From loc 1171-1189 of Frenemies, Ken Auletta’s new book about the declining fortunes of the advertising industry:

Then as vice chair heading Business Innovations, Comstock became the company’s chief futurist, attending digital confabs, planting herself in Silicon Valley, scouting and making it her business to know cutting-edge agencies and entrepreneurs, seeking out partners for unusual ways to market. A marketing challenge for GE, enunciated at every monthly marketing meeting chaired by CMO Linda Boff, with their agencies in attendance, is to shift the brand ID of GE from an old industrial to a cool digital company. Cool digital companies are more attractive to Wall Street because they are perceived as growth stocks, and are seen as welcoming to the young engineers that shape digital companies. A way to advance this goal was for GE to establish under the auspices of the CMO a four-person office, the Disruption Lab, directed by Sam Olstein, thirty-three, who comes to work with his hair spiked and wearing jeans and sneakers. His foremost task, he says, is to “have a good perspective of trends and technology; of where we see activity of new start-ups forming around, say, messaging, around content creation.” He says they search “for what people think is cool and interesting and primed for growth.” He scans Apple’s App Store to check on new apps that break into the top 100. Encouraged by Comstock and Boff, he pushed, he says, to make GE “a publisher, a content creator. What our brand represents is science and technology and the awe around science and technology, and that’s a very focused perspective. It’s the same focused perspective that HBO has, that Discovery channels have, that the Walt Disney Company has. We want to build a platform with the reach of any other media and entertainment platform out there.” It need not be branded like Disney, but he believes GE can create content and distribute it over its own Web site, over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, National Geographic channels, or online publications like Slate.

From the Third Treatise: What Do Ascetic Ideals Means of On The Genealogy of Morality:

Much more frequent than this sort of hypnotic general suppression of sensitivity, of susceptibility to pain – which presupposes even rarer forces, above all courage, contempt of opinions, “intellectual stoicism” – is the attempt at a different kind of training against conditions of depression, one that is in any case easier: mechanical activity. That this relieves a suffering existence to a not inconsiderable degree is beyond all doubt: today this fact is called, somewhat dishonestly, “the blessing of work.” The relief consists in this: that the interest of the sufferer is thoroughly diverted from the suffering – that is continually doing and yet again only doing that enters into consciousness and, consequently, that little room remains in it for suffering: for it is narrow, this chamber of human consciousness! Mechanical activity and that which belongs to it – like absolute regularity, punctual unreflected obedience, one’s way of life set once and for all, the filling up of time, a certain permission for, indeed discipline in “impersonality,” in self-forgetfulness, in “incur Sui”-: how thoroughly, how subtly the ascetic protest knew how to use these in the battle with pain.

Today we see mechanical activity pursued with even greater vigour, heavily individualised though no less regimented. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to express in the last few years in my writing on cognitive triage: how we embrace the narrowness of the cognitive chamber, losing ourselves in movement in order to blot out the existential challenges which otherwise impinge involuntary upon our consciousness.

(Translated by Maudemarie Clark and Alan Seensen in a 1998 Hackett Publishing edition)

The network scientist Emmanuel Lazega studies collegiality and bureaucracy as ideal typical forms of social organisation which co-exist in a fluctuating balance within organisations. Collegiality involves actors recognising each other as autonomous, existing in relationship to each other and necessitating consensus as a preliminary for what will always be non-routine action. Bureaucracy merely requires interaction, being organised around hierarchy and impersonal relationships, operating through routine action. 

As I understand Lazega’s outlook, these modes of organisation always exist in tension because collegiality is a threat to bureaucracy, as the formation of collectivity between autonomous actors intrinsically carries the possibility of solidarity and subversion. What are otherwise bureaucratic organisation rely on residual collegiality, often organised into what Lazega describes as ‘pockets’, in order to perform non-routine tasks which necessitate creativity. However bureaucracy remains suspicious of collegiality, seeking to minimise its overall function and the autonomous character within the collegial  coordination which remains necessary within the organisation.

The ethnography of Dreamfields academy undertaken by Christy Kulz in her Factories for Learning offers a vivid account of strategies which bureaucracy adopts in its war against collegiality. From loc 1221:

A staple in most schools, the omission of a staff room was another design decision described by SMT members as a positive move to prevent factionalism and increase productivity. Mr Vine feels staff rooms are places ‘where staff go and hide out and try to avoid students’ and are ‘a breeding ground for negativity … where people get together and talk about others or moan’. Mr Davis thinks the lack of a staff room fits ‘the businesslike nature of the school’. Administrator Mr Fields feels private-sector businesses and Dreamfields share a similar work ethic: 

“There is no doubt that people at the school work very hard … it’s not a question of, well, you come here and you can relax for the first hour and have a cup of tea and have a long lunch break, which I think is probably still the case in some local authorities, but here people do work really hard. “

Eradicating the staff room symbolically severs Dreamfields from the perception that local authorities are unproductive spaces in comparison to private businesses, responding to narratives of public-sector failure. Staff taking a break or talking to one another are framed as troublesome activities eliminated by preventing congregation.

The teachers are only too aware of how this prevents them gathering together. As one describes, it is “very clever that we don’t have a staff room ’cause it means that people work harder then, and they can moan, but they moan less because there are not so many people gathered together, moaning together” (loc 1241) This ‘moaning together’ might otherwise be the coalescence of collectivity from which a challenge to the bureaucratic organisation of the school might ensue. The headteacher describes a similar concern to break up collectivities of children: “We do not have groups of more than six or seven congregating together. If you see large groups of children, you need to break them up so they do not cause silliness and mayhem” (loc 1241). They even breakup such congregations outside the school grounds. Such ‘silliness and mayhem’ is precisely what bureaucracy fears in collegiality and why it seeks to stamp it out.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture, by Fred Turner, presents the fascinating history through which avowed cultural radicals of the 1960s came to generate the present day dogmas of working culture under digital capitalism. In the last week, I’ve written about this in terms of the digital nomad and the digital hipster. These cultural forms are, as Turner puts it on loc 3846, “libertarian nostrums” which “can transform a series of personal losses-of time with family and neighbors, of connection to one’s body and one’s community-into a soothing narrative with which they can rationalize the limits of their own choices”.

What in reality is “every bit as thorough an integration of the individual into the economic machine as the one threatened by the military-industrial-academic bureaucracy forty years earlier” (loc 3838) is rationalised as a mode of living freely, living passionately and living openly. One congratulates oneself for resisting integration into the cold, mechanical life-denying system while in reality being integrated into that system in a manner which is, arguably, more comprehensive.

He makes a crucial point on loc 3838-3846 about this nomadic mode of integration. This integration is comprehensive in its scope, with ‘personal life’ constantly under threat from ‘working life’ in a way which was not the case with the careful balance of the bourgeois 9-5. Every facet of life risks being subsumed under one’s (passionate) work. But this is accentuated by the tendency of work to squeeze out what Archer and Donati call relational goods. The form of life of the digital nomad too often precludes the mundanity of everyday involvements which generate relational goods, bonds with others that produce sources of value independent of those of organisations and capital. There is not a necessary feature of freelance labour, as much as it a certain self-articulation and mode of accounting for this condition of labour: the (relative) temporal autonomy which many enjoy could facilitate a very different relationship to the social order. From loc 3838-3846:

It may in fact result in every bit as thorough an integration of the individual into the economic machine chine as the one threatened by the military-industrial-academic bureaucracy forty years earlier. Furthermore, it may cut individual workers off from participating in local cal communities that might otherwise mitigate these effects. To stay employed, Ullman and workers like her must move from node to node within the network of sites where computers and software are manufactured and used, and in order to pick up leads for new work, they must stay in touch with one another. As a result, programmers and others often find themselves selves living in a social and physical landscape populated principally by people like themselves. To succeed within that landscape, they must often turn their attention away from another, parallel landscape: the landscape of local, material things, of town boards and PTA meetings, of embodied participation ticipation in civic life. They must declare and maintain an allegiance to their own professional network, to its sites and technologies. And they must carry with them a handful of rules that Ullman trumpets with more than a little sarcasm: `Just live by your wits and expect everyone else to do the same. Carry no dead wood. Live free or die. Yeah, surely, you can only rely on yourself.”

The reality underlying the ideals of the digital nomad and the digital hipster is the digital monad. If we treat these ideals too seriously, working life under digital capitalism eats away at our independent sources of esteem and value, leaving us with no locus of fulfilment other than work. The more we invest ourselves in working life, the harder it becomes to imagine a life which is not centred around work.

I spent the second half of this week thinking about the ideal of the digital nomad, he who takes advantage of the affordances of digital media to live a life of constant movement, working with a laptop from a different place each day. We can see this expressed in extreme form in contemporary lifestyle minimalism, defined by a competitive escalation in the number of accoutrements one can dispense with while remaining functional. However it has also percolated into the broader culture, coming to constitute existential common sense amongst great swathes of freelancers and cultural labourers.

This was a mode of existence glamorised in the coverage of early digital gurus within magazines like Wired. But it built on a cultural impulse which predated these institutional entrepreneurs, something which Fred Turner locates within the counter-culture: the amorphous and apolitical cultural movement often conflated with the action-orientated new left. However this in turn has broader roots than the commune dwellers who are the focus of Turner’s study. Thomas Frank quotes Norman Mailer’s early expression of this moral source on loc 381 of his Conquest of Cool:

“The only life-giving answer” to the deathly drag of American civilization, Mailer wrote, was to tear oneself from the security of physical and spiritual certainty, to live for immediate pleasures rather than the postponement of gratification associated with the “work ethic,” “to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey with the rebellious imperatives of the self.” The antithesis to the man in the gray flannel suit was a figure Mailer called the Hipster, an “American existentialist” whose tastes for jazz, sex, drugs, and the slang and mores of black society constituted the best means of resisting the encroachments of Cold War oppression.

Assuming we accept this cultural genealogy, we confront an apparent paradox that a refusal of the work ethic can come to be such a crucial component of  a contemporary culture of over-work. As Turner puts it on loc 3838 of his study, it leads to “every bit as thorough an integration of the individual into the economic machine as the one threatened by the military-industrial-academic bureaucracy forty years earlier”. 

My suggestion is that this hinges on the locus of fulfilment for Mailer’s hipster moving from life to work. As Frank summarises on loc 397 of the same text:

Unlike the “over-civilized man” with his diligent piling of the accoutrements of respectability, the hipster lives with a “burning consciousness of the present,” exists for ever-more-intense sensation, for immediate gratification, for “an orgasm more apocalyptic than the one which preceded it.” 

The accelerated conditons of intensified labour for creative workers, as working life is constituted through their rapid movement through a heterogenous array of projects with an equally varied range of collaborators, feeds this “burning consciousness of the present” in a way that even the most excitingly hedonistic life would fail to do. There is no rhythm or routine, only an endless succession of experiences, continually challenge one to self-transcend. To the digital hipster, personal  life has become the theatre of stultifying conformity while working life promises liberation from it.

In From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner analyses how digital technology came to be seen as capable of liberating the individual, freeing them from the shackles of petty attachments to organisations and places. This is a complex story but it’s one in which cultural entrepreneurs figure prominently, carving out modes of living which later percolated through the emerging cyberculture as ideals to be imitated. One early such figure was Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, described on loc 2677:

As LSD and a beat-up school bus had once freed Kesey to roam the American landscape with a tribe of friends, so digital technologies now allowed Negroponte to turn work into play. “Some of us enjoy a privileged existence where our work life and our leisure life are almost synonymous,” he told Brand. “More and more people I think can move into that position with the coming of truly intimate technology.

The personal charisma of a figure like Negroponte plays an important part in their coming to serve as an exemplar, embodying a desirable form of life which invites explanation in terms of emerging notions of digitally-driven social change and in turn contributes to these changes through cultural elaboration. From loc 2685:

If the Lab demonstrated the way a “wired” world might look, then Negroponte was the image of the social possibilities such a world might offer. Mobile, wealthy, handsome, some, completely networked in both the technological and the political sense, Negroponte was a new kind of man. As an echo of Marshall McLuhan, though, he was also the reincarnation of an earlier generation of hero. Like the Media Lab he headed, Negroponte was the living bridge between the legacy of cybernetics and the legacy of countercultural experimentation.

George Gilder was another figure who was glamorised in this way. As Turner observes on loc 3353, his hectic schedule was held up as embodying a liberated life. His peripatetic working patterns were exciting and profitable:

Much as other Wired writers had celebrated brated the members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Global Business Network for their social connections, Bronson dwelled at length on Gilder’s hectic schedule of appearances, his migrations from tech company to tech company, and his twenty-thousand-dollar speaking fees. Gilder appeared peared to be a pattern of information, shuttling from node to node along a web of elite institutions. In case the reader missed the point, Bronson depicted picted Gilder literally speaking in the machine language of zeros and ones.

As Turner puts it on loc 3366, “Wired had offered the freelance lance lifestyle of a high-profile consultant as a model of the independent lifestyle ostensibly becoming available to the digital generation as a whole“. This equivocation is an important one, seemingly at least a little bit dishonest when we consider how aware Wired were of the particular demographic they were pursuing. From loc 3233-3241:

In a 1992 business plan, Rossetto and Metcalfe had described their target audience to potential investors as “Digital Visionaries.”.” With annual incomes averaging $75,000 a year, this group represented “The top ten percent of creators, managers, and professionals in the computer puter industries, business, design, entertainment, the media and education.” In the coming years, Wired reached this group with extraordinary success. Less than three years after the first issue appeared, for instance, when Wired was selling 300,000 copies a month, its readers were 87.9 percent male, 37 years old on average, with an average household income of more than $122,000 per year. In a reader survey, more than 90 percent of subscribers scribers identified themselves as either “Professional/Managerial” or “Top Management.”

The idiots so wonderfully satirised in Nathan Barley are the children of these visionaries, sufficiently immersed in the emergent culture that any sense of transition has been lost. But the ideal of the ‘digital visionary’, something to which the ranks of digital nomads might find themselves aspiring, has a currency all the more powerful for it having lost touch with the conditions which gave rise to it.

This bullshit came from somewhere and it felt a certain way to the people who first encountered it. We can’t explain its subsequent iterations, as well as the cultural power it has exercised, without appreciating these origins. But it’s still with us, identifiable in the propensity to find certain people shiny and certain lifestyles alluring.

It intersects with other cultural trends, such as the ‘road warriors’ explored in Up In The Air, lending them an epochal lure by association, as if living life in this way leaves one at the bleeding edge of social change, bringing the new world into being through the very act of living one’s life:

I’m interested in these lifestyles, valorising acceleration and the pleasures associated with it, as forms of life which emerged under conditions of socio-technical change. They became logistically possible, financially possible for some (though not others) and represented in popular culture. What effect did this have on how people saw the options available to them in life? How has it shaped our unspoken understandings of what it is to live life ‘fully’? What political work has this inadvertently achieved?

As Turner describes on loc 2582, what now seem to many like regressive views (valorising the freelance economy as inherently liberating to workers) were at the time radical cultural sentiments, at odds with the prevailing socio-economic order:

But Barlow’s account of cyberspace also mingled the countercultural critique of technocracy with a celebration of the mobility and independence required of information workers in a rapidly networking economy: I’m a member of that half of the human race which is inclined to divide the human race into two kinds of people. My dividing line runs between the people who crave certainty and the people who trust chance…. Large organizations and their drones huddle on one end of my scale, busily trying to impose predictable homogeneity on messy circumstance. On the other end, free-lancers and ne’er-do-wells cavort about, getting by on luck if they get by at all.

In its most extreme versions, this liberation could be from embodiment itself: as Barlow once wrote, “In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one foresakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone”.

This was a radical and profound freedom, particularly in the context of a post-60s counterculture that had raised itself on a hostility towards the stifling bureaucracy of post-war American life. But these lofty, even metaphysical ideas, emerged alongside networked employment, providing a powerful framing which obscured the specificity of economic relations that would soon be generalised throughout the social order. However, the challenge is to recognise this ideological function while nonetheless acknowledging the novelty of this form of life. From loc 867:

Only the freestanding individual “could find the time to think in a cosmically adequate manner,” he explained. Fuller himself lived accordingly: for most of his career, he migrated among a series of universities and colleges, designing projects, collaborating with students and faculty – and always claiming the rights to whatever the collaborations produced.

This image of “an entrepreneurial, individualistic mode of being that was far from the world of the organization man” (loc 775) is still with us. Living freely, living passionately, living everywhere. It’s a powerful ideal, floating free within our contemporary culture, with specific roots in a peculiarly American tradition.

There’s an interesting extract on pg 52-53 of Infinite Distraction, by Dominic Pettman, discussing the seductions of abundance under conditions of scarcity:

Those readers old enough to remember what it was like to live before the Internet will recall the strange phenomenon where the general noosphere seduced us by its sheer beckoning presence. Thus, we would find ourselves listening to terrible songs or talk shows on the radio in the car rather than listening to our perfectly sequenced mixtape or intriguing audiobook. Or we would end up flicking from channel to channel on the TV, preferring this cathodic wasteland to the stack of quality VHS videos that sat neglected in the corner of the living room. Such perverse behavior exhibits a profound and tenacious will-to-synchronize. Indeed, this is the source and continuing energy supply for everything we call “media” (or what Stiegler calls, following Derrida, our “grammaticization”). This crucial characteristic shapes the general desire to connect with the signals and traces of other monads, no matter how tedious or embarrassing these signals and traces may be. (Just take a look at the top ten movies, TV shows, and albums right now, for ample evidence of this claim.)

It immediately brought me back to being a seven or eight-year-old, fascinated by the Sky TV that our neighbours had, in contrast to what was now experienced as the tedium of four channels. They had Simpsons! They had Wrestling! They had endless cartoons! In reality, the abundance that gripped me so much was a profound scarcity in terms of what was produced and circulating at that time, let alone what is available to me now through the iMac and broadband connection with which I am throwing this blog post out into the world.

But it leaves me vividly recalling an earlier time, in which I was growing up within a cultural ecology profoundly different to the one I now inhabit. I remember the first time I visited an internet cafe, at a point where the idea of having the internet at home hadn’t occurred to me, being gripped by the information I could find on the computer. I used it to look up character backgrounds for Marvel comics, filling in the blanks that the comics I read had left me with. The affectivity of abundance seems interesting in retrospect: I was gripped by the possibility that gaps in my knowledge could be filled, however trivial those gaps now seem in retrospect. Has this lure of abundance now been comprehensively lost?

I wrote recently about a short article by Michael Burawoy in which he bemoaned the ascendancy of the spiralists within universities. These relentlessly ambitious new entrants to the university system see it as a theatre within which they can make themselves known, spiralling into the university before once more spiralling out of it to bigger and better things. As Burawoy describes them:

Spiralists enter the university from the outside with little knowledge of its inner workings. They don’t trust the local administration and instead cultivate, promote and protect each other through mutual recruitment, at the same time boosting their corporate-level incomes and contributing to administrative bloat. At UC Berkeley, senior managers have increased five-fold over the last 20 years, rising to 1,256 in 2014, almost equal to the number of faculty, which has barely increased over the same period (from 1,257 to 1,300). While the number of faculty has remained stagnant, student enrollment has increased by 20 percent.

Coming from the outside and concerned more about their future, spiralists are in the business of promoting their image — Dirks employed a firm to do just that at a cost of $200,000 to campus. Branding takes priority over ethics. This last year we have witnessed the cover up of sexual harassment by prominent faculty and administrators and the exoneration of punitive football coaching that led to the death of a football player and a $4.75 million civil suit — all designed to protect the Berkeley brand.

While he appeared to be using ‘spiralist’ in a way that was as much rhetorical as anything else, I’ve had the concept stuck in my mind since then and firmly believe it’s a potentially powerful way of conceptualising a particular form of biographical trajectory within organisations. I just encountered another example of spiralists at work in The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP, a reflective confessional written by one of the leading figures in the creation of modern televangelism in the United States. On loc 2196-2214 he bemoans the ascent of the spiralists in American television:

Of all the things that the press obscures in the gathering and reporting of news, this career self-interest bothers me most. Many, if not most, of the reporting staff at any local news operation don’t really want to be there. Each TV station is viewed as a stepping-stone to a bigger market, and so many enter through the front door with one foot already out the back. Their work in the smaller market includes the strong motivation to do highly flamboyant pieces for their résumé tape that will quickly grab the attention of a “more important” news director elsewhere. It is why the farm system for local TV news is corrupt. The business is almost entirely self-centered and self-driven.

Where else can we see the spiralists at work? If we take a ‘spiralist’ to be a new entrant to an organisation who has immediate and practical designs on moving upwards and/or outwards – as opposed to merely harbouring future ambitions, without formulating plans about how to achieve them through immediate action – it looks as if the spiralists are everywhere under present circumstances.

From The Mediated Construction of Reality, by Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp, loc 2896-2912:

While there are only so many bodies of a certain size that can fit into a finite space –there are certain natural limits to spatial packing, beyond which the attempt to pack just has to stop (otherwise, bodies get crushed) –the same is not true in time: there is literally no limit to how many messages, each sent in a non-synchronous mode, can ‘be there together’ in one’s inbox, each requiring response ‘now’ across a range of communicative platforms. The situation is very different with white noise, where countless signals cancel each other out so that nothing distinct can be heard. The challenge of communication overload is that each message can be heard –as the carrier of a distinct meaning –yet it cannot be attended to, since the time required for doing so is lacking. In this way, contemporary arrangements for communication tend to generate time-packing demands on individuals, from moment-to-moment, which along with the related of communicative obligations they can never, in principle, fulfil.

‘thin time’ where there is no wider normative framework for ordering action-sequences relative to each other. But they are deeply problematic in ‘thick’ time, or what Robert Hassan (2003, p. 233) calls ‘network time’, that is, ‘digitally compressed clock-time’ in which the temporal calibration of obligations within particular figurations is intensified. The contemporary workplace and the social relations of those periods of intense change in one’s social networks (such as adolescence or early adulthood) are likely to be periods of ‘thick time’ when the burden of communicative obligations left unfulfilled due to time-deficits is felt more strongly (Turkle, 2011). Problems of coordination in periods of ‘thick time’ become potential problems for any wider figurational order.

One of the arguments which pervades Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, concerns the materiality of digital labour. As someone whose back and neck start to ache if I spend too much time at a computer, I’ve always found the tendency to assume there is something mysteriously immaterial about using computers to be rather absurd. But there’s more to Scholz’s argument then this generic tendency to fail to recognise the embodied character of digital engagement. From Loc 4103

It’s worth remembering that whether a worker toils in an Amazon warehouse or works for crowdSPRING, her body will get tired and hungry. She’ll have to take care of car payments, medical bills for her children, and student debts, not to mention saving for retirement. Digital work makes the body of the worker invisible but no less real or expendable.

It strikes me that what we are talking about here is the epistemic fallacy: taking what we know to exhaust what is. The mediation involved in digital labour  impedes or entirely prevents knowledge of the material circumstances of the worker. The disaggregation and workflows facilitated by data infrastructures similarly obscure knowledge of the many workers whose efforts combine, in enormously complex way, to produce discernible outcomes. The political economy and social-technical infrastructure of digital labour is certainly complex, but it’s nonetheless useful to recognise the underlying epistemological issue at work here.

There’s an interesting extract in The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, concerning discretionary effort: what could your employees do if they were properly motivated? I’m fascinated by this concept because of its open-ended character. Once one begins to think like this, it’s always possible to imagine your employees doing more. The full actualisation of discretionary effort is a vanishing point and this creates a space in which bullshit thrives: lionising managers for successfully robbing you of a life outside work, as well as all manner of motivational idiocy with little discernible relation to outcomes. From loc 2498:

Kalanick simply directed his team to work harder. “Never ask the question ‘Can it be done?’ ” he was fond of saying at the time, recalls one employee. “Only question how it can be done.” Kalanick left for LeWeb but stayed in touch from his hotel room over Skype video chat, his disembodied head still a loud, demanding presence in the office. Everyone was working around the clock, on little sleep and ebbing patience. “Someone turn Travis off!” yelled the new chief of product, a former Google manager named Mina Radhakrishnan, when Kalanick berated them for not having the service ready in Paris on time. Conrad Whelan, the company’s first engineer, recalls spending every day in the office, from 7: 30 a.m. to midnight, including weekends, for three weeks straight before the Paris launch. “This is the biggest thing I will say about Travis,” he told me years later. “He came to us and said, ‘Look, we are internationalizing and launching in Paris,’ and every single engineer was saying, ‘That is not possible, there is so much work, we will never be able to do it.’ But we got it done. It wasn’t perfect. But that was one of those moments where I was like, ‘This Travis guy, he is really showing us what is possible.’ ”

I just came across this term in The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, loc 1828:

Enjoying a modicum of momentum, Kalanick leased a new office in San Francisco but had a month before he could move in. Instead of waiting, he took the whole company to Thailand, where they worked eighteen-hour days out of cafés and a house overlooking the craggy Railay Beach coastline rewriting the Red Swoosh code. It was a productive retreat and the first of what Kalanick called workations, a tradition that continued at Red Swoosh and, later, Uber.

There are loads of videos on YouTube about this:

(the last one is particularly cringe-worthy)

This interesting aside in Jamie Woodcock’s superb Working The Phones is worthy of further discussion. From loc 2698:

Researchers often attribute a level of importance to their own research that is not shared by others, assuming that because they spend so much time on it others will want to know all about it too.

How does this attitude develop? How widespread is it? How is it connected to how people see their occupational roles? 

My hunch is that it’s absolutely central to academic exceptionalism: the notion that academic labour is intrinsically different to other forms of labour. The (self) importance of the scholarship goes hand-in-hand with a mystification of the conditions under which their scholarship is enacted.

From Peter Sloterdick’s Selected Exaggerations, loc 1411-1416

Incidentally, there are almost as many horses today as there were in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but they have all been reassigned. They are almost all leisure horses, hardly any workhorses nowadays. Isn’t it an odd comment on today’s society that only horses have achieved emancipation? Humans are still work animals just as they always were, even if they are miserable jobless people, but the horses standing in German paddocks today are all horses of pleasure, post-historic horses. Children stroke them and adults admire them, and we feel very sorry for the last workhorses we see now and then at the circus and at racecourses. Some are used in psychotherapy for children with behavioural problems, but they are treated well and respectfully. All the other European horses have managed to do what humans still dream of –horses are the only ones for whom historical philosophy’s dream of a good end to history has become reality. They are the happy unemployed that evolution seemed to be moving towards. For them, the realm of freedom has been reached, they stand in their paddock, are fed, have completely forgotten the old drudgery and live out their natural mobility.

In Work’s Intimacy, Melissa Gregg pays much attention to the challenge faced by part-time workers in knowledge industries. Many of her participants within this category reported regularly finding themselves checking e-mail outside of their paid hours, something they saw as necessary to ensure they were ‘prepared’. In this way, ‘catch up days’ become an unpaid accompaniment to the hours part-time workers are actually paid for. These activities were often explained in terms of personal autonomy and choice, sacrificing free time in the name of professional performance on work days. But as Gregg writes on loc 1273:

Even though their language speaks of personal preference and exceptionalism, their consistent stories point to a clear problem in the way part-time work is recognized in information and communication jobs. No formal policies existed for them to manage online obligations; nor were there guidelines for appropriate response times. Employees operated on the basis of vague and self-imposed ideas about what management would or wouldn’t expect. In each case, there was simply no framework for discussing how part-time work was repositioned in light of the widespread reliance on online technologies in team-based office cultures (see chapter 4). Technology served to confirm, when it did not also accelerate the temporality of the workplace. Improvised and makeshift arrangements left many part-timers feeling apologetic for their so-called “flexible” positions.

I agree this is a failure of management. But it’s also a failure of colleagues, in terms of what we might call chronoimagination (recognising that someone else’s temporal experience might be different to yours) and chronosolidarity (identifying a common interest in sustainable temporalities of work in spite of these differences). Chronosolidarity is easy when people are obviously in a similar position to yourself, though small communicative acts of reassurance and understanding are no less valuable for the fact they come easily. But the challenge comes when temporal positions work rather differently, too easily giving rise to the assumption someone else’s working life is easier or perhaps not giving rise to thought at all.

Under working conditions which are informal, flexible/precarious and desynchronised, chronoimagination and chronosolidarity should be regarded as important factors in shaping the experience of work. Doing so should not blind us to the structural origins of these problems, such that they are reproduced to interpersonal challenges susceptible to a technical fix. But we need to recognise the imagination relating to converging/diverging experiences of time which we bring to bear, or fail to, in our dealings with others who are differently placed in relation to organisational hierarchies.

From Work’s Intimacy, by Melissa Gregg, loc 3594-3609:

Describing the impact of the BlackBerry in 2006 –just before the iPhone changed mobile computing for keeps –Research in Motion’s John Balsillie explained his bestselling devices as “latency eliminators.” According to this logic, Balsillie argued, “successful companies have hearts … and intrinsic force that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. BlackBerries … allow those hearts to beat faster” (in Connors 2006). At a time when the most profitable companies were preparing to hand out multi-million dollar handshakes to CEOs who left a trail of retrenched workers in their wake, one could be forgiven for being skeptical about Balsillie’s choice of imagery. 

The language of love may help to explain the market triumph of his product, but this book enables us to identify some of the real-life “latencies” that smartphones help to eliminate. These include time spent with children, grocery shopping, leaving the house, even sleep. The hearts of employees may be beating faster in the wake of mobile technologies, but it is questionable whether this is with care, affection, or friendship. In many cases, it is in anticipation of the next work-related demand and the next productivity innovation imposed by management.

From How The World Changed Social Media, by Danny Miller et al, loc 1203

The stand-out figure here is from industrial China. This is probably the site where people’s working day involves the most unremitting labour in factories. It is therefore not all that surprising to note that they use gaming as a means to relax and to separate themselves from work. In fact this reflects a wider emphasis upon the use of smartphones for entertainment more generally, a feature that clearly emerges in this additional survey conducted by Wang7 on smartphone usage among 200 handset-owning respondents in her field site. These workers usually do not have the spare time, money or energy for extra social life after long hours of heavy labour. At the same time, in addition to the relaxation that such games provide, gaming is also viewed as a major way of hanging out with friends online, especially among the young men.

Online gaming is also a very important aspect of social media (especially Facebook) in southeast Turkey. The most common games were Candy Crush Saga, Ok and Taula. Gaming is a way to socialise with new and old friends. People play these online games not only with known friends but also with strangers. There are possibilities that these strangers might also become new friends through gaming. Online gaming is also used to flirt discreetly with people of the opposite sex. For the very young (i.e. children in primary school, aged 8–11 years) gaming is probably one of the main reasons for using social media.

What can we learn about a social order from the forms of leisure that thrive within it? The rhythms of Candy Crush, reward punctuated by denial, look extremely interesting from this point of view.

The authors go on to suggest on loc 1296 that games can also provide status consolations, at least as evidenced in their Chinese field site: “This may be especially appealing among factory workers since even the status of having achieved a higher level in games can become important when one’s status is so low in the offline world.”