?

CDV: I definitely do and I think this is where the pattern that I think is interesting and there’s a dark [00:04:31] that we’ll get to in a minute is, when everyone is responsible for their own career pathing, like no man is an island, right? We all need different mixes of skills and abilities and kind of promotional states to build an organization that’s capable of things that more than one human can do but this idea of going from hierarchies of organizations with organization design and managers and leadership into networks where you essentially have these flat as Paul says peer-to-peer networks of people that they collaborate in more dynamically as they come together around a project and then they disassembled and reassembled different products. I think that’s fundamentally true about the nature of work today.

Even an enterprise work you might have a project manager but they’re going to hire this sort of coalition of vendors to come together to build a software or to ship certain kind of product and then when that’s over and they then ships over they’re going to disassemble and they’re going to reassemble very organically and I think it’s again very empowering for people who have the skills and ability to navigate and set their own career path and build their own digital identity and kind of how work come to them and be called in to these dynamic networks.

The thing that I worry about is from a skilling standpoint who’s being left behind, who doesn’t have the ability to surf on this very organic dynamic networked economy and how do you make that economy as open or as porous as it can be so that people who are coming out of school right now it used to be they go to a career fair and they get a job. If those jobs don’t exist, what does exist and what are the gateways and points of access for people into the network at this point?

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 15 – Industrial Entropy and the Turks! The Turks! The Mechanical Turks!

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Hoax Distracts from Working Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Klint Finley

James Ball writes that although Amazon’s drone plan is unlikely to happen, it did manage to minimize criticism of Amazon’s corporate practices during cybermonday:

Bezos’ neat trick has knocked several real stories about Amazon out of the way. Last week’s Panorama investigation into Amazon’s working and hiring practices, suggesting that the site’s employees had an increased risk of mental illness, is the latest in a long line of pieces about the company’s working conditions – zero-hour contracts, short breaks, and employees’ every move tracked by internal systems. Amazon’s drone debacle also moved discussion of its tax bill – another long-running controversy, sparked by the Guardian’s revelation last year that the company had UK sales of £7bn but paid no UK corporation tax – to the margins. The technology giants – Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al – have have huge direct reach to audiences and customers, the money to hire swarms of PR and communications staff, and a technology press overwhelmingly happy to incredulously print almost every word, rather than to engage in the much harder task of actually holding them to account.

Full Story: The Guardian: Amazon to deliver by drone? Don’t believe the hype

A bit more about why this won’t work from Wired

Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

Klint Finley

This week Chris Dancy and I talked to Shanely, a tech product manager and feminist in the Bay Area, about sexism and micro-aggression in the work place.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

  • Buddhist Geeks Life Retreat — Quantified Mindfulness
  • Shanley’s tech background in API infrastructure, open source and distributed databases large scale application hosting.
  • Cultural and activist background in cultural studies, gender studies, semiotics, linguistics, propaganda.
  • Why are we not talking more about gender?
  • “Normative gender presentations… are so ingrained in our culture and our perception of the world that they almost become invisible.”
  • Are women’s issues the same as gender issues?
  • Gender = complex intersection.
  • Power dynamics, microaggression, and non-verbal cues in the workplace.
  • The Mythology of Management.
  • Perks in the workplace–then and now.
  • Class dimensions of those that provide perks of service vs those receiving?
  • “Shuttled from their nice houses to their nice, space camp-esque place [of work] and never actually engage in a meaningful way with the community”
  • What is privilege? How can people learn more about their own and help others learn without making them irate?
  • “All of us both occupy positions of oppression and positions of privelege”
  • Who are you following on Twitter? Nothing but straight white guys?
  • “Lifting the curtain” of white privilege
  • NEWS:  Nathan Jurgenson hating on Medium
  • “People wouldn’t blame Twitter because people tweet horrible things…”
  • Paid to write for Medium?
  • Too Tired to Hustle by Nicole Matos.  A community college professor noticing even young, precarious students feel requirement to be super competitive.
  • Sheryl Sandberg Lean In.  Problematic to tell marginalized people that they just need to “lean in” to oppression and work harder?
  • Why aren’t there more openly gay guys?
  • “Partners” vs gendered words for significant other.
  • “Tim Cook runs Apple. Yo Tim–mention the fact you have a husband once on stage!  Once, Tim.”



Microaggression – the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression.




  • Defrag – November 4-6, 2013 Broomfield, CO (SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT)
  • SXSW  - March 7-16, 2014 Austin, TX (POSSIBLY SEE KLINT AND CHRIS PRESENT)
  • Buddhist Geeks – Contemplative Tech Conference, April 11-13, 2014 San Francisco
  • Cyborg Camp – MIT Media Lab – August 2014 – Boston, MA



Mindful Cyborgs – Contemplative living in the age of quantification, augmentation and acceleration, with your hosts, Chris Dancy and Klint Finley.

CD: Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs Episode 12. Hey, Klint.

KF: Hey, how’s it going?

CD: Klint I’m actually a Buddhist Geeks life retreat right now. Part of the life retreat is you have to meditate for X amount of hours a day and part of that, because it is a life retreat you’re doing with other people, you have to prove you did it. So, all that crazy quantification I do, guess what, came in handy.

KF: All right. Quantified mindfulness.

CD: If anyone ever wants to prove that I’m sleeping on the job, I literally can prove that I’m not doing anything now except being in present. Klint, someone that you introduced me to and I’m a big fan of Peter Kretzman and someone who I’m now obsessed with is with us today. Hello, Shanley.

SK: Hi, Klint. Hi, Chris. Nice to meet you both.

CD: I don’t even know how to get started. What can you tell us about Shanley because people will go, you’re all Mindful Cyborgs or they might go, oh my gosh, you’ve got Shanley! I’m thinking I’ll do the latter, so. Tell us a little bit about you.

SK: I work in the tech industry. I’ve spent my career sort of bouncing around some related species. I spent bunch of my early career in the API infrastructure space which I’m sure is relevant to the program. I’ve also worked a bunch in open source and distributed databases and currently I work around large scale application hosting. That’s sort of my work life and then as far as my background and some of the things that I write about a lot of my educational background and my activist background is in cultural studies, gender studies, semiotics, linguistics and then [00:02:16] propaganda. I bring that background both into my work practice but also into my work and writing and the community.

CD: All right. So, I’m going to ask the first question. I’m going to let Klint and we’ll go back and forth like ping pong, how’s that?

SK: Okay. Sounds good.

CD: I don’t know how this show’s going to end up, but my first question to you is you talked about gender studies. As a queer 44-year-old man and just starting to explore the full range of gender, because someone who recently did the genderbread person about three years ago, explained a lot to me. Why don’t we talk about gender more in our world? Why do I not see more on gender? Am I not looking in the right places? It seems to me absolutely vacant and I can’t find anybody in my community talking about it.

SK: The question of why we don’t talk more about gender is a great question. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the normative gender presentations that we see all around us and by that I mean the typical normal representations of masculinity and femininity that we see in the media and TV and our day to day lives, they’re so expected and they’re so normalized and they’re so engrained in our culture and our perception of the world that they almost become invisible.

I think our sort of binary ideas about gender even prevent us from seeing and experiencing gender identities and presentations that fall outside of these very narrow boundaries. Our expectations and our experience of gender and what it means and how it works are just things that we take for granted especially people in positions of privilege whose gender identity and presentation falls within the established norms, so we don’t necessarily have to face these issues critically in their personal identities.

We’ve been taught men are supposed to present themselves in a particular way, women are supposed to present in a particular way and be a certain way. There’s this very narrow range of gender identity expression that we consider normal or acceptable and because that’s so normalized most people don’t really think to critique how gender identity and gender expression are created or moderated and the culture and the problems with that and we don’t think about how people may be able or unable to express their gender identities and their presentations.

And then you have all of these sort of well-intentioned but horribly misguided ideas like we’re in this post sexism or post gender age and that’s totally inaccurate but the perception that these are social issues of the past contributes to making gender invisible as well and of course there’s just a ton of consequences for people who talk about gender especially critiquing it, analyzing it in a critical way or talking about gender in a way that goes against the established white male patriarchic community, extremely dangerous for people in their community is their jobs even their relationships.

So, a combination of these factors I think is just sort of an overall silencing and invisibility in many communities about gender.

CD: One sub-question: do you consider women’s issues the same as gender issues?

SK: No. Gender is absolutely a much broader thing.

CD: I’m trying to help some of our listeners who might have never seen or really even explored the word gender. Like I said, for me, when someone showed me this genderbread person – I don’t even know if it’s accurate – I never considered gender. I never considered gender identity to be separate than gender expression which was different than biological sex which was different than attracted to.

As a forty-four-year-old gay guy I just knew what I was attracted to, but it kind of explains now why I have the mannerisms I do because of gender expression and some of my thoughts because of gender identity, but I never knew that until I had this chart. Could you give us like the quick version of gender in your mind or how you would explain it to a layman?

SK: Yes, absolutely. I did speaking specifically about women because that’s a major area of my practice, so when we talk about gender we’re actually talking about complex intersection of things ranging from the way that we perceive gender, the way we react to it, our concepts of masculinity, of femininity, of androgyny, how people choose to present along those lines, how that affects their interactions and their position in sort of the social space. It’s a very complex media topic that’s a combination of personal expression and sort how society creates that gender rules and what those are supposed to mean.

CD: Interesting.

KF: One of the reasons I wanted to have you on was to talk about an article that you wrote called microaggression and management and in that article you talk a lot about body language and touching. Are there non-verbal cues that managers use to control and manipulate employees even though I think in some ways that’s probably a stronger statement than I want to make about what’s happening, but in some cases those non-verbal cues are more negative, they’re aggressive. It’s stuff I’d never really thought about before. Once I read it, I realized that I had seen some of that sort of thing.

I remember somebody pointing out one day like this just really incongruous couple at a coffee shop and my friend pointed out there has to be a job interview because there was a guy and he was just kind of like floppy looking and slouched and completely relaxed, his shirt was untucked and then there was a woman who was dressed neat, tidily, professional just perfect posture, really attentive. After I saw that I had noticed that managers kind of being as you say overly casual with their employees and I hadn’t really fully grasped like the power dynamic there where the manager can do that because they’re not the ones that’s liable to get in trouble for not being professional enough, for being too casual.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about some of the observations you made in that article and about the field of microaggression in general.

SK: Yes, absolutely. I always like to start all conversations about micro management with sort of talk about what our mythology of management is and the things that we believe about management and that’s when we become managers that we try to represent so often times the mythology about management is that managers are better or more confident that employees, that they always know what’s best, that they need to be in control, that they really need to like be the boss, they need to have power and they need to be right and they need to be more right than the people around them.

When you become a manager in that sort of the mythology of managers, you are feeling the need to crew out this mythology all of the time and when that mythology is based in power dynamics and negative power dynamics, then you get situations where managers are doing all of these microaggressive acts. There are a bunch of different categories and you mentioned body language and touching so there is a ton of sort of physical cues that we give each other about who’s in power and who’s not are really example I think as this concept of management by walking around.

I think what’s really interesting is that was really held up as a positive and beneficial practice in the workplace but what does it mean when you have a manager who can just walk around into everyone’s space and sort of have a full view and then a symmetrical view into employees and what they’re doing. There are some power dynamics that are around sort of space and body language but there are other ones around the way that managers talk to their employees, the way that they characterize their employees and so on.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

KF: If you then kind of tie that back to the original purpose of that article specifically point out male/female power imbalance in the workplace. So, I’m wondering what is to be done about that. I know that’s a huge question but beyond just being aware when it’s happening what kinds of things can people do to change that dynamic.

SK: I just wanted to go back really quickly. I do talk a lot about the sort of that women are just proportionately affected by these sort of power dynamic but I also think it’s really important to point out all marginalized people in fact experience this type of thing so men who don’t present in the traditional sort of masculine sense experience this more. Women who don’t perform femininity in the way that they’re expected to in the workplace experience this more. People of color experience this more. So, this is really an intersectional power dynamic issue.

But going into how we fix it and when you start to address this and I don’t want to take the easy way out but most people have no idea what’s going on in their workplace like people don’t understand the complex dynamics that are involved in what seems like simple sort of everyday thing.

CD: In that way though, if I can just stop you there, let’s explore that a little bit. I completely agree with you most people are literally unaware of what’s going on in their workplace but I think they double down on damaging when they start to then analyze it with some semblance of assumed awareness.

SK: I don’t think I followed.

CD: I’ve been practicing on being aware and being present and listening to people kind of make the mindful part of the cyborg show and what I’ve noticed and what’s difficult for me is as you become aware and we’re talking about people being aware of what’s going on in their workplace, either you quiet down or you become more vocal, one of the other goes that way but what I find is a lot of people in the workplace – and I’ve had a lot of jobs over my tenure so I’m sure you can relate to what I’ve been to – I think they do themselves a damage because they then just make a lot of assumptions without actually ever taking time to be aware of the workplace and then they take those assumptions without any actual awareness and you study any type of actual conversations with people to understand how the people are feeling or observing them and they double down on it dangerous by then saying this person is this way because of this and if they would actually look at all the pieces involved they’d find out their managers are slightly intimidating.

The person they used to work with is still sending them emails that make them feel awkward. When they go to the lounge, the person they go to lounge with them is gossiping with them and then they come out and make these profound kind of our company’s culture’s all messed up because of my manager and it’s really all three things but they only see their manager. Is that clear a little bit more?

SK: Yes, I absolutely see what you’re saying. I totally agree and I think it’s very easy especially when you look at sort of the overall industry context of potential tension between labor and capital, between managers and subordinates it is easy to sort of focus on that particular dynamic rather than other ones, but I think obviously equally important to the manager relationship with employees is employees relationship with others in other sort of structures in the workplace. I think one of the things that I really try to do in my practice is give people tools to actually understand what’s going on in their workplace multiple dimensions.

A really awesome example of this that helps people unpack it is when we talk about perks in the workplace because Google has a laundry list of perks that they provide.

CD: They’re also doing something to help people live forever if you’re a certain level of [00:18:17] some crazy article I saw. Immortality is now a perk at Google. I was blown away.

SK: Oh, wow! There are startups and tech companies all sort of along that spectrum range in from just like you [00:18:31] like we can potentially make you immortal, but when you can look at perks and start to analyze them across sort of different analytical tools like if you look on the history and what’s sort of the history around perks, well it started out in America in large part during the industrial age where there was a great deal of labor capital attention.

They hired a bunch of welfare workers to try to make the work environment better as a way of sort of soothing these conflicts and the welfare workers really modeled their practice after the Victorian family which set up the sort of workplaces the masculine sort of father figure and then the people in the workplace that were providing these perks as sort of the Victorian mother. You can see interesting things about perks in the dimension of history. You look at psychology and you start thinking about like reciprocity and sales techniques and like when you’re giving people lots of food and like free massages all these other perks what sort of dynamics, so that’s another dimension and then you look at gender like who is providing, what is the gender identity of the people in the workplace who are providing these services, what the class dimensions like is that all women serving a predominantly male workplace, and then you look at things like space and one of the major problems in our industry is that we have startup employees that are even engaging in the community.

They’re basically shuttled from their nice [00:20:15] houses to like their nice space camp-esque place and they never actually engage in a meaningful way with the community. So, that was like we just covered like five different disciplines that show five different things that are going on in the workplace. So, I think when you can start to get people those tools is when you can really affect meaningful change.

KF: I think we’re going to need to go in some news before too long, so I’m just trying to figure out the most economical way to work in some of the other topics I wanted to talk about a little bit and one of those is the notion of privilege which to go back to sort of awareness and what Chris said at the beginning about not really even seeing gender issues discussed much something that I’ve occasionally come to realize is that not everyone knows what that term means in this context and then some people who do know don’t believe that it actually exists which is kind of a whole another ball of wax but I’m wondering if maybe you could talk a little bit about what privilege is and how people can become both more aware of their own privilege and help other people become aware of it without making them irate.

There’s kind of a knee jerk reaction on people’s part to being told well actually you have these advantages because everyone at heart really wants to believe that they’re a good person and that they’ve gotten where they are on the basis of their hard work.

SK: Yes, absolutely. When we talk about privilege we’re talking about like very intersecting system by which some people have access to more opportunities, more education, more economic security and more upward mobility, more safety than other people. I think you’re starting just really examining yourself when I look at my background and when people look at their individual backgrounds and realizing that privilege is an intersecting system in the sense that all of us both occupy positions of oppression and positions of privilege.

CD: I think you should say that one more time. I think it’s so important people really slow down and listen to what you said about everyone occupies a position as the oppressor because I don’t think everyone understands that. I was homophobic long before I was actually homosexual and I don’t think most people really see themselves as an aggressor or an oppressor as being able to dualistically both. Like Klint said, I do a really good job so there’s no way I’m this person but you really are going to put that we sit at both intersections on that regardless of what we believe.

SK: Yes, and that’s so powerful and so important to realize and confront in ourselves. Just an example you ask me about gender studies and I immediately started about just women and raised like a lot of issues around gender. We are all occupying positions where we both have privilege and where we are oppressed and where we are oppressing other people. I mean, you look at your own background we grew up clear, we grew up as women, we grew up not white but maybe we had a computer, maybe we had a certain kind of appearance, maybe we went to a certain kind of school system, maybe we had access to certain opportunities that others didn’t.

Privilege is intersectional, and when you start to realize oh, like there are lot of ways in my life that I’ve been privileged but there are also lot of ways that I’ve been oppressed. That’s a level of critical consciousness that’s really needed in order to have useful conversations about it.

CD: I love that.

SK: My advice for sort of trying to become more aware of your privileges, sit down with a notebook and look through your own personal background and just write down like all the things where you didn’t have opportunities that other people had and times when you did have opportunities that other people didn’t just really started with self-reflection but also start to me read and interact with more diverse people.

There are less women, there are less people who identify as trends or [00:25:12], there are less people of color and technology but we’re definitely out there. Find them, talk to them, go to diverse places. Something as simple as like who are you following on Twitter. I remember one moment where I was following on Twitter and I was like I’m following nothing but straight white guys like this is a problem. You need to change who you are interacting with.

CD: I had that problem in my 20s. That’s a whole another show. You’re absolutely right. I mean, I’m friends with a few analysts and people that I work with but they’re all African-American or whatever the right term is now. I’m never really good at this sort of thing. But it’s funny as soon as I started like hanging out with them a lot I was very able to see white privilege as if a curtain had been lifted off me because just the act of hanging out you see it. You see how they’re treated different. You see how people look at them different but you have to make the effort to be in the same room. Not to have a casual conversation and walk away be with them.

SK: Yes, absolutely. One issue that gets talked about a lot in the feminist and anti-racist community is it runs like oh, where are the women, where are this group of people and it’s kind of like well, we’re right here, we’re around you but like we just don’t seem important to you or we don’t seem relevant to you or you don’t see us. So, reflecting on sort of how your own mental filter makes different groups invisible is super important too.

KF: Chris, would we move on to the news?

CD: News. Shanley, can you hang out and if we have a story that interests you, just blast us your opinion, do you mind?

SK: Yes, absolutely.

CD: [00:27:06] had not really a news topic but it’s tied to news. I’m probably a fan boy officially for Nathan Jurgenson and he has just been hating on Medium. He’s either saying it’s not a good platform or people who publish there shouldn’t publish there and then there’s Shanley I think your Medium. One of the things that he recently shared that he despised most – I don’t remember how he put it. I don’t want to misquote him but he was not happy with what the Medium says how many minutes a story is going to take to read.

He’s kind of got a point. It’s making a lot of assumptions about your education and I would dare say you’re privileged to say this article will take you five minutes to read.

Klint, have you thought about Medium or seen any of this kind of Medium backlash? You have an opinion about kind of algorithmically it trying to tell you how long it will take to read stuff?

KF: I’ve been thinking a lot about Medium and actually Shanley’s articles there and the two articles that I wanted to talk about if we have time are both on Medium. It seems like actually it’s occupying a lot more of my mental space lately and part that is just because I have a number of friends who write for it but it’s definitely a mixed bag. When I look at the front page of Medium, it’s a lot of the sort of TED light kind of new age, feel good, silly, self-helpness is up there; a lot of the stuff that Nathan talks about.

As for the assumptions about how long it’s going to take to read an article I have no idea because I don’t know how much if it’s acclimating to the individual user at all like if it’s trying to get a sense of your reading speed in any way and I think it is. I think Evan Williams said that it is in a recent interview on TechCrunch. Yes, it’s definitely part of how it’s doing its recommendations is based on how much time people spend.

CD: Reasoning in this Medium backlash or weirdness?

KF: Medium backlash – yes, I think the Medium backlash is largely a result of just having a really large number of silly articles and especially, when it started out there was a lot of really privileged white guys from the tech industry who knew the founders already and that’s starting to change. I don’t know how much.

It reminds me a lot of the early days of Blogger and Twitter though. The early days of blogging people would say oh, blogging is just a bunch of navel-gazers just posting crap on the internet that nobody cares about and that all the serious writers are working for real magazines or something and with Twitter it’s just a bunch of people talking about their food. The same founder at Medium as this first year, so it’s kind of hard for me to dismiss it out of hand that way and that I think a backlash is to be expected which isn’t say I don’t have issues with the Medium business model or potentially their curation but most of the criticisms kind of fall short for me.

SK: Yes, I find it interesting how critical people are of the content on Medium because it really is just a publishing platform. People wouldn’t blame Twitter because people tweet horrible things on there but interestingly people are very upset with Medium because people are publishing crap on Medium and that’s kind of like well have you met people of course or publishing horrible things that are wrong.

It’s kind of someone’s wrong on the internet thing but people are sort of over generalizing it on to the tool instead of the people. I mean, the culture that’s being reflected.

KF: It has been pointed out that Medium does pay some of its contributors so it’s kind of trying to straddle this line between being just a platform and being an actual publication and that’s actually I think that’s going to be an ongoing issue for them until they – I don’t know – kind of choose one side or the other or until people just get used to that as the new status quo but that’s actually part of why I don’t really want to write for them is that they’re both a technology company and a publisher and I feel like if I were to write for them for money, I haven’t been offered any work from them so it’s hypothetical but I wouldn’t really want to take money from them to write for them because then I think it would be a conflict of interest for me as a technology journalist writing about them anywhere in the future.

SK: Yes, that makes sense. I don’t get paid by Medium but if they want to send me a check I’ll give them my address.

CD: Love that.

KF: What about you, Chris? Are you experiencing any backlash or what do you think about Medium?

CD: Probably, like a lot of people I try to consume what I can. You and I had a really good two double episode about information and reading it. I noticed for whatever reason the last 6 months and I don’t know much about the history of Medium but a lot of the people I like are publishing that Medium which so obviously that’s where I found out about it but that’s when I saw this backlash. Now, I just want to be very clear again. One of the things that I do notice about all the people who complaining about Medium at least the ones I follow they’re all highly academic. I mean, they have PhDs and they teach.

I don’t know if it’s an academic backlash or general backlash. I don’t have any opinion but I know because Shanley publishes there and just when Nathan said something like that, it’s just like I thought okay, I could really think about why is he upset that it shows how much time it could take to read an article. In some ways I kind of like that but in other ways I don’t because one of the things I used to say at conferences two years ago was what’s the first thing you look at when you go to a website? The headline. What’s the second thing you look at? How long is it. So, if the headline’s okay and it’s not too long, you’ll read it, but there’s one thing that breaks that rule, is it older than a week. If it’s older than a week, you actually throw up the headline no matter how short it is you’re not going to read it because it’s a week old.

If you look at the front page of Medium, there is no this article was published on this day and when I look at Shanley’s stuff, I actually had to really look. I never really looked for publish date Medium.

KF: Yes, it’s hard to find.

CD: Yes. So, I think there was a weird temporal thing.

KF: And that’s part of the philosophy of it is that they’re actually trying to get content that -

CD: Timeless.

KF: It’s evergreen content instead of a low quality click hit news type of stuff. It used to be and in some ways still is my job to produce. So, actually, that is something I like about what medium does and on the topic of privilege this is something Shanley told me before and it was actually was going to be in an article I wrote but I think this specific line got cut but there’s a certain amount of privilege that goes into the required, I guess, in order to create your own blog or set up your own website to host your own articles.

CD: Or podcast.

KF: Something like Medium can help flatten that particular barrier to entry at least once it becomes open to everybody but right now it’s invite only so it’s a different type of privilege altogether that you need to get an invite to write there.

SK: I’m assuming at some point it will be much more open.

KF: Yes, I think it’s supposed to be in like beta right now. Whether people are actually getting on the front page or getting featured in collections that people look at that will be a whole another power dynamic that gets created and who gets paid and who doesn’t get paid that sort of thing.

CD: So, you said you had another story we could try to squeeze in. I mean, you sent me that piece on who will prosper in the new world and I about melted. Literally, highlighting sections. I printed it out to underline sections.

KF: Oh, wow!

CD: Yes. This is amazing but what did you have because you had two from Medium you wanted to shout about.

KF: We’re really certain to run low on time so I’ll just mention them. One is called “Too Tired to Hustle”. It’s written by a woman named Nicole Matos who’s a teacher at a community college. We’ve talked about this idea of the precarious class and how there’s this requirement to hustle, this requirement to just always be super competitive and that work is just being divvy down into these tiny like bite-size chunks and it’s unreliable. Increasingly people are expected not to know how much money they’re going to make in a given month, etc. etc.

She’s just kind of seeing how even young students, people who are new to the workforce are already being ground down by this new world. It’s fairly depressing and then you two can both comment on either one. It’s called “Six Radical Life Extension Technologies for Transhumanist Consideration”. Instead of the sort of things that you would normally expect from like a singularatan or transhumanist point of view we’re talking about life extension and immortality and all that. The list is clean water, urban sanitation, smokeless cooking facilities, free access to healthcare, guaranteed minimum income, good free education. A lot of the things that are missing in the developing world and actually in some cases in the developed world.

SK: Yes, absolutely. I would comment on the first one. What’s the name of the piece?

KF: Too tired to hustle.

SK: Too tired to hustle. Sort of a meta conversation that’s happening in the feminist community and in other communities that deal with these issues. What happens now that feminism is like Sheryl Sandberg feminism.

CD: I would love to know just in one sentence how you feel about Lean In.

SK: Lean In is a metaphor. It comes from a stance that you should take when you’re getting punched which I think kind of says everything about it that you need to know. I think it’s very problematic that you’re telling marginalized people who are not treated well in work, who aren’t paid enough, who are dealing with all of the oppressions in the industry that they just need to lean in and work a little bit harder and I would also say that I think some of the most meaningful work from people outside of the establishment in tech is happening outside of the workplace. I guess, that would be my perspective on that. I think it’s absolutely problematic to tell marginalized people to just lean in.

CD: Yes, it’s hard. I just forget that thin line. It’s hard because a lot of the people that I know who are very, very powerful, who are female either by birth or by gender think this Lean In is really the recipe for why [00:39:59] and the workplace when it comes to women.

KF: I think it speaks to what we talked about at the very beginning of why more women don’t talk about gender issues in the workplace is that it can be seen as whining or complaining or playing the victim card and so the lean in thing is kind of the opposite of that. It’s kind of to me like saying lean in just as like you saying shut up. Just pretend nothing’s wrong and just work your ass off.

CD: One of the things I remember was this: you tell a little girl who is very opinionated; you tell her she’s bossy. This is like this thing that keeps showing on interview clips all the time. She’s not bossy. She’s a leader. I don’t think in either case that’s really culturally leadership whether you’re talking too much. What do you call a girl who listens too much? She’s patient. It goes back to that word again where we started. Our assumed roles and perceptions around gender and it sometimes frustrates me. Again, this is the show where I’m talking about me being gay all the time, but as a gay guy why aren’t there more openly gay guys?

Tim Cook runs Apple. Yo Tim, mention the fact you have a husband once on stage, once Tim. Really. You want to innovate. Don’t reskin the phone. Tell people you’re queer, Tim.

KF: That’s another really subtle warm of privilege is I can just mention that I have a wife in any conversation and it’s no big deal. I can talk about my family in that way, but for gay people when you type to mention I have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend, I have a husband, I have a wife for them it has a completely different meaning. So, there are just things that you’re not allowed to talk about in your personal life.

CD: Or you’re forcing the same partner. I shouldn’t have to say partner and I don’t. It’s awkward. What really drives me a little bit crazy, and I’m sure you both have experienced this, you meet a heterosexual who refers to their heterosexual spouse as partner and people assume they’re gay – again, this kind of weird stuff where we kind of brainwash people into just acting differently than they need.

Shanley, where can people find you if we should want to find you because I think we would? You are the mono name now.

SK: Yes. You can find on Twitter @Shanley and that’s also my handle on Medium.

CD: Very cool. Klint, thank you for getting Shanley for us. It’s been amazing. I had a really good time, Shanley.

SK: Thank you.

CD: Coming up we got crazy stuff. We’ve got the Quantified Self-Conference if you’re going to be there and we got Defrag and I think Klint here speaking at Defrag in November.

KF: Yep, I’m speaking there.

CD: And a bunch of other fun stuff and then we don’t know maybe South by Southwest coming up, Shanley, if you ever go. If you don’t go, I’d love to see you there.

SK: Yes.

CD: Yes, that’d be really cool. I’d like to thank Aaron Jasinski for the artwork for Mindful Cyborgs. Ross Nelson Brown Hound Sound Media. You can find us on all those social media stuff. Thank you so much, guys. It’s been a real pleasure this week.

KF: Thank you. Bye-bye.

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

Klint Finley

Nicole Aschoff on the “Alt-Labor” movement, such as the Walmart and fast food strikes:

University of Colorado-Denver management professor Wayne Cascio has shown, through a comparison of Walmart/Sam’s Club and Costco, that low wages are not necessary for high profits and productivity. Costco employees average roughly $35, 000 per year ($17 per hour), while Sam’s Club workers average roughly $21, 000 per year ($10 per hour) and Walmart workers earn an average of less than $9 an hour. Costco also provides it workers predictable, full-time work and health benefits. However, contrary to popular assumptions, Costco actually scores higher in relative financial and operating performance than Walmart. Its stores are more profitable and more productive, and its customers and employees are happier.

Costco is not exceptional. Zeynep Ton, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has studied retail operations for a decade and argues that “the presumed trade-off between investment in employees and low prices can be broken.” “High-road” employers like Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and the Container Store have all found ways to make high profits and provide decent jobs. Catherine Ruetschlin’s research shows that a modest wage increase—bumping up the average annual salary of Walmart or Target workers to $25,000—would barely make a dent in big retailers’ bottom line, costing them the equivalent of about 1% of total sales. Even if a company like Walmart passed on half the cost of the increase to customers, the average customer would pay roughly $17 more per year, or about 15 cents per shopping visit. And, considering most low-wage workers spend nearly their entire paycheck on necessities, the industry would see a boost in sales ($4 billion to $5 billion more per year) to its own workers. Fast-food companies are highly profitable. McDonald’s alone saw profits more than double between 2007 and 2011. They could easily send some of these profits downstream to franchise owners and workers.

So why do most big retailers and fast-food chains insist on a bad-jobs or “low road” model? There are a few reasons. MIT’s Ton argues that labor costs are a large, controllable expense, and retailers generally view them as a “cost-driver” rather than a “sales-driver.” Store-level managers are pressured by higher-ups to control labor costs as a percentage of weekly or monthly sales. And because store managers have no control over sales (or merchandise mix, store layout, prices, etc.) they respond to pressure from above by cutting employment or forcing workers to work off-the-clock when sales dip. Another factor is financialization—the increasing dominance of finance in the economy. Firms feel a lot of pressure from Wall Street to be a Walmart and not a Costco. As Gerald Davis has argued, the rise of finance and the dominance of “shareholder value” rhetoric have resulted in an emphasis on short-term profits that register in increased share prices and big CEO bonuses.

Full Story: Dollars and Sense: 

Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better.

(via Metafilter)

This is encouraging, but the possibility of fast food companies switching to “less-costly, automated alternatives like touch-screen ordering and payment devices” is not an idle threat. I’ve seen something like this setup in the food court at the JFK airport. But as I wrote earlier, cultural issues could stop this from becoming widespread — it’s not clear that customers will settle for robots and touch screens over human beings. But I sure wouldn’t rule it out.