The Metrics of Backpacks

Victoria Gannon:

We do not do much work here. We start projects and tend to them, like low-yielding crops, and then, mercifully, let them die. A film of pseudoscience sticks to everything we touch. We don't just write messages to users; we calculate the correct word for a situation and deploy it. We are UX writers. We like having X in our job titles because it sounds technical. [...]

The men I work with are not the geniuses of Menlo Park, the ones who retreated to garages and emerged with hardware that changed the world. They're ensemble actors in an industry that favors singular greatness. They have not made fortunes or founded startups but have benefited from their proximity and physical resemblance to those who have. [...]

"If I give someone data and they don't incorporate it into their process, I'm automatically going to think they are stupid," the young man sitting one table over says to another young man at a beer garden in Hayes Valley. Another group discusses the anatomy of backpacks: the circumference of cup sleeves, the width of straps. [...]

One day after a meeting, Monica says to me in a whisper, "We're going to hire you permanently." I am three months into a four-month contract that was initially described to me as a six-month one, and the only healthcare plan that my staffing agency offers is called, simply, Benefits in a Card. It is a flimsy card, library- not credit-card thick, as though one of many punched out of a sheet. Its website brags to employers that it offers the least amount of coverage legally allowed. [...]

Dustin wants me to know that it was his decision to not hire me. "I have to feel really good about a person before I bring them on, and I don't feel that way about you," he says. "Tough day, huh?" he asks. I first cry in the bathroom on the floor of the Pony Express and later when I return to my desk. I try not to make a sound, but I am porous. My eyes and nose run, and my cheeks turn hot and red. My mouth takes small gulps of air like I am thirsty.

When I return the next morning, Dustin has sent me an email telling me that my crying the previous afternoon was disruptive, threatening the well-being of the group. He expects emotional stability in his employees, and my contract is dependent on my display of this quality. I have fallen into dangerous territory, asserting a pheromone profile that is not in the code. I fail to recognize myself though I visit the bathroom mirror hourly for inspection.

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3 Responses:

  1. NT says:

    What dismays me about technology is this: not the machine itself but the way its architecture echoes outward, imposing a grid of quantification on everything it touches. The sadness of numbers interferes with our thoughts, begs us to apply logic to warm, messy things.

    See also Modernism.

  2. Kevin Schultz says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Live on campus at UC Santa Cruz and can confirm sightings last weekend of students enjoying themselves in forts built from fallen bits of redwood trees.

    • NT says:

      The anecdote about brushing leaves over the condom instead of cleaning it up was key to the garden of eden description, don't you think? Very clear-eyed to include that.
      I agree, great piece.

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