Tag Archives: alienation

Work and Life: Balance or Assimilation?

In response to my last post’s mention of Google’s policy of allowing its workers some free time to pursue their own projects, asks, “Doesn’t Google also basically have people living there? I mean the idea is to make it a fun environment, and it looks like one, but doesn’t it end up with people basically having no life outside of work (kinda like being an academic)?”

As far as I know, that’s true.  Google takes the infamous Silicon Valley “go-to guy” culture to an extreme.  Rather than relying on hierarchy or financial incentives, Google and many other software companies rely on the Valley’s subculture of competitive insanity to keep workers at their keyboards into the wee hours.  Google isn’t really unique in that regard; what makes them unique is the degree to which the company lends structural support to this madness.  My major professor’s son works for a software company; when they’re pulling an all-nighter, they get cots and pizza.  Google?  The Wikipedia description of the Googleplex doesn’t really do it justice.  Look at this, or this.  Yeah, tenure sounds nice and all, but can I get a massage after class?

Google employees basically don’t have to leave work.  Ever.  Which casts

It’s a hard question for me.  I’ve spent much of the last decade trying to figure out two things: how to avoid work, and how to get paid to do work that I like.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to find the right balance as an academic.  But Marx’s old concern for the paid laborer underlies a lot of my concern for people (in industrialized countries, at least): work is “that which is most our own, yet most taken away”.  I want people to have jobs that they enjoy, that give them a sense of fulfillment, of humanity.  What if that’s what Google does?  I think it sounds a bit sick, myself, and yet any objective observer would take one look at the shit I’m putting myself through in grad school (for much, much less) and think that I’m the sick one.

Just about every non-alienating job that I’ve ever read about – be it Google, farming, or working for a democratic company – also seemed to extend well beyond the nine-to-five.  Real, non-alienating work gets as deeply integrated into your life as family.  We just have a hard time with that, I think, because so much of the US’s work culture is based on the assumption that the Man is trying to wring you dry.  When you yourself are the man… well, we just don’t have the beliefs, values and norms to comprehend that.  I wonder what it’s like in Europe, where there are much more substantial barriers between work and life – does that help in the long run, or does it lock the Europeans in to an unnatural work-life separation?


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And the blog is immediately undone

So here I go through all the effort of finally making a blog, and I’m totally ruined. Paul Graham just said everything I want to say. This will be the one and only post Mad Man or Slave post ever. Maybe.

Graham’s article is titled, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”. Essentially, it’s advice to young programmers to avoid working at a big company – but it’s also a really good statement of many of the ideas I’ve had floating around in my head for the last three years.

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Filed under work