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Archive for the ‘connection’ Category

But there’s a third party that’s often glossed over: the customer. The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile — even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they — we — can be entitled jerks.

From “The ratings game” by Josh Dzieza in The Verge. 

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Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

I witness this in my work all the time. More complex problems in the world have led to the need for much more sophisticated problem solving techniques.. And those techniques require empathy, something in short supply among a lot of traditional high achievers in the workplace.

From “Google finds STEM skills aren’t the most important” by Lou Glazer in Michigan Future. 

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I don’t especially like David Brooks’ work, but I really loved this quote from his piece in The New Yorker, “Social animal”. I can’t help but think this is what these fabulously wealthy idiots are missing.

During the question-and-answer period, though, a woman asked the neuroscientist how his studies had changed the way he lived. He paused for a second, and then starting talking about a group he had joined called the Russian-American Folk Dance Company. It was odd, given how hard and scientific he had sounded. “I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends,” he said. “Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

“And though history has made us self-conscious in order to enhance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river. I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

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One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.

It’s not hard to see parallels between the three dimensions of perfectionism and so-called “call-out culture,” lately the hegemonic tendency on the Left: a condition in which everyone watches everyone else for a fatal slip-up, holding themselves to impossibly high standards of virtuous self-effacement, and being paralyzed with the secret (again, not unfounded) fear that they’re disposable to the group, that their judgment day is around the corner. The pattern is of a piece with other manifestations of neoliberal meritocratic perfectionism, from college admissions to obsessive Instagram curation. And because it divides rather than unites us, it’s no way to build a movement that ostensibly seeks to strike at the heart of power.

Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society. It’s a gargantuan task — but with the vise-grip of neoliberalism tightening on our psyches, it’s the only way forward.

From “Under neo-liberalism, you can be your own tyrannical boss” by Megan Day in Jacobin. 

This is a theme I have been banging on about for a while, so let’s just add this as another good article for the collection.

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What we don’t realize is that this shift from partial to total is the outward sign of a more sinister change that occurred during the housing bubble leading up to the Great Recession: Average Americans began thinking of their homes as monetary objects to be bought, sold, invested in—consumed—rather than places to be experienced, places in which our complex lives as human beings unfold.

 

And

It’s time we reconsidered the house as a place instead of an object, to be lived in, rather than consumed; time we stopped thinking of a home as something that constantly has to be “improved”; time we enjoyed the historicity of our old houses, or the personality of our new houses.

From “Are home renovations necessary?” by Kate Wagner in Curbed.

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Rarely will you see someone so desperate for insight and so far from attaining it…

I steer the conversation to the subject of how utterly detached from the real world elites seem to have become. “Elitism, the way I would define it, is obtainable,” he replies. “All that stands between you and being elite is your own investment in yourself.”

I tell Rosenthal that I’ve met many people in America who work as hard as him and his friends – harder, in fact – but struggle to make ends meet. He acknowledges that he’s benefited from considerable advantage, but insists we now live in an era in which “the internet is the great equaliser”.

“What are you doing to create the utility for yourself? Are you introducing people so they can collaborate?” he says. Struggling Americans, he adds, might want to “host a dinner. Invite 10 strangers. See what happens.”

Rosenthal presses on with his thesis, telling me there are just not enough people in the world who will “excessively commit their lives to something. Journalism, cheese, automobiles, whatever. Rocket ships – perfect example. Everyone wants to work at SpaceX, no one wants to go to engineering school.”

We drive to the top of the mountain. Rosenthal reflects on its future. “Is a great album going to be recorded here?” he asks. “Is the film-maker of our time going to think of the movie they’ll make? Will a company get formed that becomes the next Google?” He adds: “It’s just sort of an endless pool of opportunity for the world at large.”

Altruism is a powerful marketing brand, and Rosenthal and his friends have become experts at using the idea to promote their business. But when I ask exactly what they’ve been doing for the public good outside of their conferences, little appears to be happening.

From “Welcome to Powder Mountain – a utopian club for the millennial elite” by Paul Lewis in The Guardian. 

 

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About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them. The church welcomes them in as part of the Catholic concept of extending the helping hand.

“I found the church surprisingly uplifting,” Alston said. “It was such a simple scene and such an obvious idea. It struck me – Christianity, what the hell is it about if it’s not this?”

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it the “violence of looking away”.

This excerpt doesn’t do the piece justice. It is required reading. “A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America” by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian. 

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