Week notes: 29 April – 5 May 2024

Jevons paradox, Bugle intro, blog voice.

The pic is a USB-C cable I bought off Amazon, not knowing it had this daft name! Life’s digital conveniences are amazing but the name of this thing also struck me as mightily ironic, given our enslavement to these bloody charging cables, enshittification and the broken promise that automation will lighten our workloads.  

I’d literally just been reading Tim Paul’s great post on that topic when the package plopped on my doormat. Tim likened automation to the Jevons paradox (later spotting another fab article on the same).

“In economics, the Jevons paradox occurs when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the falling cost of use induces increases in demand enough that resource use is increased, rather than reduced.” Wikipedia

In other words automation increases demand for the very thing you’ve streamlined. For “resource” in knowledge work read people, valued less but working harder. For “increased demand” read raised expectations.

I’d had a similar conversation with my uncle Tony at the family do in Portsmouth last weekend. He spent his career in the gas industry and witnessed how tech progress – resulting in ever more efficient output – never really benefited staff wellbeing, just created more demand, more growth and more work. Jevons was in coal.

We’d only been speaking for a minute! Think it went: “how’s work?” /  “good thanks, lots to do, most orgs have underinvested in this stuff for years plus it keeps expanding with things like AI” / “twas ever thus with technological progress…” 

I compared the coming proliferation of AI-powered pseudo-productivity to how the advent of email multiplied workloads and birthed the phrase “information overload”. A high volume, always-on digital life. 

I obvs passionately believe digital and tech improves quality of life or I wouldn’t be doing what I do. But that passion is about better services and collective capability not narrative fallacies about free time. Meeting spiralling expectations may not also create a saving. And making efficiency your main purpose can be harmful – the subject of Tim Paul’s follow-up post, which is also brilliant. 

Work, work, work

By circumstance I did a rare 3 days in the office with lots of in-person interaction, and really enjoyed it. I think I’ll try to go in more. 

The dominant work things were cybersecurity (progressing many streams and drafting a second update for the Board) and recruitment (final interviews for my new coordinator, with an exciting outcome 🤞).

Plus three energising highlights: a design chat with Anna, dropping in on the digital dept’s away day (they’re incredible individually and stunning together) and a chat with a curator in the BFI archive about his vision for digital journeys through our collections.

We had our all-staff (Donut Time) and I wrote the introduction for the weekly all-staff email (Bugle), and people said kind things about that which was a nice finish to the week. 

Not all work, work, work

A third breakfast coffee with Russell, this time in his stomping ground. We talked about the blogger voice (this one I am using now) and how it kind of mimics talking normally but with more craft. You’d never speak like this IRL but it’s the way I’d like to be, if I could think and make connections when I talk as clearly as I can when I write. (I can’t!)

We also chatted mags. For a time Russell deliberately bought one a week, taking a tour of interest groups he’s unfamiliar with. This is the idea behind Stack. Good innit? 

Plus Interesting 2024 – tickets still available! I’m looking forward to it.

Three anniversaries: 

  • 11 years since we shut down the 24 ministerial department websites, a high point for team culture and productivity I’ve been trying to recreate ever since.
  • BFI IMAX turned 25. We’ll be screening 25 of the the venue’s top-selling ever films this summer. Meanwhile I’ve booked for Furiosa as my next IMAX trip. 
  • Turned out it was National Bubble Tea Day on Tuesday. I partook. 

I also voted, had a PT sesh, went to WeNo Feast, and entertained myself as follows: 

🔎 Found, interesting 🧐

(In additon to those two posts of Tim Paul’s):


Thanks for reading! Hope to see you again next week.

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