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The Screen and the Job have displaced almost everything else is our lives. Loneliness is just a primary symptom.

The Screen, whether it’s TV, computer, or phone, has supplanted almost all social interactions. This manifests itself in things like SitComs on TV (just a bunch of friends or family hanging out) or Social Media on phones. It’s very easy to fill the social needs of right now with a Screen. But under even a minuscule amount of self reflection these are revealed as hollow substitutes for real human interaction.

The Job has completely taken over as a driving force in evaluating choices. The average person has to consider all options in the light of both the current employer and the specter of tomorrow’s. Moving across the country for a high paying job? Great! Moving to be closer to friends? That’s a career killer.

No wonder we are lonely. We make choices in the short term that optimize happiness, often at the expense of our relationships. Ghosting is not just for dates now. Then turn around and make choices in the long term that optimize employability at the expense of all else.




> The average person has to consider all options in the light of both the current employer and the specter of tomorrow’s. Moving across the country for a high paying job? Great! Moving to be closer to friends? That’s a career killer.

The median person lives just 18 miles away from their mom. 57% of Americans have never lived outside their home state. A third have never lived outside their hometown.

The more I read about it, I’m convinced “loneliness” is an upper middle class problem.


Interesting. Anecdotally, this checks out. All of my middle/lower-middle class friends from high school have long been married and raising families, almost in all cases raising them with their extended families. Most of my professional tech friends are barely getting started in their late 30s, and everyone who's started had basically put their career into a slower gear first.

I made a similar choice a couple of years ago to downgrade my career into a slower-paced, less stressful scenario with less money, and again personally for me the results have spoken for themselves.

Unless I'm Elon Musk, the whole business of business isn't really designed in my favor, so it's logical for me to partake but only just so.


By definition you wouldn't know many lonely people. The chronically lonely ones are going to be the people who didn't end up getting married when they "should" have, couldn't make it into a proper career or fell out of one at some point. Most upper middle class people won't be lonely since if you can afford a career you can afford a social life or you might even be forced into one. But of course uncertainty and insecurity can make one feel lonely, so I guess that would count. Still that isn't going to be your epidemic. That is going to be those left behind.


> Most upper middle class people won't be lonely since if you can afford a career you can afford a social life or you might even be forced into one.

Social life is not about having money (well unless you're really poor) - it's about having time and people to spend it with. You can be in top 5-10% of income and a total loner - plenty such people in tech.


This makes me think of a good friend from college that I lost touch with, who recently committed suicide. I felt a significant amount of guilt, thinking about the fact that I could have very easily stayed in touch with him, despite not living anywhere close. Really made me think about people that I've had friendships with in the past that I may be able to reach out to and make a difference in their lives just by being the one person (or one of a few) that they talk to on a semi-frequent basis.


It just does not work like that. Many people with stable jobs are lonely. Long hours means that you don't have connection with family even if you have it. You live separate life from partner and your children are not close to you.

One partner working long hours is enough for both partners to be lonely in marriage. Partner having time consuming hobby is enough for you to be lonely in marriage.

People in work are not friends, they are competitors, allies, enemies, whatever. They are not people you can talk with openly. Moreover, there are plenty of jobs where you work mostly alone or have only temporary relationships.

End result is loneliness.


No denial from me that there's a problem. I wanted to jump in, however, and share some personal journeys. Maybe it will help one person, or not.


You have assumed the role of the loser, as per https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-...

It feels nice down here, join us!


No way man, I bet if we found out the specifics we’d both deem him “clueless” on the GP hierarchy.

Unless he literally works in a warehouse or in a position that is pure “worker bee,” $100 says if we knew the actual job title this guy held we’d deem him “clueless.” (Not that he actually IS clueless, who knows, I’m just using that word in the gervais principle sense of it).

“I made a similar choice a couple of years ago to downgrade my career into a slower-paced, less stressful scenario with less money” is quintessential “clueless” reasoning.

Prioritizing things like a slow pace and a lack of stress is something that “clueless” people tend to do, not “losers.” Darryl (& co) in the warehouse are stressed, dude, and they don’t have the time or inclination to prioritize things like lowering stress. They’re too busy living paycheck-to-paycheck. Toby in the office is less stressed, and I bet if you talked to the character Toby he’d say almost exactly what the guy wrote above.

I mean look what he’s doing here — sharing his emotional reasoning with the group. That’s something “clueless” people do, not “losers,” who tend to merely act on emotions rather than reflect on them and THEN act.

If this guy ACTUALLY became a “loser” and started working in an Amazon warehouse and it wasn’t part of a larger “clueless” meta-scheme to get a tax break or something, I would be literally shocked.


Your reading of that hierarchy is different from what I got out of it.

Clueless are people buy into the "Arbeit makt frei" idea.

In the linked article, the majority of people in the office (not even considering the warehouse) are losers.

Stanley is the quintessential "loser", and he precisely optimizes for "slower-paced, less stressful".

In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the "worker bees" that are clueless. Dwight, for example, is as "worker bee" as they come. He jumps on command.

From my reading, this hierarchy has nothing to do with social status outside of work. It is precisely how you behave on the job.


I agree that many worker bees are “clueless” but that breaks the GP heuristics.

My reading seems similar but different to yours. I agree that it has nothing to do with social status outside of work: to me it’s about emotional processing.

I can’t recall the specific passage but I remember Venkat talking about how clueless people seek absolution in collective emotional processing. That’s what leads me to believe the dude you’re replying to is clueless.

I completely disagree that Stanley is a loser, to me he is a quintessential clueless. He’s working in the office, not the warehouse: he’s in middle management, so IMO he’s clueless by definition because he is part of the padding between the masters/sociopaths/bosses and the slaves/worker bees/losers.

I think your perspective is interesting but I feel like I am adhering slightly more strictly to the heuristics laid out in GP.


Wanted to chime in that I think you are conflating working in the office as being higher on the ladder than working in the warehouse. They are two different departments. The warehouse is definitely blue-collar, and the office white-collar, but that doesn't mean the warehouse workers are inferior to the office workers.

Further I checked and Stanley is a sales rep, not middle management.

I really enjoyed reading through that article series last year when I first came across it. I spent a good amount of time wondering where I fit in the hierarchy relative to my coworkers. Ended up deciding that like all models, it's useful but incomplete. Still an interesting thing to know about.

Sort of similar to learning about personality types like Myers-Briggs or Enneagram.


Agree that like all models, it’s useful but incomplete.

Stanley is a sales rep and that is absolutely a part of the clueless layer. He provides buffer between the masters and the slaves in the warehouse dude: he is clueless. Not a loser like Darryl in the warehouse, not a sociopath like Robert California or Ryan the Temp, but clueless.

I am a clueless loser sociopath so take from that what u will :)

Thanks for the interesting discussion. :)


Directly from the article:

"""

The minimum-effort Loser Stanley tells him coldly, "this here is a run-out-the-clock situation." The line could apply to Stanley’s entire life.

"""

So either you are pulling your info from some more-original source than I am, or you're mis-remembering what the article says.


Then venkat’s own model is self-contradictory.

He states clearly that middle managers provide the buffer between the sociopaths and losers. Thus, Stanley is clueless.

Venkat’s description of Stanley as a “loser” completely destroys his own heuristics that only clueless are in middle management.

So congratulations, you’ve found a flaw in Venkat’s logic. He contradicts himself. However, I still think the general heuristics he lays out are valuable (as you seem to).

Thanks for the quote man — you made me realize the issue isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as I thought it was. I see your point now. Thank you.


A sales rep is not middle management.

The people in the warehouse don't report to Stanley. His job is to get sales from customers. He has no one reporting to him.

Michael is the chief clueless person in the show. Dwight and Andy are aspiring clueless.

The losers are the people who do the day-to-day work that keeps the company in business. The sociopaths are the people at the top who view the company as a board game with pawns that can be moved around or sacrificed at will.

The purpose of the clueless is to put a buffer between the sociopaths and the losers so that the sociopaths don't have to consider that their pawns are real people with real feelings and real families to take care of.

There are three classes of losers according to his system:

1. Over-performing losers, who are prime candidates for promotion to the clueless ranks

2. Average losers, who know they have a raw deal but don't have the ambition or coldness to do anything about it.

3. Under-performing losers, who are prime sociopath candidates because they have a lack of "give a damn" about what they do and are willing to push the boundaries because they know the deal is not in their favor.

Note that the over-under here is relative to ability. Jim is an under-performing loser, while still being very good at his job, because he doesn't put in his best effort.

Kevin is an average loser because even though he's not that good at his job, he's giving a good-faith effort to what he does.

Dwight is over-performing because he's always attempting to go above and beyond, even when it is inconvenient to him.


Whoa, you just convinced me Stanley is a loser. I was totally wrong because I forgot Stanley’s job title. You’re right. No one reports to him. He’s a loser.

I was right and you were wrong. Learned something new today. Thank you!


> I completely disagree that Stanley is a loser, to me he is a quintessential clueless. He’s working in the office, not the warehouse: he’s in middle management, so IMO he’s clueless by definition because he is part of the padding between the masters/sociopaths/bosses and the slaves/worker bees/losers.

Stanley isn't middle management, he's an aging sales guy who is too old to justify switching jobs; he's close to retirement, and the "run out the clock" quote in the article is spot on about it being his whole life at this point -- he's killing time until he retires.

He's a loser because he doesn't have the willingness or ability to be a ruthless sociopath -- why bother, he's out in 2 years or less -- and has no illusions about how the company feels about its employees.


He is clueless because he provides the buffer between the masters/sociopaths/bosses and the slaves/worker bees/losers in the warehouse.

He is clueless because he doesn’t have the willingness or ability to be a ruthless sociopath , but he still doesn’t want to be a loser in the warehouse with Darryl.

Stanley is a low-status clueless, not a high-status loser. (IMO).

These are interesting perspectives all around and I welcome further friendly debate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts guys. :)


No, that's entirely what a "checked out" Loser person would say. The step before upper management until you add enough egoism and sociopathy in. ;)

Clueless, these are the people who believe in so called company values, think they can change things or try to achieve something. Relatively rare nowadays in most places, but these do happen. Both of the middle managers were this.

Losers are people who indeed care more about social aspects than getting things done. While the top sees this as a distraction it really is, but does not care about the day to day operations, just power.



The 3 layer hierarchy which seems to be a cornerstone for that piece's thesis is just a restatement of the structure of The Party from Orwell's 1984, applied to companies rather than all of society.

It is an interesting way to look at organizations though.


What you described here is essentially 'survivorship bias'. Also,just because someone married away into a cosy suburb with 2 kids and a nice hubby,it doesn't mean they aren't lonely. There are millions of people out there who would kill for a chance to have someone outside that "perfect" life just to talk openly with... All those "desperate housewives" don't get created without reason.


Again, I think this is more a problem with upper middle class suburbs. I grew up in the DC suburbs, where nobody knew each other because nobody was from there. They had moved there for careers; often it was a government position and they’d move back to Michigan or wherever after the political appointee they worked for left office. That was distinctly different from my wife’s experience. (Most of her extended family lives within a couple of hours of the homestead her family had when they came over in the wagon trains, and her parents went to the same high school.)


Suburbs and 2 kids are both isolating. Especially when kids are small.


It depends on where you coming from.

I agree that for someone that had a very active social life before having kids and moving to the suburbs would likely see a drop in that activity when suddenly having to take care of small kids in a suburban situation.

However, for someone that before having kids they already don't have any friends/family close by (imagine a fresh middle-aged, childless, immigrant couple moving in an area where there are very few other people from their own country), having kids would force a lot more opportunities to interact with other people (doctors, caretakers, teachers, other parents, etc) and ultimately speed up integration. Sure, none of those relationships may become a deep friendship connection but it's a lot better than having no human interaction.


Kids don't have to be isolating. You just have to adjust your life to do things that are if not kid-friendly, kid-accepting.

Also have to get over the fear that people will judge you for taking your kids with you out into the world.


It's not a perfect life (there isn't one), and there's no argument from me about there being different strokes for different folks. At the end of the day, however, even Einstein had to poop out of his own butt.

What I said should be taken with a grain of salt. I did what I did for more than a decade, savoring both the good and the bad.


> The more I read about it, I’m convinced “loneliness” is an upper middle class problem.

Which makes it all the more suitable for a discussion on HN, wouldn't you say?


I'm definitely lower middle class, I make 34k a year...


Not sure how accurate this [1] is, but 34k USD puts you in the top ~0.88% richest people on the planet. If that's true, you are not "lower" anything...

[1] http://www.globalrichlist.com/


Everything is relative in the context, so your global stats aren't especially helpful. 34k USD a year can lend you either an extremely comfy king-like life in Thailand or poverty level existence in San Francisco. Saying to someone from the latter situation that they are in ~0.88% richest people on the planet is neither helpful nor relevant.


That "comfy existence" in Thailand is also relative, you get to live in a house with air conditioning and indoor plumbing, just like in the west. Wages are lower so you can hire people to do things for you but an iPhone costs the same.

People seem to actually believe that 5 thousand a year gives you a middle class lifestyle in the third world. The cost of eating only rice and beans and living in a tin shack with dirt floors is pretty much the same everywhere.


I am not saying $5k, I am saying $35k. With that amount of money, you can certainly afford to live a super comfy life in Thailand not in a shack AND afford an iPhone.

I agree with your premise in general though, because given a similar lifestyle and similar percentage of savings (let's say 10%) from your salary you get in a high COL place vs. low COL place, high COL place would be more preferable, as that 10% will be higher in absolute dollar value, and a lot of goods are priced the same everywhere.


I haven't downed your post but wanted to reply to explain why I think it's not helpful to the discussion: You're moving the goalposts.

By your definition no American is a member of the global lower class, as defined purely on an income basis. That's a fine point to make if the discussion was about global poverty, but that's clearly not what this discussion is about. In effect, your comment amounts to whataboutism.


>The more I read about it, I’m convinced “loneliness” is an upper middle class problem.

Yeah, exactly. You trade a social life for financial stability accompanied by loneliness. I've had one or the other, but not yet been able to find a balance. It's, very, very hard to do except for the few among us who have a highly desired technical skills (check) and excellent marketing skills (uh, nope). Those folks can run successful freelance/consulting businesses, work reasonable hours, and still make good money.


That just sounds like an upper middle class way of brushing off a problem that can affect everyone. You can be alienated and isolated no matter if you live with your mom, in your home town, in your home state.


Make more money -> buy bigger house with more land = more physical separation from others.

Make more money -> spend more time at work -> buy more "things" -> attach happiness to those things = set up for discontentment.


Yes, the problem is that people are incapable of "making enough money"

- Enough for buying satisfied house and land AND a nice secondary room in the middle of city. So they support two main life styles. Need a peaceful time, go to house surrounding by nature. Need a party, city life, back in town.

- Enough money for commuting between places as you want

- Enough money for buying whatever objects. Get bored, go shopping

- Enough money for not worrying about it so you can do things that improve your contentment.

Well, this is not new, money solves maybe 90% of whatever problems you have right now.


Also usually the richer you get, the richer your social circle gets. I remember reading once that almost nobody on facebook has more friends than any of their friends (meaning, each user on facebook with n friends has at least one friend with >n friends). The same is almost certainly true for wealth, or income.

A mid-career software engineer at FAANG might have a greater income than every single person they grew up with. But they probably know middle managers making even more, as well as ex-colleagues who hit it big with a startup. Those middle managers know many people making more than them, all the way up the food chain. Those colleagues at the startups probably know people who had more equity, VCs, etc. with even more money. And this continues on and on.


but similarily as OP mentioned, the screen encompasses all classes. Even the lower classes around the world, while taking advantage of this connectivity to the rest of the world, will experience similar symptoms perhaps. I'm thinking of cab, rikshaw drivers in India who now all have phones which is great in improving their lives but may result in disconnectedness from their communities families maybe not as much as first world countries.


Doesn't that support the original comment? Given increasing income inequality, wage stagnation, and the "desirable" jobs being clustered amongst the upper-middle and upper classes, and your suggestion that the loneliness epidemic is concentrated to said groups, then it would seem to imply that it is increasingly a binary choice between career prospects and living near family/friends.


The world keeps constantly getting richer and richer, which means more and more of us move in to the upper middle class!


That doesn't make it a non-issue.


I agree with the idea its an upper middle class problem, but I’m not convinced it’s a problem per se.

Part of what I’m wondering is if people are agreeing they spend more time alone than in the past, social norms say that means we’re lonely, so they agree with the idea.

I grew up in the country with a lot of alone time. I loved it. I don’t consider myself a depressed person. I can imagine anything I want, write the story down, plan projects, do the deep work of being me.

Being more social just feels like a series of shallow experiences relative. Drinks, coffees, some emotionally exciting event... all fleeting to me.

My own head is forever.

I think we want to believe loneliness is bad because of social pressure to connect, get a job with people we don’t know but we need a job, etc

Personally, I find that all incredibly stifling and stressful for little personal gain (the aristocracy of course loves a population that’s normalized to a small set of behaviors but that’s a diff topic).

Upper middle class types seem to have engagement in social structures forced on them. It’s bizarre to me

Edit: this article and digging into the idea is what underlie my take here https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/05/17/peopl...

Racism and such aside, I feel there’s a lot for urban grind types to learn from rural life


Or: first world problems.


Seems people don't like this comment. Let me elaborate: In poorer countries, or in historically poorer countries, there is often a culture of group interaction: food sold in the streets, social events in the streets, greeting people and getting to know those around you. A lot of this is based on mutual struggle or mutual need towards each other.

This is quite stark in some poorer countries (e.g.: some African, South American or Asian countries). You don't see that much in the US, but you do see it in some European countries and the ones with more of this are the ones that I find have less inertial loneliness. Thus: "first world problems" occur when you need the person next to you less. Maybe this is the same phenomenon that makes a country like Iceland famous for helpfulness towards others?


>The median person lives just 18 miles away from their mom.

Oh God, I wish I did. She's not even 18ft away until she dies, and she'll probably outlive me.


Why are you trying to counterargue a growing recognition of widespread loneliness by citing figures about people moving? Do you think loneliness doesn't happen if people live close to mom, or that people who never leave their home town or their home state aren't lonely?

I'd expect those to be the loneliest of people. At least people who travel often learn how to meet and make new friends and rarely find themselves stuck in social isolation.


I would suspect that, on average people who live near extended family and childhood friends will be less lonely than people who don’t have families and move around a lot.

My mom grew up in a family of 11 siblings in Bangladesh, most of whom lived with their families in the same city when I was a kid. It’s hard to express rich and full life was back there.


This may be a cultural difference, or it may just be a difference of personal experiences, but I wouldn't make the leap to inferring much of any correlation between loneliness and living near extended family or childhood friends.

For one, as the article pointed out, there are differences between social interaction and loneliness. For another, there are many broken families out there today, especially with the rise of opioid and other brutal addictions.

Anecdotally, I've seen hispanic families tend to be closer-knit, while a lot of other families tend to have some pretty serious problems. As one data point, my parents now live only a few miles away from me but I see them only very occasionally. Likewise, former close-knit groups of friends who all never left their home town -- and in at least one case, ended up buying homes only a couple blocks away from each other -- ended up squabbling and fighting and stopped talking to each other at all.

So whereas your experiences have led you to suppose that being close to childhood friends and family makes someone less lonely, my own -- and those of the various other nomads I've gotten to know over the years -- lead me to suppose that getting away from childhood friends and family helps to stave off the loneliness.


All of this is 100% correct. In particular: the amount of choices that have become "career killers" and therefore unacceptable is terrifying.

Choose a degree that appeals to you, where you will learn what you like, instead of one which acts as a stepping stone for a higher paying job? Even in countries with sane tuition prices (read: not the US) plenty of people will blame you, and that decision in particular, for any financial problem for all your life.

Become pregnant, and/or plan to work fewer hours for some time to take care of your kids or any older relative? How brave of you. Here's your prize in the form of reduced pay for the next 10 years or so.

Decline that managing position because you like your current job better and you know you won't enjoy being a manager? Cue the disapproval stares from people close to you.

Stay in your job for 15 years because you like the people, the work itself or some particular perk? When you finally leave, your next job will pay less than if you had hopped around each 2 years. That's if someone wants to hire you.

Sure, every decision counts and very often there is a tradeoff between trying to find happiness and trying to find a job that sustains you. However, lately the tension between those two is so high that any small decision towards living the life you want to live may very well end in financial misery for the rest of your life. This is not hyperbole; I know people who fucked up mildly once, fifteen years ago, and are still paying the price. And I'm one of the lucky ones... I haven't fallen through the cracks. Yet.


> Stay in your job for 15 years because you like the people, the work itself or some particular perk? When you finally leave, your next job will pay less than if you had hopped around each 2 years. That's if someone wants to hire you.

This is so true, and the weirdest thing in the world to me. Especially in tech, you get really heavily punished for staying at a job more than a few years. To the point where, in interviews, you are asked why you stayed so long. Why would you penalize someone who might make a long-term commitment to your company? You're basically flushing all the training and institutional knowledge they hold down the drain.

I've been at my current job 13 years (although I have advanced through multiple titles in that time). I may be slightly underpaid, though last time I looked a few years ago it was about average for the area. I've considered leaving occasionally, but I like the people I work with and the work most days is interesting and engaging.

Moreover, I'm content. Maybe I could get more money if I job-hopped or moved to a place like the Bay Area. But why? I'm comfortable now, all my needs are met, I have plenty of disposable income, and my family is happy. We never want for anything.

We have this weird aversion to people being content. There's a lot to be said for stability.


> > Stay in your job for 15 years because you like the people, the work itself or some particular perk? When you finally leave, your next job will pay less than if you had hopped around each 2 years. That's if someone wants to hire you.

> This is so true, and the weirdest thing in the world to me. Especially in tech, you get really heavily punished for staying at a job more than a few years. To the point where, in interviews, you are asked why you stayed so long. Why would you penalize someone who might make a long-term commitment to your company? You're basically flushing all the training and institutional knowledge they hold down the drain.

In Germany, the mentality is different. If you switch jobs after few years, you have to give very good reasons - for exactly the outlined reasons.


> We have this weird aversion to people being content.

As an immigrant I feel this is quite an American thing - there's always talk of your _career_, your _pursuits_, your _goals_, interesting things you did over the weekend...


I’m American and I consider much of this attitude to be deranged and frankly a form of mental illness. Unfortunately pretty much everyone has it (including me at times) so I don’t talk about this opinion that much.


Maybe the ability to be content is not that common and people who just cannot do it are secretly envious of and angry at those who can? For example, I've never been content in any job (barring some honeymoon periods or particularly interesting short episodes). It's pretty much always a grind to get that paycheck at the end of the month. At this point, I don't think I could be content with any job. It's possible that I've chosen a wrong career and have broken myself over years of working in it - hard to tell.


Seems to be more a problem of expectations than anything else, people are too focused on being successful than being happy, on having it all.

I would gleefully take a pay cut to have a 35h work week _if my wage still allows me to eat out once 3x a week_, but I will work 40h + commute and feel always exhausted until I get there. See how easy is to fall on that trap.


why not make it a habit to talk to a stranger on the commuting train?


In many parts of the US this is so out of the norm that people would be freaked out by you trying to talk to them (SF, NYC for sure but even in Chicago which is supposed to have that Midwestern friendliness... it'd be weird and often unwelcome)


This is not the case. Y’all just don’t know how to small talk.


Because that can be a terrifying prospect for some.


A lot of people take whatever jobs they can get, and their pay barely covers their housing/food/childcare/medical expenses.

The caricature you are offering only really works for overpaid tech workers.

sylk 10 months ago [flagged]

Ah yeah, I'm definitely overpaid because I don't go home and choose to work instead of spending time with my friends or skip weekends out to work more contracts.

Yeah, that's right I'm over paid. Eat a bag of biscuits you assuming flesh bag.

I'm giving up parts of my life to make money, and you expect me to want less than what I'm making?


Can you please not post in the flamewar style to HN, regardless of how provocative another comment is? We're trying for something better than internet default here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I think I am sympathetic to your point-of-view, but I'm not sure, because it seems (to me) that you are maybe conflating a couple of different costs.

Let's start at the numerator - you appear to be calculating life "happiness" (according to some internal metric) vs ... cost. You appear to be calculating costs as being:

  - Not making more money because the degree did not lend it to making more money

  - Social approbation for not making more money 

  - Missed revenue (income) because time spent with family/childcare

  - Social approbation for not taking the higher-ranked (and labeled as such) gig

  - Missed economic opportunity (income) for work-social reasons or work-enjoyment reasons
Is that right? I'm not sure what social approbation (or that of your SO) means to you, but this seems (generally) to be a pretty clear trade-off of doing what you want vs. making more money by doing what society is willing to pay you for?

I mean - I'm a fan of doing what you like - but surely you don't expect society to pay you to watch Jerry Springer and smoke week all day at home munching down on pizza, right? How is this different?

Am I missing something?


The society does not pay you. The company does, and many bigger corporations have a ton of impossible b.s. projects that are essentially a waste if time for anyone who is not a boss counting the number of employees.


I just found something very indicative of the current times: in Ask A Manager (a blog about work where the owner answers questions from her readers) someone is afraid that not working during the evenings or the weekends is going to hurt their job prospects. The article has been published today.

https://www.askamanager.org/2019/07/can-you-advance-professi...


> However, lately the tension between those two is so high that any small decision towards living the life you want to live may very well end in financial misery for the rest of your life.

This is definitely an uncomfortable truth that isn't talked about very often, and the information age seems to exacerbate it.


>Choose a degree that appeals to you, where you will learn what you like, instead of one which acts as a stepping stone for a higher paying job?

>Become pregnant, and/or plan to work fewer hours for some time to take care of your kids or any older relative?

>Stay in your job for 15 years because you like the people, the work itself or some particular perk?

>However, lately the tension between those two is so high that any small decision towards living the life you want to live may very well end in financial misery for the rest of your life.

Are you expecting society to reward you for making ultimately selfish choices aimed at maximizing only your own personal happiness?


I'm expecting the penalty not to be so disproportionate as to persist 15+ years after the choice. Also, most of these "choices" are not so selfish.

In the case of the degree choices, I know plenty of people who have jobs with a much higher social utility than mine, yet make much less and suffer long periods of unemployment (I'm thinking about, for example, people whose job is to educate people from marginalized communities).

In the case of taking care of other people, I just can't fathom how would you find selfisness in stepping out of a job in order to take care of other people.

And about staying a lot of time in a job, it can definitely make you incredibly productive, and in all cases I know in tech it forces people to have a "big picture" idea of some problem domain which is damn useful when trying to move to a company working within the same domain; it's very different from hopping companies and having to learn a slightly different tech stack and/or company structure each time. Sadly, this doesn't translate at all into a better salary, because as an industry we seem to have collectively decided that staying too long in a job is anathema.


>I'm expecting the penalty not to be so disproportionate as to persist 15+ years after the choice

The penalty persists because the years spent pursuing goals other than those that confer useful skills and experience cannot be regained. Are you suggesting that we reward all people equally, regardless of whether they are able to demonstrate the same degree of utility?

>In the case of taking care of other people, I just can't fathom how would you find selfisness in stepping out of a job in order to take care of other people.

Selfish from the perspective that taking care of a sick loved one does not necessarily provide a benefit to society at large. More importantly, that time spent not working or learning is effectively a pause in ones growth as a professional - what is the alternative, making hiring and salary decisions by age rather than experience?

>I know plenty of people who have jobs with a much higher social utility than mine, yet make much less and suffer long periods of unemployment

This is a bit of a conflation. I am arguing over choices which do not benefit society, in which case it is reasonable that one's career value is lower. This particular problem is one of misplaced valuation in our society, as there are tangible benefits to the degrees your acquaintances pursued.


Selfish? All of those things make society better. Business is the party with selfish demands.

Yes, society should absolutely tell business that it isn't as important as it thinks.


>All of those things make society better

There is no intrinsic benefit to society at large in pursuing a degree - only those degrees which enable one to contribute in some form, and even then the benefit only occurs if one uses the knowledge obtained to conduct useful work.

>Yes, society should absolutely tell business that it isn't as important as it thinks.

Businesses have the goal of generating some sort of value. Yes, that means that employees must make certain sacrifices with their time and future plans - that's why they get paid. But this conflict between the goals of a business and the goals of an employee exist regardless of whether we organize into business-employee relationships or not, because fundamentally any significant, communal goal requires these same sacrifices to be achieved. We won't have any engineers or doctors or programmers if everyone majors in English Literature out of a fundamentally selfish desire to learn something with significantly less benefit to society.

The same goes for the other listed pursuits. I'm not saying that one should dedicate themselves to their work - but the detriment to one's career that comes with pursuing these, again, selfish goals (from the perspective of society) is generally just, because it isn't fair to force others to allocate their resources to activities which do not benefit them.


Businesses have the goal of generating money for their owners. That's what capitalism is. Capital puts up money to start a business expecting a return on that money. Businesses are formed when the expected (in the probability sense) return on the business is considered a good deal.

There are some theories that this magically coincides with creating value in an ideal model, but no period in history has actually worked that way. There are many proposed explanations for why it doesn't, but I'm not much interested in why. All I care about is that those models don't describe reality.

So businesses are all about generating income for their owners. But society is about all people in it, not just those who control the capital. It is necessarily true that there will be cases where the best thing for society is not the best thing for businesses.

Business has pushed the public narrative too far towards blind support of "business is a good thing." Your post even seems to just assume that as a given. You claim that a goal is "selfish (from the perspective of society)" when the only thing you can criticize about it is that it isn't maximizing business value.

Business isn't everything. Sure, a society needs a functioning economy in order to survive. But that's a far cry from assuming "good for business" is the same as "good for society".

The latter is certainly more nebulous, though, and I can understand why you might wish they were the same thing. It would allow you to optimize society with simple quantitative measures instead of complex qualitative discussions about which sets of opposing goals have the better overall outcome. But the real world doesn't cooperate with such things. There are always going to be conflicts over goals, priorities, and even values. Resist the temptation to believe in an easy answer. Reality isn't easy.


Taking care of old or sick relative is not selfish. Staying in the same job is not selfish. No more selfish then changing job because some perk.


Quitting a job to take care of a sick loved one does not benefit the people you worked with toward a common goal, nor society at large.

>No more selfish then changing job because some perk.

The point here is that GP was complaining that there were no career benefits to making such a decision - why should there be, exactly? Such a career move benefits oneself and ones family. No one else.


> The point here is that GP was complaining that there were no career benefits to making such a decision - why should there be, exactly? Such a career move benefits oneself and ones family. No one else.

Same as leaving the job and changing. Benefits no one but you.

When all possible actions are framed as selfish, that whole argument is nonsense.


> why should there be, exactly? Such a career move benefits oneself and ones family. No one else.

Because it proves they are decent people I guess?


>The Screen, whether it’s TV, computer, or phone, has supplanted almost all social interactions.

I think social (cooperative) gaming might be an exception to this. I'm not about to argue that it's _better_ than real-life social interaction, but hanging out and communicating with the same individuals every evening while working on shared goals as your avatars inhabit the screen can combat loneliness for many individuals without (and with!) alternatives[0].

These interactions can even lead to real-life communities and relationships. So again, not a perfect substitute, but certainly not as much a detractor as sitcoms or (I would argue) social media.

[0] https://www.bbc.com/news/disability-47064773


A bunch of my college/highschool friends will still hop on the ps4 a couple nights each week.

I live 100 kms away from most of them, however we can still catch up and have fun playing games.

Its definitely not the same as real life interactions, but it allows me to interact with people that I normally wouldn't see without visiting them.


I moved to a city where I'm pretty much alone so I could go to college. My favorite time of the day is when I play Counter-Strike with my old buddies at night. Not so much because of the game but just because I get to voice chat and have a good laugh for a while.


> The Job has completely taken over as a driving force in evaluating choices. The average person has to consider all options in the light of both the current employer and the specter of tomorrow’s.

How is this different than what the majority of civilization had to do throughout history? People have always clung to their profession as their identity. Hell, people used to name themselves after their profession.

If that is the problem, then push for fewer hours worked per week.


Back in the days when people named themselves after their job, there was no difference between career and personal life. You didn’t work 8-5 and then completely disconnect, you worked whenever the job needed done as many hours as it took.

Loneliness only sets in when you have nothing else to do and you’re all alone. If you’re swinging a hammer at a hot forge for 16 hours a day loneliness is a secondary concern.


Back when people had up to 6 months of time off a year?[1]

[1] https://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_...


If modern people had half the year they could consider free time, no one would be lonely.


Retirees and the unemployed report high levels of loneliness.


Well yeah, all their friends and family are working.


When people named themselves after their job, it was often because the whole family did the job, and it was inherited.

This is the opposite of loneliness.


It also isn't particularly good for personal freedom, or social mobility.

Recently society has been pushing for these two things, at the expense of personal connections. That means many successful people are working jobs that are out of the experience of their parents. They also do not necessarily share a lot of experiences of their formative years with the people they work with. All of this comes from personal freedom, but at the expense of being close to the people you spend your time with. I suppose you could also put it that its at the expense of spending time with the people you are close to.


Maybe there's a spectrum here. A family trade is both highly social and highly stable, even if it is confining in terms of personal freedom and social mobility.

Maybe, our current obsession as a society with personal freedom and social mobility is an extreme which is itself the cause of all the loneliness. It's an extreme which reduces the stability and cohesion of our society, because in promoting the freedom of the individual above all else, you've harmed the social connections which make a society work.

Maybe there's a happy medium, but I think we might have passed it by over a century back.


It's also interesting that nowadays when people lose their jobs, it triggers an almost existential crisis in them. It's kind of sad to watch.

I wish people could understand that they are more than their job. It's so ingrained in us though. One of the first things people asks each other is, "What do you do?" It encourages a definition of self that is centered on one's job.

If it weren't real life, I'd think I was watching a dystopian film at most social gatherings. :(


I'm pretty certain that existential crisis isn't because of who they'd be without their job, except in status obsessed high-income brackets.

For most folks that existential crisis is driven 100% by the realization that they have little in the way of a safety-net, and all it takes is several turns of bad luck to end up in a poverty trap that isn't easy to climb out of. Remember, most Americans make what, 65k or so as a household? And are in massive debt to all of the things they needed to even be able to make that money (college education, car, house, etc).


> For most folks that existential crisis is driven 100% by the realization that they have little in the way of a safety-net, and all it takes is several turns of bad luck to end up in a poverty trap that isn't easy to climb out of.

I think that's more US specific.


High debt loads are a lot more common than most people think. Even those who live in expensive neighborhoods can be one or two missed paychecks away from foreclosure or eviction. Defining yourself as more than your job is a lot easier when you could go six months without it. Not to get too high on my soapbox, but the other side of the fact that low interest rates encourage economic growth is that high debt loads make people desperate to work.


Modern culture has stripped life of intrinsic meaning. The values promoted by the culture are that we are hedonic production/consumption machines, and that our value comes from either what we are able to produce, or what we are able to consume.


Bingo, this hits the nail on the head. We live in a capitalist, market oriented society and we've allowed marketers to run the show by letting them define and influence our sense of self. The eventual outcome of this has been a self-image entirely based on the specific goods and services we consume.

It took a lot of introspection for me to realize that my core essence and sense of self couldn't really be distilled down to much more than what I did for a living and my consumption patterns. It's quite scary and I've been searching for ways to balance myself out and get more meaning out of life.


Cheap and readily available credit makes people dependent on their jobs. Its totally normal to think of affordability on a monthly payment basis. That means we have people who have very little savings after all their monthly payments. When you lose your job you can't make all those monthly payments anymore its a crisis.


I feel you brotha.

he said via a social network


"it triggers an almost existential crisis in them. It's kind of sad to watch."

Said the person (probably) working in an industry that's blooming, without a hint of irony.


> The Screen and the Job have displaced

The screen and the Job have no volition of their own. It's humans themselves that choose to spend more time with them instead of interacting with nearby humans. And this is happening despite the fact that we 're no longer in the industrial age, and people don't need to live near the factory where they work. The Job provides people with enough money to frequently escape from nearby people (travel, or "experiences"), money to move in upscale tiny apartments where they can be alone in a crowd, or to move in comfy suburbs where they can be alone physically. It seems highly-paid people choose those, and it is lower class people that keep socializing with their neighbours.

I presume many of those people do not idolize their relationships with other humans as the most precious thing in the world. They weigh them against the freedoms afforded by money and technology and act accordingly.


As a software engineer who comes from the lower class (the West side ghetto of Chicago, in fact), let me tell you right now that lower class people socializing with their neighbors doesn't mean those interactions are at all inclusive of different approaches to life. Yeah, you get more socializing and connections, but those interactions tend to be constrained by forces like homophobia, racism, etc. Just because they're socializing doesn't mean they are also re-enforcing a world where everyone can feel accepted. It strikes me as naive to think the working class are this miasma of authentic relations, they socialize better because the set of considered opinions is virtually uncontested.


1. nobody said the do or that they should "be inclusive"

2. miasma is a negative word (means repulsive)

I agree however, it is actually one of the reasons that more well-off people tend to socialize less: other people are not always "wonderful"


A known phenomenon is that being homeless can work wonders for one's social skills.

Being poorly presented and inarticulate is a form of privilege - it's traditionally associated with academia, but with the rise of the "computer nerd" stereotype, it has increasingly slipped into other venues. What comes to mind is Tfue, the world's top Fortnite player, whose Twitch streams largely consist of him grunting "uuggggghn" and complaining about "stream snipers" with coarse language. He gets millions of viewers.


1 - Of course not, but its a requisite to strong social bonds isn't it? The point is that that the discussion around fulfilling bonds is fairly underspecified to the point that it isn't practically useful from my perspective.

2 - Apologies, I was misusing the word


> Of course not, but its a requisite to strong social bonds isn't it?

A requisite, it isn't. But, for people living in cosmopolitan cities, or people who have an open mind about the world, of course it is.


I think many people value being disentangled from other peoples' problems. They move to the suburbs so that they don't have to have roommates or people in the next door apartment - so that they have some space. Then they find out that they have no community - they're isolated and lonely. As you say, we're doing it to ourselves.


> The Job has completely taken over as a driving force in evaluating choices.

Not to mention most of our time. People nowadays spend far more time at work than ever.


> People nowadays spend far more time at work than ever.

A few generations ago kids worked at 10, there were no weekly limit, no weekends, no vacations, no security, no form of compensation if you get injured/die while working, no pension, no sick leave &c.

In first world countries we never worked so little for so much comfort.

> By the act of 1892 one day in the week, not necessarily Sunday, had to be given for entire absence from work, in addition to eight recognized annual holidays

> Children may not be employed in industrial work before 12 years, and then only 8 hours a day at work

> The first attempt to secure legislation regulating factory employment related to the hours of labour, which were very long - from twelve to thirteen hours a day.

> Boys of 13 may be employed in certain work underground, but under 16 may not be employed more than 8 hours in the 24 from bank to bank. A law of 1905 provided for miners a 9 hours' day and in 1907 an 8 hours' day from the foot of the entrance gallery back to the same point.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_labour_law


I don't think it's particularly helpful to compare the present day to the late 19th century. The fact that things used to be worse does not excuse the fact that things also used to be better; living standards for the average American have regressed in many ways since the 1970s, which should be a cause of urgent concern.


>living standards for the average American have regressed in many ways since the 1970s,

With women's entry into the workforce plus the 1964 Hart-Cellar Act's lifting of immigration quotas the workforce more than doubled in the 70s. At that rate how was work compensation ever supposed to keep up? I'm not saying the trade-off wasn't worth it, but you can't 2-3x the labor pool and then pretend we don't know why wages decreased while competition for scare resources increased.


This is an extremely simplistic reading of a complex real-world issue. There multiple other factors that almost definitely dominated the changes you cite. Including population growth, other massive changes in the regulatory, political, economic, and technical environment... Point being, mentioning one shift in the labor supply is really not a useful frame for "the state of labor in the US."


If we ignore the flaws of capitalism for a second, we could have shortened the work week.

Knowing a reason for wages to drop is not the same as it being acceptable.


lm28469 was responding to the previous poster's specific claim that we now work longer hours "than ever".


You think that today in 2019, we spend more time at "work" than at any other time in history? That's just false.

Over the 20th century here, work hours have slashed in half. Henry Ford introduced the 5 day work week in 1926, prior to that it was 6.

You think the average farmer in the late 1800's worked 40-50 hours? What about the average coal miner, or factory worker?


Physically you are right. Mentally, maybe not. If you are in an information based job like writing or programming, then it’s very easy to carry your job around in your head. I may only program for a few hours a day, but the problems definitely come home with me. It takes a considerable amount of self awareness to both realize this and stop it.


This is definitely true. "Open-world" jobs are par for the course in the Western world, where deciding what you have to do is part of the job, along with predicting, strategizing, and reflecting. It is a lot more cognitively engaging and also heavy. Farming and mining certainly have aspects of this, but a majority of the work was drone work -- exactly the type of work to go first in automatization. What's left is necessarily cognitively difficult work.


You're not thinking on a long enough timescale. Hunter gatherers only worked 10 hours a week :)


They only hunter/gathered for that long.

How much time was spent in meetings, how much time preparing food, fixing clothes, patrolling territory, scouting things out, making home improvements etc.

If the modern person only worked for food, then I think a few hours a week would suffice.


ah yes, meetings, that famous bane of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle


I wonder if they have a scrum master, who tells everyone what to do, but no one has ever seen him hunting.


Halve the working time of today by 50% and we would reach levels that could be called "not insane".


The situation in the late 19th century was a historical aberration and workers neither since nor previously worked that many hours. Note also that in that period, Western society was full of day laborers, hobos and other chronically underemployed people. That is how capitalists could force workers into working insane hours at low pay. Because if they didn't want to do it, then there were thousands of others that were willing to. And importantly, most women were not employed which they are now. Given these factors it is not certain that the average person worked harder in the 19th century than the average person does today. The average factory worker certainly did, but that is different.

I don't get what is with these snarky replies all over Hacker News these days. His point was that people work a lot. Quarreling over whether some people some time during history has worked even more is missing it.


Even 'unemployed' women worked really hard back then. Without electricity, all the washing, managing the home heater, cooking, cleaning tasks have to be done on muscle power alone.

Doing a load of laundry on a hand washer and scrubbing board takes forever and is pretty brutal. So is getting up super early to put coal in the furnace (and then keeping it going all day every day). Running a stove you have to load with wood means starting really early. Churning butter by hand. Possibly grinding flour by hand. Making everyone's clothes by hand - when the sewing machine came out it made Singer incredibly rich because it saved so many women so many hours sewing their family's clothes by hand.

Nearest extant comparison would probably be Amish women.


Yes, that is why I wrote that women of that time were "not employed" not "not working". Household chores can be considered work, but that brings into question what is work and what is leisure? Raising kids is certainly a lot of work but it is also entirely optional so why isn't it leisure? arvinism however wrote "more time at work than ever" which can't mean anything other than hours in employment.


There's no snark in that comment.


And less of our time at work is spent actually working.


This might sound good in theory, but time spent at work not working can be soul destroying.


The average farmer definitely worked less than 40 hours. During harvest season it was more than that no doubt but overall the time spent on work was less and more diverse. It was only with industrialization and capitalism that work took over such an enormous amount of our time. At the beginning of the 20th century, people fought back hard to get the amenities like 40h week and sick leave that make work bearable today. It certainly wasn't Henry Ford who introduced the 5 day work week. It was the workers who protested for it while people like Henry Ford sent strike breakers and police with machine guns to mow them down.


> People nowadays spend far more time at work than ever.

Average hours worked has gone down steadily over the last two centuries:

> 1830 69.1 hours per week

> 1880 60.7

> 1929 50.6

> 1988 42.4

> As the twentieth century ended there was nothing resembling a shorter hours “movement.” The length of the workweek continues to fall for most groups — but at a glacial pace. Some Americans complain about a lack of free time but the vast majority seem content with an average workweek of roughly forty hours — channeling almost all of their growing wages into higher incomes rather than increased leisure time.

https://eh.net/encyclopedia/hours-of-work-in-u-s-history/


> People nowadays spend far more time at work than ever.

Do you have anything supporting this claim? The facts say otherwise: https://ourworldindata.org/working-hours

It's easy and fun to be pessimistic, but to claim that people today work more than ever is ludicrous.


Than ever? Surely Americans in the industrial revolution worked longer.


I find it pretty concerning whenever I see someone's github page with tons of green squares on the bottom and top row. Why do people work so much on the weekends?


Don't we spend less time at work than ever? Makes more sense to me that loneliness would be caused by too much free time rather than not enough.


People nowadays know less about history than ever.


TV when it was a single screen in house could still serve as social gathering time.

As a kid, having my own TV meant countless hours of video games and my own movies too. I enjoyed it more than I abused it.

Are smarphone/tablet TVs worse or the same ?

One difference, the kind of entertainment you had on TV wasn't that much thinking or discussing. It has different effects I suppose. Also TV had a different ethos (if I may).

One last thing, about my first point. Having a single TV meant disagreements about who decides what to watch. This led to having more TVs.. and now more screens too. Technology is the mirror of our own social bonds.. we need it but we also need to deal with the issues. It gives a weird form of peace of mind not to have to deal with others.


>As a kid, having my own TV meant countless hours of video games and my own movies too. I enjoyed it more than I abused it.

For me int he early 90s was "Hey Aaron/Jimmy/Dani it's raining outside so we can't go ride bikes, wanna play a game?" and then either taking turns or playing a two player game and talking the entire time. Then early 95 when more than one or two of us had computers in the homes it was similar, if it was nice out we were outside, if not we were on IRC and/or a MUD and moving into the later 90s bla-dinging each other on AIM while in a MUD or in Ultima or Everquest with each other if it was too late to go out or bad weather.

Now it's 3 people sitting in a room with a tv going, and all three have their phones out, occasionally sending each other memes and not talking.


I agree that it's weirder nowadays. But maybe we just enjoyed cultural inertia because we were born just before 24/7 multi screen entertainment became the norm. I too find that it just takes too much space in our daily lives. Back in the days tech was one part of our life, and it was small scope entertainment, now it's the centralized hub for everything and it sucks your mind.

Playing evil's advocate a bit just to poke my own bias.


I am the type to rejoice in cynicism. But, I have to say that I don't see the screen phenomenon as necessarily a bad thing—time spent in contemplation is time spent alone. I am a person too that likes to spend time outdoors, so maybe what I am saying is that there is a fine line between lonely and alone.

You can only be anti-social in the presence of other people. Otherwise you are simply alone.


At least in SF it feels like there is a grey area between work and friend relationships. I don't necessarily think relationships that start at work can't be meaningful, though there's certainly a much greater chance a work relationship is transactional even if you fool yourself into thinking they could be a friend.


Whether the relationship is transactional (or tainted by money or some such) doesn't bother me as much as the fact that my putting time and effort into friendships in the workplace gives someone who already has a lot of power over me even more power over me: namely, my getting fired would suddenly make it very difficult for me to continue most of those friendships.


I don't think that can explain everything. As far as I understand, cultures where family is highly valued (Latin America, some parts Asia) say they are happier despite being relatively less well off than richer countries.




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