Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Lives of the iPhone Workers

I think it’s easy for us, as privileged Americans, to believe that our gadgets appear from God. iPhone broken? Well, I needed to upgrade to a G4 anyway. Plop down the credit card; like magic, the new technology appears.

Joel Johnson provides a more sobering view of where our technology comes from. In Shenzhen, China, more than 420,000 (nearly half a million!) workers manufacture the parts that power our iPhones, laptops, and a whole slew of gadgets. One of the more particularly sobering facts is the knowledge that 11 suicides took place at the factory earlier this year. Nets surrounding the dormitory buildings have curbed the suicides.

The facilities seem run-down but clean. Conditions for the workers in the factory aren’t visible–I guess we’ll have to wait for Johnson’s article in Wired later this month.

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Filed under: china, consumerism, technology, work, , , , , , , ,

What Motivates You?

Dan Pink explains it all for you. Think money’s the best motivator? That the bigger the reward, the better the performance?

Autonomy, mastery, sense of purpose: research shows that these oftentimes undervalued notions are greater incentivizers than simple cash. From studies on some smart kids at M.I.T. to the purpose-filled mission of the founder of Skype, the ability to work under one’s own direction–or the joy in accomplishing a task (no matter if it’s brain surgery or fixing a drain)–or the sense that our work results in more than a simple monetary equivalent: Pink notes that autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose are far more powerful tools of motivation than either the carrot or the stick.

One of my favorite bits in Pink’s talk is the anecdote about software developers who are given free reign over their project, their collaborators, their time management–as long as they can present the fruit of their labor within 24 hours.

This lively animated video, courtesy of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, is only one of their fantastic archive (I love the British organization’s tagline: “21st century enlightenment”). Great ideas presented in a lively, eye-catching form.

Filed under: business, labor, pop culture, science, work, , , , , , , , , ,

Is College Worth It?

I am a proponent of higher education.

In general, and removed from modern connections to financial success, the idea of higher education is one that pleases me to no end. I’m thinking about higher education–for an intellectually curious student, not just someone who attends college as another rung in the life ladder–as something that feeds the soul, introduces great thinkers, teaches us to question and reason for ourselves. Rebecca Mead meditates on the utilitarian value of higher ed in this week’s Talk of the Town. Separating college from money, she writes:

Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

I could not agree more whole-heartedly. The merits of higher education can be seen, if I look at my own place in life: Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? And if I had chosen a state school in the Midwest as opposed to the private, liberal education I ended up choosing on the East Coast? Would I have encountered and met the same diverse community? I think of certain friends whose taste in music, whose real engagement with good books, whose desire for travel all helped nurture my own passions. I think of my partner and his intellectual passions and deliberations, and how his powerful life of the mind impacts (directly, through our conversations, and indirectly through his actions) my own.

How has higher education influenced me? Above: Horsing around with friends my first year of college in 1990; Below: Addressing students at the university where I teach, earlier this spring.

Mead writes in response to recent talk that college just ain’t worth it. “Don’t go to college,” argue many, like economist Richard K. Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Mead cites Vedder’s line of thought, including “eight out of the ten job categories that will add the most employees during the next decade–including home-health aide, customer-service representative, and store clerk–can be performed without a college degree.” The conclusion? The number of college degrees awarded statistically does not match what the economy needs for workers.

But this line of thought seems to ignore Mead’s, and my own, thinking that a college education can not be measured merely by post-collegiate salaries alone. And I’m not going to the other extreme, of the Steve Jobs and Ellen DeGeneres, famous folks who never received their diplomas. I’m trying to assess how college, as a total experience, both the in-class and out-of-class, makes us more whole. I think about how lucky I was to have spent six years as a student of higher education, and how this has led me to my current position within the academy. In a series of small, perhaps serendipitous, moments my college years provided the incubation period for me between adolescence (and adolescent thought) and adulthood. I think of the mess I would have been going straight from high school into the working world.

Filed under: economy, education, work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kafka Was a Secretary

And Faulkner was the head of his local post office.

Adjusted for inflation, the salaries for Kafka and Faulkner were $40,000 and $18,000, respectively. Puts the importance of writers having a day job in perspective.

I like this nifty little chart from Lapham’s Quarterly for several reasons. First, it’s got a tongue-in-cheek tone, not taking itself too seriously (“Occupational Hazards” for the man who captured existentialism in the form of a cockroach?: “Tedious memoranda, bureaucracy”). I’m also impressed with the variety of writers captured: canonical writers like Trollope and Fielding; Charlotte Bronte’s salary and responsibilities as a glorified nanny; and, of course, Kafka in his modernist profession.

Another reason I like this chart is its premise: Very few writers earn their living merely off writing. A good number of us in 2010 teach writing, some writers I know earn their paychecks in publishing or arts administration, and the wise ones, in my opinion, earn their living outside academia or the arts altogether. For years, a good friend of mine earned his living in Brooklyn as a carpenter–and a fine one at that. I’ve half-heartedly joked with friends that I planned to become a baker, relishing the solitude and actual product of this work. Show up for a hard day’s work (unrelated to writing) and then arrive home with a clear head (unmuddled or exhausted by writing shop-talk).

It’s eye-opening for some of my aspiring writers to adjust their mindsets and envision that that writer’s life–even after attaining a level of success like publishing novels–does not adequately pay the bills.

Kafka was a secretary. Bronte was a nanny. And Faulkner was a postmaster (supposedly a poor one–drinking and lazing–at that). Who’s to say that writing and fortune belong in the same breath?

Filed under: work, writing, , , , , , , ,

Employment Equality Sit-ins in SF and NY

What’s that cliche about the squeaky wheel? And the other cliche about “When it rains…”?

In addition to Dan Choi’s act of civil disobedience, GetEqual activists staged sit-ins at Speaker Pelosi’s offices in San Francisco and New York in support of ENDA. Seems like today was a flurry of GLBTQ activist activity.

Good for these defiant, vocal minorities, and the voice they’re providing for GLBTQ equality through the Employment Non-discrimination Act. ENDA itself has been stalled in the legislative process and deserves to be brought to a vote. Full equality and non-discrimination for all GLBTQ citizens must be guaranteed by law.

Filed under: gay rights, work, , , , , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

https://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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