Bullshit Jobs is an important book to me. It struck a chord with me when observing my work environment in marketing at the largest news organisation in Singapore.
As a fresh graduate, I used to stare and wonder what everybody else did. So many jobs existed because the printing press did not have the smarts to automate a process, because of some obscure administrative or legal quirk, because some board member wanted innovation or because heads just wanted to build their divisions into empires. Bullshit Jobs put that all into perspective and made sense to me.
More importantly, the book revealed a frustration in me towards corporate feudalism, growth for growth sake and working for meaning. And offered me some solace in its explanation and several difficult ways for society to forward.
The main premise of the book is that we should be working less. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that we would achieve 15-hour work weeks. But in reality, we are working more than ever. The book serves as a critique of the cultural and political circumstances that have given rise to the modern work situation and how that gave rise to the bullshit job.
Here’s an excerpt on how the modern work situation:
Instead, it is because we have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—“a life,” and that, in turn, means that furtive consumer pleasures are the only ones we have time to afford. Sitting around in cafés all day arguing about politics or gossiping about our friends’ complex polyamorous love affairs takes time (all day, in fact); in contrast pumping iron or attending a yoga class at the local gym, ordering out for Deliveroo, watching an episode of Game of Thrones, or shopping for hand creams or consumer electronics can all be placed in the kind of self-contained predictable time-slots one is likely to have left over between spates of work, or else while recovering from it. All these are examples of what I like to call “compensatory consumerism.” They are the sorts of things you can do to make up for the fact that you don’t have a life, or not very much of one.