This culture is one of eliciting short-term excitement for untested ideas, luring investors with the blueprints for theoretical businesses whose primary value is potentiality. Once an idea has been concretized into an actual company with employees and obligations, its growth potential withers away. "By the time a company goes public, there's no money to be made, in my eyes," investor Jude Gomila told Heller. One profits by existing outside of the system one plans to tweak, tighten, and exploit. Once one has a role as a humble worker within the system, one becomes what Cato described as a wage renter, someone taking more out of the system in wages than they put back in through productive efficiency. In this economy, the most valuable job is the architect of ideas—or bullshit artist in Graeber's phrasing—someone able to bring seemingly pointless widgets to life out of a belief in the virtues of the marketplace those widgets plug into.
In this economy, the most valuable job is the architect of ideas—or bullshit artist in Graeber's phrasing—someone able to bring seemingly pointless widgets to life out of a belief in the virtues of the marketplace those widgets plug into.
John Maynard Keynes' prediction that gains in productivity from technology would eventually reduce the work week to 15 hours wasn't wrong, but it didn't account for the bizarre expansion of the definition of work to reclaim all of the leisure time won from those gains—the pleasure of drawing becomes the stress of design and advertising; the joys of socializing become the toil of social media specialists and brand evangelists.
There is a hidden politics in all of this, which doesn't reward all forms of bullshit peddling, but only that which embraces the values of one class of people, those prone to romanticizing abstract systems like MySQL instead of concrete systems like a combustion motor or belt sander.
Productivity today is whatever is necessary to keep people like Hwin suspended in their digital imaginariums, chasing ideas that are meaningful so long as they don't actually exist. Like landowners in Tsarist Russia, we are all bullshit artists now, swept up in a generational effort to maintain the impression of value and purpose in undertakings that increasingly seem to have none.
Michael Thomsen is Complex's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.