back in the trenches

back in the trenches
Wilson, Daniel Clowes

You know, I'd forgotten what it was like to be a freelancer. I realize now I was spoiled by warm, unhealthy embrace of some years of Salaried Labor (though, I should note, I was freelancing that entire time). It's just different here on the other side, man, where you're only paid for the work you do — and not necessarily for the time you put in.

The other thing I don't think I'd quite realized is that there aren't really that many jobs I want on offer anymore. The industries I've been working in — like, for example, journalism — have been decimated. It used to be that there were roles to go around, and that all it took to climb the career ladder was doing good enough work to hop jobs until you landed in one that gave you some seniority and paid you enough. I mean, this was a feeling I had. No longer!

Part of this, obviously, is that I suspect work — and crucially employees' relationship with it — has changed dramatically in the last 5 or so years. You see the sentiments everywhere people can post online; it seems like many current professionals have realized that many white-collar jobs are a kind of make-work program where you have to cosplay your business-sona in order to pay your rent on time.

This was of course a theme back in the age where Office Space didn't feel like a sci-fi fantasy — your own cubicle, imagine! — but I think it's more acute now, ever since things like r/Antiwork and TikTok incentivized people to post about how their jobs were actually kinda bullshit, in the Graeberian sense. I see videos of Zoomers realizing this is how the rest of their lives will go and sobbing in their cars. Work has been decoupled from the leisure time that was supposed to correspond with, you know, having worked. The promise was that by giving up 8 hours of your day you'd be able to afford a house and a family and have a little bit of cash for vacations.

But work is subject to the same forces as everything else. Productivity must go up, and employment consequently becomes more precarious. It's funny that AI is currently being sold to the public as something that will make workers more productive, because what that means in practice is that even more of your life will be subsumed by, you guessed it, work. Because more jobs will disappear, and there will be more competition for the few remaining good ones**.

I could say it's not all bad. Maybe it isn't! But I do feel that the sudden fame of various grustle gurus and internet grifters who claim to sell the secret to becoming independently wealthy is a bad sign, and it is indeed of the times.

One irreversible thing that the internet did was show us how everyone lived and worked (or didn't work). I'm not so sure that was a good thing. Not just because of the dunks on people who believed they were absolutely, 100% normal — thinking of you, leg-washing discourse — but because it makes it easy to see how the other half lives. Like, during the early days of the pandemic, I remember seeing CEOs and other c-suiters doing all-hand Zooms from their vacation houses, surrounded by impossibly luxe furnishings. The fruits of someone's labor! Right there, for everyone to see.

Anyway. This all happened because algorithmically driven media rewarded posters who wrote about how normal they were and the people who dunked on them. The other day on an excursion to TikTok — the new driver of American internet culture, lol — I saw a young child of nobility post a GRWM* for going to a ball somewhere in Spain.


Its kind of more a help me pick an outfit than a grwm and i still have time before to get a new dress #fashion #outfitidea #grwm #dior #gossipgirl

♬ original sound - Lara Cosima

The commenters were split, but what was most striking were the people asking variations on "how do I get invited to a ball in Spain?" Perhaps not realizing that this is not something that's achievable unless your family owned a castle in the 1300s. It's innocuous, of course, but when else do we get to see people like this? Where else but online?

And I think seeing things like this — and seeing the lifestyles of other people of unlimited means — makes work feel even less good. What's the point, right? Comparison is the thief of joy, they say. The internet allows you to unlock your front door and invite the thief in for tea, or maybe, if they prefer, coffee.

three things i've consumed this week

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes

Pink Friday 2, by Nicki Minaj

"5,271,009," by Alfred Bester

(I'm sure I'll write something more vulnerable and searching soon, but hey, that day is not today! xoxo)

*"Get Ready With Me," a widespread TikTok format where people... get ready.

**Personally I think AI is just a threat execs are leveling at employees. Employers will "automate" work, lay salaried employees off, and then rehire them as contractors to "oversee" — i.e., redo — work "done" by the "AI". Fun!