Insights into Internet-era blue- and white-collar work
Here are two amazing pieces that expose a great amount of detail about very different types of jobs that are specific to the Internet era. We learn about who is doing the work, what the work is like and what the culture is. There’s so much rich detail in both that I am not summarizing or drawing conclusions but simply pointing you to them for listening/reading.
Brown Box is a a RadioLab piece about the order fulfillment centers that companies like Amazon and others use. The reporter gets a job in one of these places and describes the physical and emotional toil (although she meets some who really like the work). While you might imagine the way items are stored in those warehouses is incredibly ordered, she describes how it’s essentially random, while “pickers” who are preparing an order carry a handheld device that directs them item after item to each holding bin at random locations through the warehouse, counting down the seconds it has calculated for them to reach the next item. That sounds so stressful!
It used to be, when you ordered something on the Internet, you waited a week for it to show up. That was the deal: you didn’t have to get off the couch, but you had to wait. But in the last few years, that’s changed. Now, increasingly, the stuff we buy on the Internet shows up the next day or the same day, sometimes within hours. Free shipping included. Which got us wondering: How is this Internet voodoo possible?
A fleet of robots? Vacuum tubes? Teleportation? Hardly. In this short, reporter Mac McClelland travels into the belly of the beast that is the Internet retail system, and what she finds takes her breath away and makes her weak in the knees (in the worst way).
Also: a written story by Mac McClelland about the same experience.
Programming Sucks is an intensely hyperbolic piece that digs into the state of the art for developing computer code.
For example, say you’re an average web developer. You’re familiar with a dozen programming languages, tons of helpful libraries, standards, protocols, what have you. You still have to learn more at the rate of about one a week, and remember to check the hundreds of things you know to see if they’ve been updated or broken and make sure they all still work together and that nobody fixed the bug in one of them that you exploited to do something you thought was really clever one weekend when you were drunk. You’re all up to date, so that’s cool, then everything breaks.
“Double you tee eff?” you say, and start hunting for the problem. You discover that one day, some idiot decided that since another idiot decided that 1/0 should equal infinity, they could just use that as a shorthand for “Infinity” when simplifying their code. Then a non-idiot rightly decided that this was idiotic, which is what the original idiot should have decided, but since he didn’t, the non-idiot decided to be a dick and make this a failing error in his new compiler. Then he decided he wasn’t going to tell anyone that this was an error, because he’s a dick, and now all your snowflakes are urine and you can’t even find the cat.
So no, I’m not required to be able to lift objects weighing up to fifty pounds. I traded that for the opportunity to trim Satan’s pubic hair while he dines out of my open skull so a few bits of the internet will continue to work for a few more days.