Instead of optimizing work, technology has created a nonstop barrage of notifications and interactions. Six months into a pandemic, it’s worse than ever.

Instead of optimizing work, technology has created a nonstop barrage of notifications and interactions. Six months into a pandemic, it’s worse than ever.

Granted, only a fraction of the workforce currently uses Slackas of April 2019, around 95,000 companies paid for its services. But many other workplaces use similar programs, especially since the pandemic sent millions of workers home and left companies scrambling for some way to re-approximate the workplace. These days, Slacks influence feels inescapable: there were remote workers before Slack, but unlike email, or phone calls, or Gchat, Slack is able to digitally re-create the workplace, complete with standards of decorum, and participation, and presentism, however unspoken. It was intended to make work easier, or at least more streamlined, but like so many work optimization tactics, it just makes those who use it work more, and with more anxiety.
Slack thus becomes a way to LARPLive Action Role Playyour job. LARPing your job was coined by the technology writer John Herrman, who, all the way back in 2015, predicted the ways in which Slack would screw with our conception of work: Slack is where people make jokes and register their presence; it is where stories and editing and administrating are discussed as much for self-justification as for the completion of actual goals. Working in an active Slack … is a productivity nightmare, especially if you dont hate your coworkers. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either rationalizing or delusional.
As more work becomes remote, its something so many of us think about: How do we demonstrate that were in the office when were in our sweatpants on the couch? I do it by dropping links to articles (to show that Im reading), by commenting on other peoples links (to show that Im reading Slack), and by participating in conversations (to show that Im engaged). I work very hard to produce evidence that Im constantly doing work instead of, well, actually doing work.
My editors would say that theres no need to compulsively perform on Slack. But what would they say if I just didnt use Slack at all? People who do knowledge workthose whose products are often intangible, like ideas on a pageoften struggle with the feeling that theres little to show for the hours we spend sitting in front of our computers. And the compulsion is heightened for those of us who worked, job searched, or were laid off during the post-2008 recession: Were desperate to show were worthy of a salaried job, and eager to demonstrate, especially in this economy, how much labor and engagement were willing to give in exchange for full-time employment and health insurance.
This mindset may be delusional: Yes, of course, managers do think about how much work were producing, but only the worst of them are clocking how many hours the green active dot is showing up next to your name on Slack. And most of our coworkers are too worried about LARPing their own jobs to worry about how much youre LARPing yours.
Were performing, in other words, largely for ourselves. Justifying to ourselves that we deserve our job. At heart, this is a manifestation of a general undervaluing of our own work: Many of us still navigate the workplace as if getting paid to produce knowledge means were getting away with something, and have to do everything possible to make sure no one realizes theyve made a massive mistake. No wonder we spend so much time trying to communicate how hard we work.
Ill be honest: As I attempted to write those past three paragraphs, I was paying my credit card bill, reading a breaking news story, and figuring out how to transfer my new puppys microchip registration to my name. Everythingespecially writing thiswas taking far longer than it should have. And none of it felt good, or fulfilling, or cathartic.
But thats the reality of the internet-ridden life: I need to be an insanely productive writer and be funny on Slack and post good links on Twitter and keep the house clean and cook a fun new recipe from Pinterest and track my exercise on MapMyRun and text my friends to ask questions about their growing children and check in with my mom and grow tomatoes in the backyard and enjoy Montana and Instagram myself enjoying Montana and shower and put on cute clothes for that 30-minute video call with my coworkers and and and and.

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