Work, work, work, work, work, sings Rihanna through the grocery store sound system. Why do we have to do it? What else do we have to do? The questions are staging a comeback. Old dreams of new deals and new dreams of old jobs wake and walk. David Graeber’s latest book, Bullshit Jobs, is one of many contributions to this rethinking.
As e-mail was taking over the modern office, researchers in the theory of distributed systems—the subfield in which, as a computer scientist, I specialize—were also studying the trade-offs between synchrony and asynchrony. As it happens, the conclusion they reached was exactly the opposite of the prevailing consensus. They became convinced that synchrony was superior and that spreading communication out over time hindered work rather than enabling it.
In his 2017 book Taste, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben digs up the roots of the word. Historically, it is defined as a form of knowledge through pleasure, from perceiving the flavour of food to judging the quality of an object. Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why. “Taste enjoys beauty, without being able to explain it,” Agamben writes. Algorithms are meant to provide surprise, showing us what we didn’t realise we’d always wanted, and yet we are never quite surprised because we know to expect it.
Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic…how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?
If it’s personal productivity—how many sales you close or customer complaints you handle—then the research, on balance, suggests that it’s probably better to let people work where and when they want. For jobs that mainly require interactions with clients (consultant, insurance salesman) or don’t require much interaction at all (columnist), the office has little to offer besides interruption.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the world is connected as never before. Once upon a time, it was believed that there were six degrees of separation between each individual and any other person on the planet (including Kevin Bacon). For Facebook users today, the average degree of separation is 3.57. But perhaps that is not entirely a good thing.
As a significant proportion of the meaning of a communicative message in social interaction derives from nonverbal cues, it stands to reason that text alone—the linguistic mode—conveys only a relatively small proportion of the information we have access to, in spoken exchanges. There’s a gaping lacuna in what digital talk, alone, can convey.
A birth, a death, a pilgrimage. A film about the 1,200-mile journey of a pregnant woman, a butcher who wants to atone for his sins and a rag-tag band of villagers who go on foot from their small village in Tibet to the sacred Mt. Kailash has become a surprise winner at the Chinese box office. It has also found a cult following among an unexpected audience — China’s venture capitalists and startup founders.
In a culture where fast replies, constant stimulation and the omnipresence of social media rule the day, you might not expect that boredom is a booming business. Yet it is true: scholars from philosophy, psychology, art history, sociology and history—among others—have all tossed in their two cents on this suddenly fashionable subject, and not just by boring their own students.
Beyond membership in the Pantheon of Famous Brits, Winston Churchill and George Orwell would seem to have little in the way of common ground. Churchill was a politician. Orwell was a journalist and novelist. Churchill had money and pedigree; the young Orwell lived on the street and raised his own vegetables during World War II.