This is an excerpt from Ruined by Design, a book about design ethics and activism. You can find out more about it here.
In 1944, the CIA (or technically, the OSS, its precursor) published one of the greatest design manuals of all time, and by far my personal favorite. The Simple Sabotage Field Manual was clandestinely, and I hope very carefully, distributed to people living in Axis or Axis-controlled countries who sided with the Allied cause, including our good friends and role models in the French Resistance. It was declassified in 2008. The manual is filled with dozens of little tips and tricks about how you can sabotage your workplace in ways that won’t be too obvious. (You can do a lot more sabotage if you’re not getting caught.) Why do I call it a design manual? Because, like we’ve discussed before, design is the solution to a problem within a set of constraints. We have a problem: Nazis. We have a solution: sabotage. We have constraints: don’t get caught. It’s a design manual. …
On March 14, 2018, millions of students across the United States, across all grades, walked out of their classrooms for the March For Our Lives. This was specifically in response to the Parkland High School massacre, where 17 kids were murdered, but also generally about the country’s inability to address gun control. (In 2019, 776 teens and 209 children were murdered by guns in the U.S.) Kids were marching to solve a problem adults had failed to address.
On September 20, 2019, three days before the United Nations Climate Summit, roughly six million people, in over 4,500 locations in 150 countries, participated in the Global Climate Strike. This was the third global strike of the school strike for climate movement. …
Welcome back, gentlemen. Last year’s guide to white men in tech was one of the most popular articles on this platform, so I’m excited about this year’s. We assume the popularity was for several reasons: The title had a number in it, it was addressed to white men, it was written by a white man, and it was about tech. That’s a Medium grand slam!
(I’m kidding. There was no guide last year. Roll with it.)
Look, I’m walking a tightrope here, kids. First of all, let’s acknowledge, as white men, the privilege we have in society in general and in tech specifically. Then let’s acknowledge that you get that privilege whether you want it or not. You can be super conscious of your privileged place in the world, you can disavow it, you can attempt to cast it off, you can rail against it. …
“That’s not a good look,” came the reply.
“What’s not a good look?” I asked.
This was in response to a tweet I sent out a few weeks ago, pointing out some new horrible Facebook behavior. (There are many of these tweets to choose from in my feed. Pick one.) The tweet was addressed to Facebook workers and went something like “Facebook employees, this is where you work” with a link to an article about Facebook’s newest horrible behavior. I’ve posted the same type of tweet to Twitter workers as well.
But still, I was taken aback by the accusation that I was shaming workers. …
Will you please just write something positive before this year is out?
— My editor
The promise of the internet was that it was going to give voice to the voiceless, visibility to the invisible, and power to the powerless. That’s what originally excited me about it. And I’m guessing that’s what originally excited a ton of people about it. It was supposed to be an engine of equality and democracy. Suddenly, everyone could tell their story. Suddenly, everyone could sing their song. Suddenly, that one weird kid in Trondheim, Norway, could find another weird kid just like them in Bakersfield, California, and they could talk and know they weren’t alone. Suddenly, we didn’t need anybody’s permission to publish. We put our stories and songs and messages and artwork where the world could find them. For a while it was beautiful, it was messy, and it was punk as fuck. …
We’ve been behaving so badly that I hope the government comes in and regulates us.
— Anonymous Facebook Employee
The first car I remember my father driving was a 1973 Plymouth Gran Fury. It was midnight blue. Big as a boat. You could easily fit four people across the back seat. It smelled like cigarettes. He bought it used. But he looked good in it, which is probably why he bought it. My father was a vain man. Is a vain man.
The car got terrible gas mileage, which hadn’t yet become a concern for most people. At least in a big-picture, fossil-fuel-emissions kind of way. We were still a little sore about losing the Vietnam War and needed something to remind us what it meant to be American. Large cars did the trick then. (Cybertrucks do it now.) The shitty gas mileage did matter in a small-picture way, though. My father was a construction worker in Philadelphia, where the ground freezes over in the winter. Construction stops. So do paychecks. …
How do you know when it’s time to leave a job?
You’ll have a number of jobs during your career. Some will be good. Some will be bad. Most will oscillate wildly between those two poles. But the one thing all those jobs will have in common is that, at some point, you will leave. Sometimes it’ll be your call; sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it’ll be a happy occasion; sometimes it won’t. But rest assured, every job has an endpoint.
The fact that a job ends shouldn’t be a surprise, although the manner in which it ends might be. So, let’s talk about some of the reasons people leave jobs and see what we can do to mitigate the negative impact. …
I’m a union organizer. In the last few months we’ve started getting a lot of calls from workers in the tech industry looking to unionize. We don’t have a lot of experience talking to tech people. A few of them said they were contacting us because of an article you wrote about how to form a union, so we were wondering if maybe you could help us get the lay of the land.
Dear Union Organizer,
Thanks for reaching out. Happy to help as much as I can. As long as we agree that I’ll be painting with a broad brush and making some big generalizations. Once you get in front of real people and start talking about their real problems, anything they tell you should supersede anything you’re reading here. K? …
I work at a big social network. Our bosses are doing some shady shit the employees aren’t happy with. Not only do they go against our values, but I think they may actually be detrimental to society. We’ve tried talking to them about it, but we feel powerless, and we’re afraid of retribution. We also don’t feel like we have any representation. When shit goes wrong, we go to HR, and HR covers for the company. So me and some folks at work have been talking about unionizing. They’re ignoring us as individuals, so we think we’ll be able to do more if we speak with a communal voice. But we have no idea how to actually form a union. We found a section on the AFL-CIO’s website with “Four Steps to Forming a Union” and we thought, oh great, four steps is easy. Step two was “contact a union organizer.” Dude, that might as well say “summon a wizard*”! I don’t know any union organizers. …
A few weeks ago, something bad happened at work. It upset me enough that I discussed it with HR. They said they’d handle it but they never got back to me and the bad situation is still happening. Should I follow up? Should I forget about it? Should I trust that HR handled it?
Let’s talk about sheep. Besides being a handy metaphor, sheep are herd animals. They enjoy each others’ company because it not only provides safety, but it also gives them other sheep to hang out with and talk to. It’s a community. The group names for sheep are flock, herd, and mob, words that are also used to describe groups of people in various contexts. Maybe that’s why they’re a handy metaphor. Another reason might be because they’re highly suggestible and very trusting. …