Things I learned the week of 15 July

The screen and the job

This comment on this thread.

Linked to this article at Mel Magazine.

I'm not sure if I want to attribute as much of the ills of the modern world to the Screen and the Job as this commenter does. The subcommenters go a little ways to debunking some of what dexwiz claims--mostly about loneliness and its correlation to relocating for work.

(I've relocated for work. From Newcastle down to County Durham. Only 30 miles or so but who's counting.)

The ensuing conversation turns into a question of: is loneliness an upper-class problem? I think it is insofar as the upper-class have the privilege of introspecting their like total self-fulfilment. It's hard to work on self-fulfilment when you're just trying to fill your kids' bellies. Not to say that the poor aren't also lonely. It's just that they're lonely and and and.

But the Screen and the Job. I think that's a very succinct way of approaching modern value-seeking.

The Screen

The Screen is a fun one. Especially since 2007 and we all started carrying around little black rectangles for our edification. Nowadays I do very little outside the ever-shrinking bezels of a screen. Maybe I'm being a little too pessimistic in my outlook. But it sure feels this way.

I browse Reddit or Hacker News or Twitter while I'm on the toilet. After work, I watch television or hack away at something on my computer. I've been trying to read more books (proper books), and I often feel I can pat myself on the back for that. But let's get real--books are just analogue screens.

So what else is there? Socialising with friends. That's probably what most people did back in the day wasn't it? We do a bit of that through the Screen these days, though, don't we? Notwithstanding our close relationship with the ambiguously-named 'social media', dexwiz also points out that television has taken on an almost social role. Like, we project relationships onto the people that we see on the Screen. I'm sure much smarter people than I have written about this sort of thing.

What's left? Consuming aural media, e.g. podcasts/radio/audiobooks. That's sort of like Screenless Screens, though. When it comes down to it.

Physical pursuits are still on the table. The modern world is more sedentary than ever, but the Lakes are still packed to the gills on a nice day. So all's not yet lost.

The Job

Did people 30 years ago use work to define their self-worth, the way that we do now? Do we? Or is it just the people that I know? My work is a significant contributor to my, like, self-image. I like it when people ask me, "What do you do?" Here's a few things I don't say, even though they're all true:

"I support and love my wife."

"I go to the gym."

"I walk in nature."

Instead, I say, "I make websites." Then, a pause, and if the person I'm talking to looks confused, "Like, the Internet. Websites." That's what's come to define me. To me, as a human.

I think of myself as someone who works hard. At work. When I get together with friends, work is always a fruitful topic of conversation. Maybe it's just because that's what we do for most of our days. Maybe it's because the economy is weaker now than it has ever been, and providing a steady income is commensurately so much more important. Maybe we're careening towards an increasingly valueless world (that is to say, somehow, more nihilistic or something) and work is an easy measuring stick for self-worth. I'm not sure.

Without my work, how would I determine my worth? I think I make Sam happy. I think our cat Mo likes me. They get some value out of my being around. The other week I bench-pressed 100 kg, which was a huge milestone for me. Why, or why not, or how, do I use those metrics to determine my worth?

Bring work into the equation and this is easy to solve. I generate X pounds sterling for a company, that company generates X + Y pounds sterling for someone further up the chain. My labour is increasing the capital of people all up and down the digital supply chain. That's worth.

Even when I do a little work on the side, I'm trying to build something that will help someone else, or be a platform for someone to build something on. I'm trying to produce something. I'd say that this has worth.

Maybe the problem here is that I'm tying worth to the idea that I'm producing something of value. Maybe this is just a symptom of the modern hyper-commodification of, I mean, well, everything, it feels like. Like my work is worth something because my work is a commodity that produces value. Which in the end what I probably mean by value is capital. Or money.

But so without money or capital or whatever, what is there of value here?

  • The people I make happy or make feel that they can do/be better.
  • The emotional substance of my relationships with other people.
  • The reduction of my carbon footprint.
  • The number of kilograms that I can push against gravity with various parts of my body.

How many of these can replace the Job as an source of self-worth? Well that's a problem isn't it.