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I have a Sidechannel event tonight with the Data Society’s Cristina López G. We’re going to be talking about countries passing laws for hashtag clout and how that led to El Salvador making Bitcoin legal tender. Hit the button below to get access to the Discord!
Hacking The Way We Work
Before the pandemic, the way we worked was becoming increasingly automated and gamified. For white collars workers, that meant offices that virtually leaked out into their personal lives via Slack rooms and meeting conference alerts and emails. And for blue collar workers, that meant “gig economy”-like platforms outsourcing managerial duties to algorithms. It was a broken hybrid cyborg model of labor, in which workers were both governed by and competed with the technology that was promised to make their jobs easier and more productive. Then the world stopped.
Office workers built makeshift home offices and worked via webcam and blue collar workers became “frontline workers,” asked to brave a raging virus with homemade protective equipment to prop up the raw machinery of society via food deliveries and plastic-wrapped Uber rides. Over 22 million jobs in the US were lost due the pandemic. Pandemic unemployment began to recede for the first time last week. But, it hasn’t been the rush to get back to work that the country’s managerial class expected it to be. 70% of white collar workers are still working remote and, across the whole economy, Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers.
It feels increasingly less hyperbolic to say that the nature of work in America is going through a revolution right now. The New York Times calls it “the YOLO Economy.” Axios calls it the "Great resignation wave”. And as one tweet I keep coming back to put it, “We're literally watching the largest labor movement in modern American history happen in the form of paper signs taped to the windows of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants!”
This current existential search for a better way to work could also be, as some have argued, a national expression of grief. It could also be COVID relief money and unemployment benefits giving people more options. Or it could also be generational — neurotic try-hard millennials reaching both their early 40s and a burnout point-of-no-return. But there is also an undeniable technological reason behind all of this.
Group chats, Zoom calls, and virtual collaboration platforms have finally been unshackled from the office. Employers sent their employees home last March, assuming that Slack rooms and cursor-movement trackers would extend the office into the home, finally obliterating the last places that workers can escape corporate demands. But a funny thing happened. Employees started napping and having sex in the middle of their workdays. Some moved out of expensive cities, free from pointless commutes to nonexistent offices. Productivity during the pandemic actually went up.
In fact, everywhere you look, employee productivity software is being manipulated to continue this corporate unshackling. A perfect example of this is the recent viral Hacker News post about the engineer secretly working 10 jobs at once.
Obviously, there’s a pretty big debate about whether or not this is real. It’s basically a reverse-Office Space, but that it even sounds feasible is a testament to how thoroughly dismantled the platform-driven surveillance capitalism of the pre-pandemic age is now. And this hacking isn’t just happening with office workers. Take, for example, a recent Reddit post from an Uber driver who realized that he can basically make money just delivering Uber Eats to himself. The systems are breaking down.
There is a real and genuine shift in culture about the way we work happening in America. You can see it in tweets, in TikToks, and in the way news stories are framed. Turns out if your newsroom unionizes, suddenly stories about labor start to read a bit different! If you open up Twitter — and follow enough left-leaning accounts — you will find a veritable cornucopia of people who have a lot of money having public meltdowns about the fact the country’s employees don’t want to go back to the way things were. And you’ll also find a never-ending amount of Twitter Main Characters getting attacked for espousing pre-pandemic notions about labor. Like this post about a 14-year-old working at Burger King or this thread about working on the weekends.
Ed Zitron wrote a good newsletter last week about why a restless white collar worker class is so terrifying to CEOs like Merrill. “The reason that remote work is so threatening to a lot of corporate thinkers is that it largely devalues the middle management layer that corporate society is built on,” Zitron wrote.
You can see that fear in the bizarre and threatening Washington Post opinion piece published last month by Cathy Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian Media, titled, “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work”.
“So although there might be some pains and anxiety going back into the office, the biggest benefit for workers may be simple job security,” she wrote. “Remember something every manager knows: The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”
This public pants-wetting from corporate America actually reminds me of another social technology-driven uprising that really kicked into high-gear this year: The GameStop pump. There too did we see people hacking the automated machinery of corporate America to create something more fun and more prosperous. And to take it further, what we’re seeing happen to our jobs and our markets via meme stocks is the in line with the populist digital chaos that democracies have gone through over the last decade. It seems to be the fundamental nature of the internet: You give enough people good enough digital tools, they’ll start using them to reinvent the world around them in ways that they see fit.
A Soccer Player’s Collapse Spread Across Twitter
On Saturday, Christian Eriksen, a midfielder for Denmark’s team collapsed on the field during a Euro 2020 match. My Twitter feed, as it happened, was awash in shocked reactions from viewers. The terror only got worse as cameras zoomed in on Eriksen’s unconscious face and then, confoundingly, panned to Eriksen’s wife crying in the crowd. It was horrifying moment. Eriksen’s teammates had to make a human shield to block cameras from broadcasting what, at the time, looked like Eriksen’s death.
He went into cardiac arrest, but he’s in stable condition now. It’s still unclear what caused it. Images and videos of Eriksen’s cardiac arrest started trending on Twitter. Though, I can confirm that about 10-15 minutes after his collapse, the app would no return results for “Eriksen”. But the app’s handling of the incident was less good in other respects. For instance, they used a photo of his unconscious body as the thumbnail for their trending Twitter Moment.
All of this is to say: Twitter is a news service — if not the whole company, at the very least, Twitter Moments is. Let’s stop pretending it’s not. It’s routinely making editorial calls and its employees need to know how to deal with stuff like this. If Eriksen had died, that would mean that the Moments team had splashed a photo of a dead body into the feeds of all the app’s users. This editorial 101 stuff. Like c’mon. And if they aren’t properly staffed to deal with this sort of thing, well, I know a lot of journalists who have lost their jobs thanks to the whims of platforms like Twitter that would know exactly what to do in this kind of situation!
The Guy Who Got Swallowed By A Whale Did A Reddit AMA
Michael Packard, a Massachusetts lobster diver who was briefly eaten by a whale last week, went on Reddit on Sunday and answered a bunch of questions about the harrowing ordeal. Here are some tidbits:
He said up until this, his craziest diving story was he once found a dead body.
He couldn’t tell if the whale’s tongue was smooth like a dog’s or dry and scratchy like a cat’s.
It’s totally dark inside of a whale’s mouth.
He previously survived a plane crash in Costa Rica.
You should read the whole thing. It’s super fascinating!
A Message For Joe Rogan In The Sky
lol so apparently this was part of a marriage proposal? I guess, the plane was transmitting various messages. So, first, it asked, “will you marry me Mollie Pratt,” then “She said yes,” then a few others, and, finally, “Joe Rogan is literally 5 foot 3.” Not a bad use of a skywriter tbh. (I looked it up btw he’s 5’7”.)
Follow Friday is a very good podcast about who you should follow online. I was on it as a guest in February, which required me to earnest and nice in public, and that was weird.
Every week, a guest tells Eric Johnson about four people they follow online, and they talk about why everyone else should follow them, too. Some other cool people who have been on the show include New York Times columnist Kevin Roose, Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, and the hosts of Slate's internet culture podcast ICYMI, Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher.
You should follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app — here's a link to a bunch of places to do that. And you can find all the past episodes, plus links and transcripts, at FollowFridayPodcast.com.
The Indonesian BTS McDonald’s Meal Apocalypse
If you didn’t know, BTS has partnered with McDonald’s for a meal. It’s quickly spiraled out of control because the BTS fandom is essentially a multinational religion at this point. The BTS McDonald’s hype has apparently been especially bad in Indonesia.
Much of the country is still in lockdown, so BTS fans are ordering the meals via delivery apps. The delivery drivers flooding the McDonald’s breeched social distancing regulations, leading to local authorities to shut down certain locations. It seems like an absolute mess. Stay strong Indonesia ARMY!
btw ReviewBrah actually did a review of the meal if you’re curious what’s in it. He said the special sauces the meal come back were sweet and spicy.
An Unbelievable Breath Of The Wild Speedrun Video
I’ve wanted to find a good way to write about the absolutely unhinged Zelda: Breath Of The Wild hacking/speedrunning community in Garbage Day for a while now. But, honestly, it’s kind of complicated and requires basically sending you all to look at a bunch of random Reddit videos. Thankfully, the YouTuber PointCrow streamed a reaction video to the fastest theoretical speedrun of Breath Of The World. If you don’t know what “theoretical” means, basically, this is a bunch of speedrunners attempting various parts of the game. The result is a speedrun that, if it were performed all together, would complete the game in 22 minutes. The average completion time for the game is 50 hours lol.
One of my favorite things about this video is, as a commenter pointed out, PointCrow was able to watch a 22-minute speedrun in 18 minutes.
An Absolute Banger About Big Breakfast
This was sent to me by my friend Ellie. God, I would LOVE to eat a big breakfast hungover in a cafe.
That Miami Bitcoin Conference Was A COVID Superspreader Event
A couple quick crypto things! Elon Musk has tweeted somewhat positively about cryptocurrency today, which means the market is performing slightly better today, following the last Musk-related crash last month. You know, for a group of people who are obsessed with decentralization, the Bitcoin community really loves basing their cryptocoin’s price around how much they’re simping for a billionaire on any given day. If you want to read more about Tesla’s Bitcoin future, The Next Web has a good piece on it.
Oh, and, remember that Bitcoin conference in Miami the other day? Well, this may surprise you, but it maybe have been a COVID superspreader event. A lot of huge crypto accounts last week took to Twitter to alert other attendees that they are now COVID positive. Unvaccinated? At a cryptocurrency conference in Florida? Inconceivable!
A Good Meme
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good dog tweet.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***