Writing this essay, I am doing what I do with most of my time: sitting at a desk, ensconced in my iMac’s blue glow, creating, reading, sorting, or sending some immaterial thing or another. I talk to my friends about this sometimes. And despite the radically different lives they lead—some are world-famous CEOs. Others are painters—they all do the same thing. We are computer operators who specialize in email.
A strange thing about this work is that it is difficult to estimate its consequence. Working on an assembly line, it would be quite obvious how many widgets one produced in a day, and the value of those widgets. Building a house, one could look at the progress each week, the rooms framed, the concrete poured, the windows installed. But this relatively new digital work leaves in its immediate wake only fatigued hands and eyes, and a cascade of digital activity that is more difficult to apprehend. And I don’t just mean this metaphorically: For all the track-ability of digital activity, there is so much activity that it is hard to track, and even harder to analyze.
What are we all doing all day? What is the impact of this work? What is attached to the other side of the pulley?