I’ve been listening to this album over the course of the morning, and I really like it.
Update: As it turns out, I have of course totally heard the song “Stars,” which was all over the radio back in the day. The rest of this album is all new to me, though, and it’s quite good.
The work ethic is a tent-pole of national identity politics. Reading between the lines, across the media, or even just skimming the headlines, gives one the impression that we are a nation under attack. One national poll in 2015 found that 72 per cent of respondents said the United States ‘isn’t as great as it once was’. The principal culprit was the country’s declining belief in the value of hard work. More people thought ‘our own lagging work ethic’ was a larger threat to American greatness than the Islamic State, economic inequality, and competition with China.
Widespread anxiety about a diminished work ethic is confounding when considered against the actual data on how much time Americans spend working. The hours of all wage and salary workers rose 13 per cent from 1975 to 2016, a total of about five extra weeks per year. And there’s evidence that those of us still working through the pandemic are putting in longer hours than we were before. In addition to long hours, workers suffer from irregular schedules, volatile by design, that change at their employers’ whims. And there’s also the mass of the so-called involuntarily unemployed, constantly seeking, but not finding, enough work hours to survive. These three features – overwork, unstable schedules, and a lack of adequate hours – define the paradoxical time signature of the work life today, especially for low-wage workers. There was no simple across-the-board extension of work hours. Instead, the unequal redistribution of our labour time reflects deepening economic insecurity and social inequality. It’s easy to understand why people actually work, but given how odious and arduous it is, what sustains the belief that work is good for us?
But Signal’s rapid growth has also been a cause for concern. In the months leading up to and following the 2020 US presidential election, Signal employees raised questions about the development and addition of new features that they fear will lead the platform to be used in dangerous and even harmful ways. But those warnings have largely gone unheeded, they told me, as the company has pursued a goal to hit 100 million active users and generate enough donations to secure Signal’s long-term future.
Employees worry that, should Signal fail to build policies and enforcement mechanisms to identify and remove bad actors, the fallout could bring more negative attention to encryption technologies from regulators at a time when their existence is threatened around the world.
“The world needs products like Signal — but they also need Signal to be thoughtful,” said Gregg Bernstein, a former user researcher who left the organization this month over his concerns. “It’s not only that Signal doesn’t have these policies in place. But they’ve been resistant to even considering what a policy might look like.”
If your platform has more than a few hundred users, it is unethical and immoral to take a hands-off approach to content moderation.
Signal seems to be making all the wrong decisions here, but it’s not surprise. Like every other tech platform, they need exponential user growth to satisfy investors (yes, I know Signal is funded by a non-profit foundation, but they have a $50 million dollar loan to deal with). Sadly for them, exponential user growth, proper content moderations and community management, and low overhead are not compatible.
My mom has gotten her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and is scheduled for the second dose later this week. Her husband is getting his first dose today. A number of friends who are nurses have already been vaccinated, and my town ran a week-long vaccination clinic for first-responders. That’s all awesome news.
Meanwhile, the news is filled with stories from across the country of long lines and confusing websites, of cancelled appointments, of both vaccine shortages and doses going bad sitting on the shelf. New strains of the virus are more contagious, maybe more deadly, or maybe both, and the Moderna vaccine could possibly be less effective against some of the new strains.
That’s not so awesome.
While it would obviously be better had the previous administration done anything at the federal level to coordinate the vaccine rollout, they did not. As a result, we are left with the current mess, in which states and municipalities have been left to fend for themselves as best they can. Of course it’s going to be a disorganized patchwork.
I tend to think most of that mess will get sorted out over time, but the big question at the moment seems to be “How much time?” Yes, it’s like the healthcare.gov roll-out—a huge mess and a big kerfuffle at the time, but basically fine after a few months—except with the added pressure of out-of-control spread of a deadly disease. Unless enough parts of the country stay sufficiently locked down over the next few months to avoid a massive spread of the new COVID strains (SPOILER ALERT: They won’t), then we are likely looking at hundreds of thousands more deaths before vaccinations can get to the point where they will make a difference.
So I guess we’re still in the “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” phase, and I am pretty tired of being in that phase.
For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions-universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”-conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.
But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart. Michael Lind explains this better than anyone else:
The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members-a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce-than they did under Herbert Hoover.
This was the tinder. The tech revolution was the match-one-upping the ’70s economy by demanding more efficiency and more speed and more boundarylessness, and demanding it everywhere. They introduced not only a host of inhuman wage-suppressing tactics, like replacing full-time employees with benefits with gig workers with lower wages and no benefits, but also a whole new aesthetic that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives-a set of principles that collectively might be thought of as flatness.
It seems to me like another way of thinking about this flatness that Newhouse is talking about is in terms of commodification. The goal of this system is to turn everything in it—not just products and objects, but (and maybe most of all) people and ideas—into interchangeable pieces that can be arbitrarily priced and traded.
This one is decent, though. They are nothing if not consistent.