My Latest Quartz at Work: WeWork and Google Offices are a lot like Exploitative Company Towns of the Past

The piece begins:

At VideoAmp, a software and data platform, CEO Rory McCray “encourages an environment where his employees practically live at the office,” the BBC reported in February 2017. Personal trainers, yoga instruction, meals, and games are all provided at the Santa Monica office, and employees come in early, get “addicted to productivity” and often stay late.

Meanwhile, WeWork, a startup that leases co-working and office space, is involved in renovating Dock 72, a massive 675,000-square-foot building located in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. And Dock 72, which boasts amenities that include organic food, conference rooms, and fitness centers—not to mention the promise of serendipitous encounters with other extroverted entrepreneurs—could be, according to the New York Times, “the kind of place you never have to leave.”

While these attempts at packing workspaces with everything a worker might need to live seem novel, they actually have a direct, and rather shadowy, historical parallel. Unbeknownst to them, VideoAmp, WeWork, and many more prominent tech companies such as Google and Facebook are drawing on a model that, up through the early parts of the 20th century, was a social experiment implemented at coal mines, textile mills, steel plants, and even chocolate factories: the company town.

You can read the rest of the article here

My Latest Quartz at Work: How Workers Killed the Liberal Arts

My latest Quartz at Work piece begins:

“Work is fundamental to who you are and who you will become,” Bates College president Clayton Spencer told freshmen who had just arrived at the small liberal arts college in 2013. And, she continued, “I hope you realize by now that you have been working all of your life.” These freshmen, she assured them on that autumn day, were about to embark on their “college careers,” which would soon usher them into their professional careers.

Nothing may seem out of the ordinary about Spencer’s remarks, but from the vantage point afforded us by history, we can see how unusual it is for a liberal arts college to ground its existence in work.

The liberal arts, until relatively recently, were regarded as “liberal” to the degree that they taught students that some things in life, being good in themselves, were not done because they were useful or necessary but entirely for their own sake. The liberal arts took as its purpose that of introducing students to a space of freedom beyond expediency, practicality, and utility. Work, therefore, had nothing to do with it.

Sadly, pretty much all that was liberal (or “free”) about the liberal arts has since withered away, and now they live on mostly in name only, and only so long as they’re deemed useful.

How did the liberal arts meet their death?

You can read the rest of the piece here

My Big Think Interview: What makes for an excellent human life?


Here’s an except from an Big Think interview with me:

Is that an intellectual pursuit or an experiential one? For example, should we be juxtaposing philosophy and meditation?

I think that philosophy begins with a convulsive experience; experience that shakes you out of your own certainties, out of your way of being in the world. Philosophy comes to the scene to illuminate that convulsive experience, it is not a merely intellectual affair. It’s rather what I would call existential. Let’s take death for example. Death can be considered abstractly and theoretically alone but that is not interesting or philosophical. Death can also be just considered deeply personally, but that’s not quite enough either. Philosophy occurs at the very moment when I am gripped personally, emotionally, by something but I can also grasp that it transcends me.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

My Latest Quartz at Work Piece: Our Time Famine

The article begins as follows:

There’s just not enough time. You’re busy, hurried, harassed by What’s Next and by What Else. As you struggle to keep up, you vacillate between subscribing to more life hacking and throwing your hands up when faced with what you ironically call “the futility of life.” The nervous laughter you expend when you hear such a grand expression come out of your mouth does little to alleviate the burden you so achingly carry.

Sometimes you dream of getting off this treadmill of tasks, but you fear that, if you did, you’d be passed by and summarily forgotten.

Welcome to our “time famine.”

Time is, in our modern society, a scarcity, a “precious resource,” and the unspoken enemy that must be subdued. But this was not always so. At other moments in history, time was abundant. So what changed? How did time turn against us?

You can read the rest of the piece here.