It’s Wednesday, 11 May 2022 and I am slowly getting back to work now that our kids are significantly less ill.
In exciting news, I managed to hit the threshold of “fine, it’s good enough, just flip the switch” and updated the work website. Which was stressful. But now it’s done, so I can keep tweaking it until the heat death of the universe.
Caught my attention because: Flowing Data is in my RSS reader (yes, I’m like that), and it’s been a while since something Tuft-y like this has caught my eye. Also appreciated the Flowing Data commentary on redesigning nutritional facts for the key looks nice “wouldn’t work with a mass market” point.
There is a no-good, terrible, horrible new mosquito in California and now the Delta Mosquito and Vector Control District is going to test using genetically modified mosquitos to deal with Aedes aegypti.
Caught my attention because: you get your genetically modified mosquitos from Oxitec where you can buy a bunch of Friendly™️ (I shit you not, they’re not yet registered marks, but they’re on their way) Aedes aegypti and those genetically engineered male mosquitos make sure any baby female mosquitos die out. Just imagine me reaching out for Jeff Goldblum / Ian Malcolm gif. Anyway, if you were worried about this (or excited, I guess), they’ve already been released in the Florida Keys (and Brazil, and the Cayman Islands). So, you know, fun. A bit of the future breaking out. I’m sure it’ll all be fine.
I saw a thing on Symmetry Magazine about a pilot program designed to teach computational thinking, which excitingly to me isn’t about Learning to Code, and not quite the tired analogy of How Would You Write The Recipe For This, but also quite deliberate.
I suppose on the one hand there’s the New Label For What Might Be The Old Thing, which is fine: thinking like a computer, or thinking by validating and breaking into steps is totally cool and all, and thinking in a way that uses the material/infrastructure of computing (the hardware, the sensors, the pseudocode, the “what’s the plan for this”) is part of the practical aspect, right? What I like about the approach is that it’s not its own separate thing (I guess like how English is English, and not simply a part of every other subject), like the way Learning to Code would be its own separate thing, but “integrated into disciplines teachers are already teaching”. In other words, “how do you use computers to solve problems you have”.
… which is a nice collision in my head with this MIT Tech Review piece by Tanya Basu, “Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t.“
Which, you know, even by just reading the headline and knowing the current editorial direction of the Tech Review, I can already imagine includes “for fuck’s sake, how many assumptions are encoded into these chore management apps” and “how many stereotypes are implicitly enforced” as well as the usual standard of “the unwavering belief that a social problem can be solved or made to disappear purely through a technical, software intervention.”
What ends up happening is that in that wonderful saying, Now You Have Two Problems:
First, you’ve got the chore management problem in the first place, which is “there’s shit to do and I need you to do it”, which the chore app is supposed to help with. But guess what, when you add the chore app, you also add “well, now you (i.e. the stereotypical woman who’s the practical head of the household and burdened with all the administrative labour) not only get to manage the chore, but you also get to manage the digital infrastructure that’s supposed to manage the chore”.
It’s a really great piece, and let me give an example of how it might help, but at the same time, not really. There’s a good reference about a couple where chore balance has gone from 90/10 to 60/40, which is good! That’s progress! And then there’s the part about how
much of the labor women do is not physical, but mental and emotional. The burden still falls mostly on women to anticipate the needs of those around them and make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the family, says Allison Daminger, a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard. These tasks might include researching the best deal for a couch or remembering that it’s time to schedule a child’s visit to the dentist. It’s time-consuming work, even if it’s mostly hidden from others.
It’s not chore management, then. It’s administration, it’s decision-making, it’s trade-off making, it’s research, it’s all of that stuff and lest you think that I’m good at that, well, I am not. Most people don’t like making decisions, and if you’ve somehow engineered or found yourself in a position where you don’t “have” to make a decision because someone else is taking up the slack, and because they “care more” about it being made, or because they will have to deal with the consequences of that decision (and remember, as my wife likes to remind me, not making a decision is making a decision).
Chore management apps then, in the worst case, show a really narrow understanding of what it takes for a couple, or household, or family to function because it’s not just “did you clean the toilet” or “who is going to put the dishes away” or “I need you to take the laundry downstairs”.
So at the same time it’s not really weird to end up using some tools that people are familiar with at work. I mean, if the kanban on the wall in your dining room helps remind everyone that you need to make a decision to achieve something, that’s… okay? OKRs for your family (sorry) aren’t really a bad idea if they’re a structure to actually have a conversation about what it is a family objective is, and how you’d know if you achieved it. Sticking stuff into a to-do list that includes “decide what school to go to” and then making time for those decisions is… I mean, if you know you need that for work, then why wouldn’t you do that at home?
(It is left as an exercise for the reader to imagine what my home experience is like and to compare that to their home experience).
On the one hand I really don’t like the smushing of work and not-work together, but on the other it’s super easy for me to draw analogies and ask questions and, to be fair, for my wife to say after I’ve unloaded after a long day “Huh. Interesting.” and offer a pointed look.
See? Technology and being a person. That’s part of what this newsletter is about.
How are you?