Microtasks for microproductivity
November 22, 2019 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Instead of lecturing people about mindfulness and staying focused, what if you engineered work to fit into fractured moments? Last year, the team from Microsoft Research experimented with putting bits of Office work into the faceboook newsfeed. Viewed one way, microproductivity is a clever hack of our frazzled lives. Viewed askance, it seems deranged—digital Taylorism run amok.
posted by mosst (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you never needed another reason to spend less time on Facebook...
posted by treblekicker at 5:46 AM on November 22, 2019


What if breaks, but work?!
posted by rodlymight at 5:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


I mean, if you wanted more squares of toilet paper, you'd file more TPS reports, wouldn't you?
posted by xingcat at 5:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


No.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:10 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have already settled into microproductivity in almost every area of my life thanks
posted by Caxton1476 at 6:15 AM on November 22, 2019 [23 favorites]


Yes, let's just shoehorn more work into those spare nanoseconds you're wasting everyday, shall we?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:52 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Very interesting. And it makes sense in several ways.
posted by davidmsc at 7:01 AM on November 22, 2019


“Capitalism is religion. Banks are churches. Bankers are priests. Wealth is heaven. Poverty is hell. Rich people are saints. Poor people are sinners. Commodities are blessings. Money is god.” ~ Miguel D Lewis
!
posted by Fizz at 7:04 AM on November 22, 2019 [19 favorites]


Mark Fisher said the ultimate goal of the technocratic capitalist regime is to only pay a bartender for the exact seconds spent pouring a pint and handing it over and no more and this just feels like the way to get to that.
posted by The Whelk at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2019 [37 favorites]


The question I have is in whether the "microwork" is done on company time or your own, if the base assumption is that you're going to be browsing the internet at work so here's some little tasks to do while you browse, then I could live with it, but when its used to send you additional work off hours, or to otherwise replace paying employees for their time other than when involved in "microwork", not so much.

Okay, I guess it really isn't much of a question since we pretty much know it'll be the latter two options, but the first still has some promise to it if we ever get around to treating people like human beings and work as an unfortunate necessity rather than people as the unfortunate necessity in making a select few obscenely wealthy.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:12 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Hi, I'm Uncle Clippy! Did you know FDR knew about Pearl Harbor? Now, can you correct this split infinitive?"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:16 AM on November 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


Instead of lecturing people about mindfulness and staying focused, what if
...we gave them reasonable work hours, paid vacation time and paid time off for care work and sick leave, and paid them a living wage, so at work, they actually could focus on their job?
#toofarleft, I guess
posted by The Toad at 7:21 AM on November 22, 2019 [30 favorites]


...we gave them reasonable work hours, paid vacation time and paid time off for care work and sick leave, and paid them a living wage, so at work, they actually could focus on their job?

Can we add, stop paying million-dollar bonuses to people on that list? Because fuck that.
posted by Fizz at 7:31 AM on November 22, 2019 [14 favorites]


Honestly, though, I am privileged enough to have a reasonable wage and benefits and whatever and I still struggle a LOT with focus and procrastination of tiny tasks at work, so while the work-creep factor is real, the productivity part still appeals.
posted by mosst at 8:17 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Pure evil. They found a way to rob souls. I already have four bosses in my life, how many more they want to add?

I remember my worst job, telemarketer. I couldn't hard sell to these farmers, who were all in debt, and our job was to ask them about their debt WHILE selling them a magazine. The manager would get on my calls and speak what I had to say into my ear. I was his puppet.


I quit after two weeks, went back to washing dishes, where I could at least daydream about a better life
posted by eustatic at 8:52 AM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


let me try to qualify this as much as i need to: i like the initial version of this that's just inserted into the facebook feed if it's a purely opt-in thing and not a boss-offered thing. it appeals to me because lately i've been really trying to tackle my adhd and figure out the obscure but specific conditions that let me do work at a reasonable pace, and this seems like something that would be nice for me.

OUTSIDE OF THOSE BOUNDS, this is whack. also, before i read the article, i was imagining they were giving you tasks that microsoft needed done and thought well, damn, at least amazon gives me five cents for doing that.
posted by gaybobbie at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I get that inserting microproductivity tasks into your FB feed is pure distilled cyber dystopia. But: That piece at the end about flagging parts of a document for other people, and them being able to manage it entirely through email, is genius. My workplace can't seem to get away from emailing around word documents and wallowing in the morass of which one is the most current? which one did you update? etc.
posted by selenized at 9:22 AM on November 22, 2019


Do yall not understand that doing anything on social media is doing "microwork" that generates profit for the owners of the platform? Social media is labor
posted by bradbane at 9:59 AM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


Someone needs to remind the techbros that the dsytopian novels I grew up reading were intended to be warnings, not "how-to" guides
posted by caution live frogs at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


>> Instead of lecturing people about mindfulness and staying focused, what if

> ... we gave them reasonable work hours, paid vacation time and paid time off for care work and sick leave, and paid them a living wage, so at work, they actually could focus on their job?
#toofarleft, I guess
  1. those things aren’t given. we only get them if we take them.
  2. why are you identifying with “them” — the ruling class, capitalists — when you are almost certainly among the “we,” down here with the people who have to work for a living instead of getting paid for owning things?
a guess at the answer: you’re identifying with “them” instead of with “we” because, (like the bearded man said) the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. because their ideology rules, even people on the left have to take pains to identify with our own interests rather than with their interests.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, Microsoft Japan experimented with a 4-day week (and got very good results).
posted by clawsoon at 10:50 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Do yall not understand that doing anything on social media is doing "microwork" that generates profit for the owners of the platform? Social media is labor

...he commented on metafilter
posted by ominous_paws at 11:04 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


It is dystopian for this to come through your employer, but if there was a system that would pull out microtasks from my personal to-do list and inline them into my web browsing, I would 100% give it a chance.
posted by itesser at 11:09 AM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Fuck. You. MS.
It's bad enough to deal with a million distractions WITHIN the workspace. Because heaven forbid we be allowed to not be ADD and work on a single task without a million chats rolling in or a boss yelling at us to do this other task right now, or blah blah blah.
Fuck you for interfering with personal space.
Pay us for 24 hours a day if you're going to pull this bullshit. And OT after 8. IF you're going to demand us to live, eat and breathe for you.
posted by symbioid at 11:55 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm with gaybobbie and itesser - this would be a game changer for my own personal projects. I've found that I tend to dedicate most of my energy towards projects with significant deadlines as those have the most urgency, but at the expense of other projects that I enjoy but don't have an imminent enough deadline, so those projects often fall by the wayside. And there are other projects where I don't even really know where to start so I end up doing nothing.

Having a way up integrate small parts of those projects, especially the non-deadline ones, into my regular social media browsing would help get a lot more work done on them without needing to fire up my laptop. I get a lot of writing done on Facebook or Twitter (they often end up as first drafts) and there's something about those interfaces that make it easier for me to write - I've thought before of making private Facebook entries as first draft notes. This just seems like an extension of that idea.
posted by divabat at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2019


Argh. There was a more...ethical? Aspect of this back in the day, where for captcha purposes, people helped transcribe texts, though that likely was overtaken by improvements in scanning technology and a reduction in the quality of lettering in the residual documents.

I’d rather do something more in the vein of freerice dot org for college graduates and have my personal improvement end global warming.
posted by childofTethys at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


It blows my mind how eager some folks are so ready to subject themselves to ever more demands and control. I can't judge their motives as it really is their own way of being. ADHD, etc.

For me? My won ADHD issues make it absolutely horrible... I don't get how interrupting someone with yet more bullshit (and lets ignore that being able to view FB at work is a luxury not a lot of people really have in the first place) - I guess. IDK. Maybe I just hate work so much and view it as a tyranny on an otherwise free life that this is nothing but contemptible.

I suppose if you found fulfillment in labor and saw "getting things done" as noble or whatever, or feel dysfunctional and feel that this may help alleviate some of that dysfunction, I guess?

My concern is how the people who say this will be helpful to them act in the same path as those who "just a few hours of overtime" and then it feeds the competition loop Capital so cynically abuses : Hey Bob, I saw you didn't stay til 9 pm last night! Jim and Joe and Harry all stayed, too good for the team? Why aren't YOU wanting to use the new microwhateversystem to do your work? You don't want to work? Are you LAZY? Are you not willing to put your effort in?

Maybe I'm being unrealistic, maybe I'm bitter, maybe I'm cycnical, IDK... It just feels like this is one more thing that will be readily abused by management that ever wants to suck your attention dry. We already know that task-switching incurs a cost.

Is that the end goal - oh you think you can just nobly surf Facebook etc without a cost to your little attempt at relief? Ho ho ho! BACK TO US YOU MUST TURN!
(even if that ultimately reduces your productivity).
posted by symbioid at 4:58 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


symbiod: I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a freelance/independent type, so the only person who's be assigning tasks in an app like this to me is me. I can ignore my own posts if I want And, as I mentioned, this would be especially useful for projects where no one else is going to hold me accountable for them so the motivation isn't as strong.
posted by divabat at 6:07 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


ReCaptcha really appealed to me when I first heard about it, but people could be being paid for that work.

If Google needs street signs identified, they can pay someone. If it's for some larger social good and no business will pay anyone, the government could be paying them.

On one hand it seems like a boring job, but I'd definitely take minimum wage to do that work from home, identifying products and their correct place on the shelf is hardly more gripping stuff.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I cover Microsoft as part of the day job. Reading this thread has been highly educational in seeing the gap between what the company is working toward in re: productivity and work, and how people who are not Microsoft think about work and productivity.

This stood out for me:

My concern is how the people who say this will be helpful to them act in the same path as those who "just a few hours of overtime" and then it feeds the competition loop Capital so cynically abuses : Hey Bob, I saw you didn't stay til 9 pm last night! Jim and Joe and Harry all stayed, too good for the team? Why aren't YOU wanting to use the new microwhateversystem to do your work? You don't want to work? Are you LAZY? Are you not willing to put your effort in?

Because among the new features Microsoft is rolling out in Microsoft 365 (the cloud-based service where Office apps live) is one that addresses that concern. The company knows the research around productivity; they know that productivity drops after a certain number of working hours per week. They're rolling out a feature limiting the ability to send or receive late-night email. It'll be interesting to see how that feature is received and whether it lasts.
posted by sobell at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2019


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