Deep Work: Chapter 2

A few quick thoughts on this chapter.

First, I generally appreciate his message. I think he’s generally correct that we are essentially being harmed and conditioned by the trappings of technology (what he calls a technopoly). This causes us to be less able to concentrate, more fractured, and what’s more we often feel as if this is somehow good or laudable. And that there is potentially great good that can be done by eliminating or greatly limiting our distractions.

But, that said, I had a few quibbles in this chapter.

First, I’m pretty sure he misuses the word “fungible.” I’m assuming he meant, “ambiguous” given the context, but that doesn’t sound as cool as fungible. I understood what he was meant after reading it a few times, but in context, it made no sense and was confusing.

Second, his example of Marissa Mayer getting cheesed off about the lack of use of her company’s VPN by remote employees was not remotely (haha) convincing. I don’t buy for a minute that most of the employees were primarily using the VPN for email usage. That’s stupid. Unless there’s more explanation given than was, it seems like it could have been a relatively accurate assessment by her. It really depends on how Yahoo implemented their WFH policies. What was actually allowed? Did you need a VPN to actually work? At my employer, you basically do need to use the VPN to do anything work-related from home, at least within the rules. I can totally imagine circumstance where this would not be the case, but I’d be surprised if this isn’t fairly normal.

Finally, I think one of my biggest complaints is that he basically ignores that a major reason employers try to figure out things like “productivity” is that man is basically evil. I’m a Calvinist, so “Total Depravity” is part of my lexicon, even if I think it’s kind of misunderstood based on that term (see here for more). Regardless, the point stands: man is not basically good. In his unregenerate state, man is basically evil. The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV). Or Genesis 6:5 (NKJV): Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. I don’t think this has changed since the flood. So, one of the jobs of supervisors and managers, unfortunately, is to recognize this and account for it.

Thus, I don’t buy that the reason people want open offices, daily standups, and some sort of tangible results is invalid. I don’t think Melissa Mayer was wrong to be skeptical of remote workers. I think it’s generally reasonable. But I do grant that sometimes because of this we end up allowing the cart to get before the horse, in part because we don’t want to recognize that depravity is part of man’s nature. And we also forget that man is amazingly good at learning to game the system.

Anyway, despite the above, I really did enjoy this chapter and the book (so far). It seems like one of those books that is likely to end up sticking with me.

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