Technology, anxiety, bullshit jobs and meaning

Bullshit jobs. An image of a white, clinical, open-plan, office space

Meaning and work

Take this section (whole book) with a pinch of salt and form your own conclusions! Feel free to skip this section if you’re not in the mood for some looser ramblings!

When writing the above section, doing my own fair share of procrastinating and soul-searching, I was compelled to go further into the nature of work and draw some links in a very loose fashion!

Burkeman describes numerous cases of ‘successful’ people feeling like they can never keep up with the endless stream of things to do, the feeling that there is not enough time in the day. They simply cannot relax! This inability to stop and unwind, despite knowing that it’s in our best interest, feels very much like an addiction. Perhaps it constitutes a general, societal-level addiction and compulsion to achieve and to experience, to extract as much as possible from life, #YOLO. Could this be, in part, what is driving the epidemic of burnout?

If we are compelled to move forwards (wherever that may be), at a pace that is damaging to us, and, on some level, we are aware of this, what does this say about free will? Although we feel like the principal actor in our lives, our actions betray this intuition. This feeling of agency, even if it only ever remains a feeling, may be crucial in guiding meaningful pursuits and action in life.

What happens when we pull ourselves away from this tide of activity and compulsion to move forwards, to regain some ‘free will’? People report a sense of emptiness, a great existential vacuum opening, a realisation of the futility and meaninglessness of actions. This essential confrontation is bracing, anxiety-inducing and likely to lead to further habits of compulsion and distraction, whether through digital tech usage or by any other means. Perhaps this confrontation is necessary if we can harness the energy it produces towards more meaningful ends.

Bullshit Jobs

All this links very nicely with David Graeber’s work on Bullshit Jobs and the giant crisis of meaning sitting at the centre of contemporary society. According to surveys he conducted, around a third of the working population feel their job is utterly meaningless and would not be missed if it disappeared overnight. COVID and the ‘essential workers’ realisation provided a glimmer of the wakeup call necessary to stop and reflect. But can we blame people caught up in a system of box-ticking, duck-taping and task-mastering for craving distraction from the predicament of how they spend most of their waking hours?!

“There’s a Meaning Crisis at the root of our mental health crisis. It’s expressed as an increasing sense of bullshit. There’s a sense of drowning in this old ocean of bullshit.”

John Vervaeke – Awakening from the Meaning Crises

“It’s no wonder the soul cries out. It is a direct assault on everything that makes us human.

David Graeber – Bullshit jobs

How might we slow down our experience of time? How might we refuse to participate in instrumentalised modes of existence? How might we be more pirate, more rascal and Bukowskiesque?

We hope some of the tools in this book can help here, and I would throw in one more, which is perhaps a timely remedy for the above section and its skirting of cynicism: embracing the absurd. Find humour and distance in reflecting on all of this, rather than being drawn into cynicism and withdrawal. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Look out for curious souls en route, and don’t take things too seriously.

If you want to see how seriously we’ve taken this and how much we’ve reduced the bullshit, Matt and Neal are publishing their full internet browsing history for the past few months – click here.


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