Total madness | just visit
Later this week – probably Thursday – I will sit down and write six hundred words which will be a first draft of a column which will eventually appear in the Chicago Grandstand one week from Sunday.
I’ve been doing this every week for over ten years.
From the moment I put the first words on the page to the moment I hit the 600e word, I will work diligently and consistently on the task without deviation. It will take me between 15 and 45 minutes.
If I were to be subjected to the kind of productivity tracking and monitoring recently explored by the New York Times in the article “The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score”, the person (or more likely the algorithm) responsible for monitoring the time I worked this week would only credit me for those 15-45 minutes.
The article presents a horror show of various technologies used to monitor workers in a wide variety of industries, whether it’s someone working in an Amazon warehouse, healthcare workers, lawyers or other professionals.
People are tracked and rated based on their “productivity.” Never mind if part of that productivity involves using a device designed to shake a computer mouse to simulate activity.
This monitoring included therapists deemed “inactive” when having conversations with their patients because they were not actively typing into the computers. Rather than being judged on their ability to help others, their productivity was literally measured in keystrokes.
The low point of the article concerns the experiences of hospice chaplains in Minnesota who were monitored by their employers as chaplains cared for sick and dying patients. A visit to the dying can earn one point. A funeral, a point and three quarters. A phone call, a quarter point. The most needy patients requiring the most time became problematic, causing productivity points to plummet. This resulted in what one of the chaplains called “spiritual care drive-ins” by scheduling a visit while a patient was sleeping and doing a quick check-in with the nurse to score points and pass. to something else.
I strongly recommend reading the article online because the Time included a rudimentary tracker that will notify you if you stop scrolling, notifying you that your status has changed from “active” to “inactive”.
I actually have the article open in another screen while I’m working on this post, and when it warns me that I’ve been inactive for 30 seconds while I’m reviewing the text, I get distracted. When it puts me to sleep after another 30 seconds, I get irritated enough to move my cursor to the screen, shake the mouse to put my status back to active, and then get back to work writing this message.
No one is actually watching me, and I’m still bothered by the mere presence of this stuff, concerned not to advance my point here, but to make sure I’m not judged as a slacker by the AI.
Reading the article made me realize how terribly judged I would be by those accountability systems that seek to monitor your activity in real time.
Lest we think this is some kind of dystopian corporate nightmare, let me draw your attention to the learning management systems now ubiquitous on college campuses and how they are often used to track student activity. If young workers accept this kind of surveillance from their employers, it is only because it became normalized much earlier in their lives. And I would also like to ask how many of you are required to fit all the minutiae of your academic life into some sort of “faculty activity system” and consider how long that takes and the cost takes on the mind as the information disappears into the digital ether, never to be heard again.
If a newspaper article is connected to a digital interface and no one beyond an algorithm recognizes it, did it make a noise…er…I mean, did it really been published?
It goes without saying that the technology used to track work does not actually track work.
Consider what goes into the production of these 600 words that I write in 15 to 45 minutes for the Chicago Grandstandevery week. I had to design a topic, research and read, plan an approach, and spend time thinking about what I might want to say.
The amount of preparation that goes into this focused writing period can vary greatly. Some weeks I may write about a book or two, which means reading those books. For the article that was published last Sunday – a remembrance of recently deceased writer Melissa Bank – the initial impetus came from scrolling through Twitter where I saw the news of the death of Bank and other writers. discussing the influence of his book, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing has been.
My brain started buzzing. I read some of the replies to the Tweet below the ad. I looked up Bank’s name and saw a number of prominent contemporary writers commenting on his passing. I pulled out my copy of Girls guide… off the shelf and leafed through, seeing some of my annotations from twenty years ago, getting lost in memories of what it was like to be so much younger and so in awe of a book I was at both excited and annoyed because he seemed so far beyond what I was able to.
A number of ideas that would end up in the final piece took shape in those moments that would have felt like utter idleness from the outside. I probably didn’t need to proofread nearly as much of the book as I did to produce the column, but so what? I liked that.
And I also returned the column on time, as I do every week.
If productivity is the most important consideration, it seems to me that it’s not that hard to judge people on what they produce over time, rather than their instantaneous behaviors.
I think my method has made me pretty damn productive, all things considered. I publish several hundred thousand words of original prose per year. I do 6 to 10 public events a year. I just started an education consulting company. I’m sure I’ll be writing another book before too long.
But honestly, this is all irrelevant. Of course, this technology does not really measure work. The biggest problem is that whether you’re an Amazon warehouse worker, UPS driver, nurse, lawyer, or hospital chaplain, using this type of tracking is simply inhuman.
As human beings, we are more than our capacity to produce according to metrics counted by an algorithm.
Is not it?