Marginalia 4

hope, decentralisation, and the gig economy

25 November 2018

I've spent a fair bit of the last couple of months setting up my new blog platform with Eleventy, and the command line tool I made to help me use it, writenow. That resulted in me somewhat neglecting my Pocket account, which has ballooned again as a result. Since my last Marginalia post, however, I've read some books and listened to quite a few interesting podcast episodes.

I read Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the dark in a single Sunday sitting. It was originally written during the George W Bush administration, but it's striking how relevant the words still are today - if not more so. Solnit somehow managed to strike a tone that acknowledges despair as legitimate, whilst insisting that it must not lead to inaction. In the face of increasingly toxic politics across the Anglosphere and beyond, I found it comforting and helpful to read Solnit's admonishment to get over myself and do what I can to make the world less awful.

Silicon Valley and the Gig Economy

Coincidentally, a pair of podcasts appeared on much the same topic: labour relations in Silicon Valley. From the Upstream Collective came an interview with Keith A Spencer about his new book, A people's history of Silicon Valley. Spencer talks about how 'Silicon Valley' needs to be thought of as more than just a geographical area, but conversely he also explains how California's particular history and longstanding non-citizen labour pool has profound affects on how the modern IT industry thinks (or doesn't) about labour.

Meanwhile, Louis Hyman was on Who makes cents? talking about his own book, Temp: how American work, American business, and the American dream became temporary. Hyman talked about Silicon Valley and Uber, just like Spencer, but they both made the point that precarious and temporary employment didn't begin with Uber and iPhones. Hyman's book presumably - given the word appears three times in the title - is focused on the (United State of) American experience, but it does sound pretty interesting. Part of what he wanted to explore is how, in economies where permanent jobs are increasingly rare, workers can make temporary employment work for them - giving us all lives more like business consultants, and less like nineteenth century dock workers.

These are both really great podcasts, and episodes 7.1 and 7.2 of Upstream on Universal Basic Income are also worth a listen for the way this complex topic is considered in terms of its potential (or not) to hasten the death of capitalism.

New ideas for academic and professional conferences

"You can’t really change people’s minds by talking to them. You change people’s minds by changing the environment in which they think, the distributed part of their distributed cognition." So writes Alex Reid on his blog. It could apply to many of the things I've been thinking about lately: how we make decisions in democracies, how information technology is designed, and even how professional and academic conferences are organised. This last one wasn't necessarily top of mind when I first read Reid's post, but then I read Anand Panian's post about the Displace 18 Conference. This took place entirely as a 'virtual event' - talks were presented via a stream of pre-recorded videos, with speakers available for questions via live chat. I found this concept, and the fact that an anthropology conference actually pulled it off instead of simply talking about it, pretty inspiring. I'm going to explore some options for maybe doing something similar for librarians - our conferences, particularly in Australia, are hugely expensive both environmentally and in terms of ticket prices, and a lot of people and ideas are excluded because of that.