Monthly Archives: December 2009

whaddya mean there’s no more rainbow jimmies

12/8/09

The half & half from yesterday’s entry got me thinking about how unbelievably fucking stupid some companies behave when business gets slightly rocky. When you’re a kid, parents set boundaries (or mete out punishment, if you prefer) so you learn valuable lessons about life… but it seems like this dynamic keeps happening, over and over, long after you’ve grown up.

Landlords believe all renters are careless and insane, and ignore their complaints as revenge; renters believe all landlords are rapacious assholes who don’t listen, and subtly devalue the house as revenge. Cops who pull you over believe you’re trying to get away with something, and prolong the suffering as a means of humiliation; people who are pulled over silently loathe being dithered by a jack-booted thug, and say so (just as soon as the cop’s gone).

The most insane in loco parentis, however, is at the workplace. Managers, VPs and upper-level staff are usually too invested in the game for self-reflection, and have to believe that any business failure occurs at the pencil-pushing (or code-writing) level. So when the company starts to lose money, they do the lamest thing imaginable: they get rid of the half & half, and start eyeing the 2% milk.

What they fail to understand is this: most workers will put up with an ungodly amount of shit, as long as they are offered one or two creature comforts with their salary. They don’t need neck massages or shrimp cocktails, but a decent coffee creamer goes a long way to engender good will, and costs the company virtually nothing.

Instead, the company revokes the tiniest of perks in order to “send a message”, to imprint the seriousness of the situation on the lower strata, and get some noses to the grindstone. It’s a stunning miscalculation every time – at the very moment you need to incentivize your workforce, you take petty and punitive shots at the few things that make them actually give a shit.

No company was ever saved because they stopped serving good coffee. That kind of trees-for-the-forest bullshit makes me furious. I mean, come on – you might as well go down with the heavy cream flowing, for fuck’s sake.

pringles_a.jpg

my creature comfort at Internet Job: Cheddar Pringles. And what was/is your tiny solace at the workplace?

programmed by fellows with compassion and vision

12/7/09

Not that you should turn to the Financial Times for your up-to-the-millisecond Internet News or anything, but I just read an article over there that said MySpace has gone from 66% of the social networking market to 30%… in one year. That, my friends, defines an epic collapse, the kind of brand disintegration that used to be reserved for exploding gas engines and medications laced with arsenic.

With all the hand-wringing and “what went wrong?” meetings that no doubt took place all year, it seems nobody had the brussel sprouts to state the obvious: MySpace was the most cacophonous, illogically-ugly, slow-loading, assaultive site on the internet. Every time you opened a page, it was like walking into the hormone-addled cerebrum of a 13-year-old on a tussin binge. I’m actually stunned it stayed relevant as long as it did.

Facebook makes their mistakes every once in a while (god, the email program is a disaster), but it gives both the creator and user the illusion of order – a little like getting the fries at any McDonald’s. The white background establishes a sense of grounding solace, and the blue pane up top is straight out of an aerogramme via Royal Mail. You will never be kicked in the crotch by a Black-Eyed Peas song on autoplay, nor will seventy YouTube videos try to load simultaneously.

But the real reason for the smackdown isn’t just aesthetics, I think it’s emotional. Put simply, when you were on MySpace, it felt like “your MySpace page”, but when you do Facebook, it feels more like “you”. I imagine the intrusive weight-loss and penis-lengthening ads on MySpace had something to do with it, but moreover, Facebook just feels more controlled. Even as the internet provides every insane fetish you can dream up, most users would like their social network stirred, not shaken.

The saddest quote in the piece was from one of the guys who helped run MySpace back in the heady days of 2005: “It was unbridled enthusiasm. We were all arm-in-arm to change the world.” This is exactly how it felt in both of my Big Time Internet Jobs – that desire to stay up all night to tweak the site, the glee at the page hits, the belief that you were the first spaceship to enter the outer quadrants of the undiscovered country.

And like clockwork, the unabashed delight you receive at the company’s inception is directly proportional to the cruelty and humiliation you will suffer when the whole thing starts to fall apart. Any business capable of such grandiose highs – the foosball tables, the scooters, the blue-sky synergy meetings – is capable of turning on you like a toddler with unlimited power.

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I’ve told a few people about a conclusion I’ve drawn, something I call the Half & Half Theory. It basically states that internet and technology companies all start with VC money designed to bring the best and brightest into the fold – and this money will buy lunches, snacks, and the best coffee in town. The fridge will be stocked with every kind of dairy product for your coffee: half & half, whole milk, 2% milk, and skim.

As the business plan begins to sour, and the “monetization benchmarks” start looking too exuberant, the recriminations begin. One by one, the perks disappear, the half & half is gone from the fridge, foosball table handles fall off, and the scooters are locked away. Then the whole milk vanishes, then the skim, and pretty soon there’s nothing for your coffee at all, and before you know it, you and your team are fired, then led outside by security, where you will surrender your key card.

But it all starts with the half & half. When that disappears, it is time to revamp your resumé and make a couple of phone calls. I can promise you, right now, the creamers are disappearing from the offices of MySpace.

mutual mastication

12/6/09

I just wanted to say thank you to everybody who wrote in the comments section of the last entry – they were humbling, heartbreaking, hopeful, and were the subject of many emails and conversations over the weekend. It has put our own present tribulations in stark relief, and made me feel better in particular about something we’re going through.

I’d have more to write, but instead of the usual strep-throated viral Cipro-inducing infection bullshit that usually accompanies the holidays, I’ve been afflicted with the worst pain I’ve endured since kidney stones… and I don’t even know how to describe what it is. Essentially, one whole side of my face is inflamed, and explodes with unrelenting, unmanageable pain every time I chew something.

I know I’ve been grinding my teeth at night, and I was chewing gum the day before this came on, but it feels like my jaw muscle has been punctured with a hot poker, and at this stage I can barely talk. I’m amazed at the pain, truly, the depth and breadth of it, and how it can linger at full strength for so mercilessly long. I didn’t even know this kind of facial pain was possible.

I’m on four self-administered Advils to write this blog and got an emergency dentist to see me here in the woods tomorrow, so hopefully, they can tell me what the hell happened. It’s not in my saliva gland, so it’s not mumps, but… okay, I’m bored now.

superlatives of wisdom

12/2/09

As part of This Decade Sucked™ Week on the blog, today’s CODE WORD question is two parts:

1) What was the worst part of the last ten years to you personally?

2) How about the best thing?