Tag Archives: communication

Do You Have a BS Job?

21 Jun

If someone has a gig that only requires 15 hours of work a week, is it really necessary? What are the consequences of hiring them? Does your feeling of self worth decline if you know your job is meaningless?

My favorite radio hosts were talking about the danger of the “laptop class” losing their $200K jobs and how that will deepen our current recession. What do I mean by “laptop class?” These are the people objecting to / refusing to go back to the office after working from home for the past two years. People whose jobs allow them to do their work from anywhere. What many have found is that many of those people can get their job done in 15 hours a week, which leaves 25 hours to do… whatever they want. And it’s a lot easier to fake working when you’re not in the office.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my office–there is two people on this floor–thirty-five cubicles, all but five assigned to current employees. This tells you two things: 1) my workplace suffers from this very problem and 2) I’m part of the problem. After all, I’m writing a blog post when I should be working, but I’m one of those folks who can get their job done in 15 hours a week… some weeks more, some less, but it does make me realize I have a BS job.

Of course, I’ve realized this for some time. In fact, I’ve sought a 15 hour work week for some time. The term 15 hour work week comes from John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in 1930 that automation would lead to people working less…. but we’re working more than ever. Why? Because of what David Graeber calls “BS Jobs.” He contends that half of all societal jobs are pointless…. and you know they’re pointless, but you have to pretend as if they aren’t.

He breaks these down into five types:

Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters, makers of websites whose sites neglect ease of use and speed for looks;

Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, e.g., lobbyistscorporate lawyerstelemarketerspublic relations specialists, community managers;

Duct Tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing bloated code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;

Box Tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officersquality service managers;

Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle managementleadership professionals.


My current job falls under the taskmasters–or technically, I work for the taskmasters–and the fact that frequently my ability to complete a task is stalled by my boss. At first, I just thought that was because I work in government… but now I’m wondering if it’s the nature of my subject. The question is… why do I even have a job? Shouldn’t someone question why we’re paying for this? No, says Graeber, because in any bureaucracy, number of employees equal power. If HR admits they don’t need ten people, they get less of a budget next year, which means they don’t have as much power in the company.

So as I joke with my friends, I make sure that the head of my department doesn’t know my name. This is not really a joke. Because if the department head knows my name, they might ask, “What does Marcus do?” And if they find the answer is “Not much,” he might ask, “Then why are we paying him?” So I hide in my fortress of solitude on the 3rd floor; the department head is on the 7th and no one knows the other is here.

If I Can Read It, Why Is She Signing?

29 Mar

Here’s a question you probably haven’t asked yourself: If the speech is closed-captioned, why is there a sign language interpreter standing there? It’s not just a work program, the interpreter is actually signing something different than what the speaker and the closed captioning is saying.

The interpreter is taking English and translating it into American Sign Language (ASL). “Wait, Marcus, isn’t that the same thing?” No, it’s not; ASL is actually a different language, with different syntax than standard American English. The individual signs are directly translated into English words, but you put them together differently. As the Linguistics Society will tell you:

To change an English declarative sentence to a question, one changes the word order, sometimes adding a form of the verb “do”… In ASL, a declarative and the corresponding yes-no question consist of the same signs in the same order. The difference between a statement and a question is indicated on the face: when a yes-no question is signed, the eyebrows are raised. In an ASL conversation… Grammatical information, such as the difference between statements and questions, is conveyed on the face. Signers get all the information conveyed by the hands through their peripheral vision.

So as an example, if the speaker is saying, “What did she buy yesterday?” The interpreter can sign, “She buy yesterday what?” This seems unusual, but not if you understand deaf culture. Kids learn English by hearing it. So what if you can’t hear? You have to learn each individual word, sign by sign, and it takes longer. Deaf students take longer to learn because they had a two or three year delay in learning the language. In deaf schools, you learn Sign Exact English (SEE), which takes every word and spells it out as it is said. The students are taught to talk in SEE as well as sign it, but once you leave the classroom, when deaf kids are talking to each other, they used shorthand. They didn’t use every exact word and ASL was born.

In 1982, I was one of the first kids in the US to have closed captioning on my TV. We bought a special TV at Sears that had a little turn knob that you could switch to pick up the captioning. My mom was deaf; she lost her hearing when she was nine due to German measles (Rubella). So she learned English and could speak it perfectly, without slur in a Midwestern accent. Since she did not go to deaf school, she had to learn to read lips. Which meant you couldn’t figure out she was deaf… until you turned your head.

So if the deaf learn English, why not depend on the captioning? After all, they use text messaging all the time! Remember that deaf kids have a two-to-three year deficit on learning English. That means in the fifth grade, they’re reading at the third-grade level, and new concepts take longer. So if they complete high school, they might still be reading at the middle school level. I still have my mom’s “Holy Bible for the Hearing Impaired,” mostly because she wrote in it as she read it, but it’s interesting because they translated the Bible into simplified English so that Deaf Christians could understand it better.

So that’s the reason! The interpreters are actually translating the words into another language. Of course, I didn’t become familiar with deaf culture until I was 12, and after my mom died, haven’t really kept with it. So it’s entirely possible I’m missing something. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! My writing isn’t that complicated, but it’s not 8th grade level, but why don’t pick up one of my books and find out! But if you have difficulty with long books, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

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