Listened What should become of the office? from ABC Radio National

Will the experience of working-from-home make employees reluctant to resume the daily struggle with traffic or public transportation, or to put up with irritating co-workers and unproductive work environments? Or will we discover that we’ve missed something precious in being deprived of interactions with others?

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Gideon Haigh about his book The Momentous, Uneventful Day: A Requiem for the Office. With so many forced to work offsite during the pandemic, the three consider the current purpose of the office and its futute moving forward.

Although many have raised fears associated with absenteeism, there is also a danger of presenteeism, where because you are present you are productive. One of the things to come out of the pandemic is the danger of the cult of reproducibility. Technology is not a direct substitution for face-to-face interactions. That is, not everything done in the office can be done at home, and vice versa. Both spaces are unique, with their own features and affordances, forever changing over time. For example, working from home can be more conducive for the deeper appreciation of ideas, whereas being in the presence of others often forces you to into answers. In addition to the space, the conditions of work changes things. For example, when people are mandated to work from home, this takes away from the opportunities to break up the day.

In addition to the space itself, there is the transition between different performances that occurs. Office life is a performance, but maybe just a different performance. Working from home offers certain lifestyle possibilities. With the lose of the commute, the transition between life and work becomes blurred. Associated with this, the technology we have come to depend upon has created something of a templated self, where we are conditioned to work in a particular way. This has all created the conditions for a perpetual work environment which has colonised the home. Work is subsequently no longer a vocation and deep ownership.

For me, this adds to Jennifer Moss’ discussion of burnout, Cal Newport’s exploration of productivity hacks, and Sean Blanda’s fear about the way in which remote work often becomes about tasks, rather than people.

Listened Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg continue talks as Australia stands firm on proposed media laws from ABC News

The Prime Minister says the government will not respond to Facebook’s threats, urging the company to “come back to the table” and continue negotiations over the news media code.

In response to Facebook’s decision to temporarily remove all news in Australia, Waleed Aly, Scott Stevens and Belinda Barnet investigation whether if it is even right for news organisations to depend upon Facebook as the modern form of distribution in the first place. Aly actually praised Facebook’s decision as a ‘brief relief from the tyranny of pragmatism’. The problem raised is that Facebook is not a model that is moral. As a platform, it showcases media all together, which subsequently ends up lowering the value of everything on there. They investigate whether it is a better outcome for people to seek news elsewhere, rather be at the peril of algorithms and the shareablility of content. The concern is that this is all beyond regulation when the platform capitalists get the data and content for free.

In other reporting on the situation, Nicholas Stuart suggests that this decision only confirms Facebook’s dominant role:

Facebook wanted a deal, but only one that left it in control. Sure, they preferred not to gift money to anyone, particularly slow media behemoths that can’t even get their distribution model right. But Zuckerberg can live with this, because the government’s cemented his role. Facebook’s now driving the media jalopy.

Adding to this, Alex Hern suggests that until the technology sector change their approach, we are going to have more calls to “regulate us, just not like that”

Like all industries, tech has its shadow lobbying groups, it secretly funds its think tanks and so on. But, unlike others, the tech industry has focused firmly on that core pro-regulation message. “We want to be regulated; we want new laws that cover us; we’re not like the Other Industries, we’re cool and likeable”.

Except that message fails, because it’s coming from an industry that simply cannot accept that regulation is driven, first and foremost, by a desire to limit the harms caused by that industry – harms which the industry can’t even be convinced exist.

In other words, we’re going to see this more in the future. Until tech changes its view of regulation from something that offloads blame to something that prevents harm, that cycle – “Regulate us! No not like that” – will continue.

While Cory Doctorow argues the real focus is not links, but the ad market.

This vertical integration is the source of confusion about whether this is a link-tax. The goal of the regulation is to clean up the ad markets, but Googbook use links as a stick to beat up publishers when they don’t submit to corrupt ad practices, so links get implicated.

Doctorow suggests that the another approach to the problem is adversarial interoperability and adjusting the control that companies like Facebook have on our data and attention.

Listened Is “opinion” doing more harm than good? from ABC Radio National

Opinion writing plays a disproportionate role in our media eco-system: it drives online traffic, fuels emotion, feeds the forces of polarisation, and promotes an incapacity to understand one another. But is there a different way to think about opinion?

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Ross Douthat about opinion writing. They wonder in a world of polarisation what purpose the opinion piece serves.

But if opinion pieces now appeal primarily to the “tribes of the already convinced”, are they in fact doing more harm than good in these polarized times? Or is there a different way to think about opinion — a way which acknowledges the peculiar moral vocation that inheres to the task? Can opinion pieces provide a kind of “gestalt switch”, shifting one’s perception such that we can see aspects of reality otherwise?

This has me rethinking a piece I wrote a few years ago: Tribes are Good, But Do They Really Evolve the Conversation? However, I also wonder if this highlights the downside of blogs as a medium?