The New Yorker Has Officially Killed Irony

"Another bad thing about remote work," I'm sure someone will say

For over a year now, millions of people have been working from home as their first interpretation of remote work.

Back in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a pandemic (and while we were still referring to it as “the novel coronavirus”), I said that coronavirus would be a terrible thing for remote work.

Since that time, we’ve seen major swings in public opinion on “remote work” (which I put in parentheses since it’s actually pandemic lockdown work that’s being debated, not remote work).

People love it. People hate it. It’s innovative. It stifles creativity. Managers hate it. Managers love it. It’s unprecedented. It’s very precedented. 

I didn’t hyperlink any of those comments, but I could see headlines flashing through my mind as I wrote the words. Could you? 

WELL, now we’ve gone one step further and straight up killed irony.

Cal Newport, a Georgetown university professor respectable New Yorker contributor who has written interesting takes like Email is Making us Miserable and Slack is the Right Tool for the Wrong Way of Work, recently published what I only hope is satire. 

His latest piece? What if remote work didn’t mean working from home

The subtitle is equally stoic: “We need to separate our jobs and where we live.”

Newport draws parallels between authors who rent hotel rooms to focus (famously Maya Angelou and JK Rowling did just this) and remote work. 

On this subject, he says: 

“Professional authors are, in some sense, the original work-from-home knowledge workers. As we approach a post-pandemic world in which telecommuting will be more common, we might observe with concern how far these writers are willing to go to escape having to work in their actual homes.”

He then goes into an intellectual repartee about how working from home is rife with distractions and that our best intellectual work needs its own home to thrive - that we can’t and shouldn’t mix our home lives and work lives.

With all due respect to Professor Newport: are you kidding me? 

This is not new information. Why is it being presented as such? 

Even his conclusion - a policy prescription, of sorts - is not novel:

“Here’s my proposal: organizations that allow remote work should not only encourage these employees to find professional spaces near (but distinct from) their homes—they should also directly subsidize these cognitive escapes.”

This is the entire basis of WeWork’s business model. All remote companies have been encouraging their employees to find local coworking spaces to work from for years (and the company pays the membership fee). People in this space know that working from home 100% of the time is not the best. Why didn’t Professor Newport talk to …. anyone who actually works remotely?

The New Yorker is a globally read, cultural critic magazine and not an academic journal, so I forgive them for recycling well-worn concepts in a niche community then bringing them to the forefront. I even fully understand that it’s a very New Yorker vibe to have a professor write this kind of article instead of a living, breathing remote worker who thinks deeply on the subject. 

What bugs me is that it seems at no point in the intense New Yorker editing process did anyone stop to ask: wait, is this new information? Is this new insight? Are we adding anything to the conversation? The last question in particular should have been asked… the New Yorker is a conversation piece magazine.

Newport - a professor at Georgetown University - didn’t even cite academic studies. The only hyperlinks in the article were to his own piece on emails, a cultural commentary in the New Yorker on Zoom fatigue, another New Yorker article on telecommuting post-COVID, and two links about the novel Jaws. 

A summer reprieve

I’m tempted to yell all of the usual Twitter rant things: “Do better!” “This is trash!” “I could write a whole article about how bad this article is!” (Whoops on that last one). 

But mostly I’m a bit tired. Or a lot tired, really. I’ve found a lot of my articles lately are rehashing old commentary I - or other smart folks - have already said, trying to battle a barrage of self-interested and un-self-aware business leaders who use buzzwords incorrectly to serve their own agenda. And I need a break.

And with that, I wanted to let you wonderful readers know that I’m taking a summer hiatus from the newsletter.

What does that mean, precisely? Well, it means I likely won’t be publishing weekly. You probably already noticed I didn’t publish last week, which was due to a lot of incoming work and an inability to think critically about something to write. I felt silence was better than incoherence. 

So my promise to you is to write when I have something to say, but otherwise to observe the world of remote work more consciously - not just responding to the news - so that when I say something, it might actually be worth listening to. 

Thanks for reading! 

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