Work Futures Weekly - Not Good at Small Talk

| The Paradox of Connection | Mindfulness Conspiracy | Internal Gig Platforms | Patty Marx | Trello | AI Reading Emotions | Superhuman Pixel Tracking |

Beacon NY - 2019-07-04 — Somehow, I am just not feeling the Fourth.


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The Paradox of Connection | John Hagel lays out a hard-to-argue-with case for countering the growing fear in the world through empowering 'narratives of opportunity' that can counter the explosion of connections that bind us together and at the same time divide us. A must read. Extra credit: these forces are equally active in the world of work.

[from Work Futures Daily - Stupider in the Afternoon]


The mindfulness conspiracy | Ronald Purser parses the mindfulness movement, pronouncing it as an opiate for the professional masses [emphasis mine]:

Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.

What remains is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems. A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic. The neoliberal order has imposed itself by stealth in the past few decades, widening inequality in pursuit of corporate wealth. People are expected to adapt to what this model demands of them. Stress has been pathologised and privatised, and the burden of managing it outsourced to individuals. Hence the pedlars of mindfulness step in to save the day.

But none of this means that mindfulness ought to be banned, or that anyone who finds it useful is deluded. Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.

The fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future, which make us unhappy.


Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

We are not the problem. The problem is the shallow culture being described as a means for business leaders to motivate their workers to work harder and not complain. Deep work culture is about our relationship to our work, and to each other, which involves complaining about safety, injustice, and our rights.

[from Work Futures Daily - Outsourcing Stress]


Can internal gig platforms upskill employees and boost productivity? | Rita O'Donnell investigates an interesting prospect: creating an internal 'gig platform' — modeled after the services in the talent marketplace — as a means to match employees with projects that will help them upskill.

[from Work Futures Daily | The Opposite Of Work]

Quote of the Week

I’m not good at small talk; I’m not good at big talk; and medium talk just doesn’t come up.

| Patty Marx


Trello | Trello, the Kanban-based work management tool, won the 2019 Webby award for productivity tool. Congratulations! Their five word speech:

We're better when working together.


AI classifies people's emotions from the way they walk | Kyle Wiggers:

Researchers at the University of Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland recently investigated a machine learning method that can identify a person’s perceived emotion, valence (e.g., negative or positive), and arousal (calm or energetic) from their gait alone. The researchers claim this approach — which they believe is the first of its kind — achieved 80.07% percent accuracy in preliminary experiments.


Tracking Pixels in Superhuman | I respond to Mike Davidson's assertion that email client Superhuman has crossed the line into surveillanceland. I'll sit tight until it's resolved.

Update: CEO Rahul Vohra has admitted not thinking through the pixel tracking technology in Superhuman and apologized for the mess, which they are cleaning up:

I now recognize that we must deeply consider the overall ecosystem when designing software as fundamental as email. The team and I are committed to this now more than ever. We need to consider not only our customers, but also future users, the people they communicate with, and the Internet at large.