Work Sucks: Life After Work

Work Want Work: Labour and Desire at the End of Capitalism

By Mareile Pfannebecker and J.A. Smith

Zed Books (2020)

Book Review

In this book, authors Pfannebecker and Smith summarize the current anti-work movement and literature. In view of rapid displacement of blue and white collar workers by robots and computers, coupled with the offshoring of most manufacturing jobs, there are growing calls for an end to waged work altogether.

The chorus has only increased following the 2008 global economic crisis, which has caused a large proportion of young people to face a lifetime of precarious low paid, part time, and temporary employment.

The economic shutdown accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic makes a examination of the role of work especially timely. With the forced closure of non-essential businesses – and resulting bankruptcies – many analysts are predicting unemployment levels as high as 33% – or higher.

The first half of Work Want Work looks at the big change in the nature of work over the past few decades. The authors start by providing numerous examples of the monetization of non-work activities (eg the collection and sale of our personal data by Facebook and Google to corporate advertisers). They also delineate how more and more workers are required to perform tasks outside their training and job description – for example teachers are asked to identify potential terrorists, university professors to guarantee jobs placements, and doctors to manage health promotion.

The book introduces new terminology to help explain categorize these changes in the nature of work:

  • malemployment – refers to work that fails to provide sufficient income to live on, precarious employment, work in healthy or unsafe environments, work falsely categorized as self-employment (eg the “gig economy”), and “workfare” (where recipients are forced to work at a sub-minimum wage to receive unemployment, sickness, and disability benefits).
  • disemployment – refers to workers expelled from the economy (and society) when they cease to qualify for benefits.
  • young-girlification – refers to the complex phenomenon enabling corporations to profit from the bigger-than-life persona people cultivate on social media and reality TV (eg YouTube and Instagram “influencers,” the Kardashians, and the Pope).

Examining what a post-work world might look like, the last third of the book asks what people will do with their new-found leisure time. Obviously we don’t want a system in which government and/or experts decide the best way for us to spend our time. At the same time nearly all have us have been conditioned by advertising and government/corporate propaganda to desire stuff that probably isn’t good for us.

The Social Media Beauty Cult

Too Beautiful: The Social Media Beauty Cult

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines the link between social media sites that emphasize appearance with a growing incidence of anxiety, depression, and anorexia.

The film features commentary from a psychologist, a sociologist, a philosopher, a former anorexic and a female rapper. The latter has become a strong figurehead in the movement to promote natural, “self-determined” beauty standards.

All agree that women have been dissatisfied with their bodies for generations. Social media sites like Instagram tap into these insecurities by promoting a “new normal,” in which all users must look like supermodels to be rewarded with clicks, likes and emojis.

The video goes on to explore new social media sites devoted to women’s body building cults; the ubiquitous trend to portray women as objects of desire in advertising (remember “sex sells”); and the vicious online attacks directed against women who achieve public prominence in previously male-dominated fields (eg journalism, search, and government. The online attacks directed at these women are always sexualized in a way that dehumanizes them and belittles their appearance.

Typical comments they get include “You’re ugly,” “You’re fat,” “No one would want to fuck you,” and “You must suck in bed.”

Sociologically this phenomenon to relates to a mistaken belief promoted by right wing media that girls and women have “taken over” and that women are better educated and better off financially than men.

 

Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media

Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media

Directed by Richard Grannon (2018)

Film Review

This documentary examines the apparent link between widespread social media addiction and the spike in suicide rates among teens under 17. Depression has increased 70% over the last decade, with suicide rates increasing by 50% in girls and 30% in boys. In the same period, hospital admissions for eating disorders have doubled. This appears to relate to pervasive social media emphasis on personal appearance and staying thin.

The filmmakers interview pediatricians, psychologists, social media activists and teen victims of cyberbullying. They also examine whistleblower claims about Facebook deliberately designing platforms to produce the same dopamine* triggers that mediate addiction. The obvious goal is to create compulsive desire to spend more and more on Facebook, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook). The more time you spend on Facebook, the more ads you see and the more profit you generate

Adults who regularly interact with teens will only be too aware of their constantly pinging smartphones. In many cases, they seem incapable of giving real life interactions their full attention. Psychologists worry we are setting up a whole generation to transition to adulthood with defective social skills.

The film also explores the tendency of these platforms to reinforce personal narcissism and of all social media platforms to reinforce confrontation, aggression and hate speech.

I was surprised to learn that as of 2018, 60% of all social media posts were selfies. The teens interviewed reveal their selfie posts are rewarded with more likes than any other posts. At the same time, they report problems with chronically low self-esteem for failing to measure up to their friend’s posts.

While not mentioned in the film, I have had concerns for several years now that social media addiction may actually be a gateway drug – setting young people up for other dopamine-related addictions (amphetamines, cocaine, heroine, and nicotine). The deadly opiate addiction currently plaguing the US and other developed countries may be no coincidence.

At number of addiction specialists seem to agree with me:

Drug Addiction Relating Topics Social Media

Social Media The Gateway Drug

Social Media Addiction

 


*Dopamine is neurotransmitter that stimulates brain pleasure centers. Rats wired up to self-administer dopamine to their brain pleasure centers will keep pressing the lever until they drop dead from starvation and dehydration.