Forced Togetherness Fridays: Beyond Zucktown

Facebook has been in the news quite a lot of late.  None of it for good reasons.  But buried amidst the articles on data privacy and the Cambridge Analytica scandal I found the story “Welcome to Zucktown. Where Everything Is Just Zucky.” in The New York Times. Basically, it discusses Facebook’s plans for a new community adjacent to its Menlo Park campus, with housing, shops, and such.

CA Highway 109As seen in the above screenshot from our Highway☆ app, Facebook’s campus is at the remote northern edge of Menlo Park, straddling the Bayfront Expressway (California Highway 84).  Even by the standards of sprawling Silicon Valley campuses, this one is isolated, with access primarily by car or company busses.  The proposed development, which is formally called “Willow Village” (Facebook dislikes the nickname “Zucktown”)  would be to its east, between CA 84, Willow Road (unsigned CA 114) and University Avenue (unsigned CA 109), and adjacent to the neighboring town of East Palo Alto. While ostensibly an open community with public access and some affordable housing units, it is clearly being designed for Facebook employees.  And although the benefits of living close to work – and cutting down on commutes – are abundant, there is a difference between living near work and living in work.  And that is why it touched a raw nerve with me.  One of my main critiques working the industry, besides the subtle but rampant sexism, is what I call forced togetherness.  In the culture of many tech companies, it isn’t enough to do good work every day or even work long hours.  There is tremendous pressure, implicit or explicit, to be socially present at all times, to treat the company as one’s community, one’s “life”.

Forced togetherness comes in much smaller ways than planned communities of coworkers.  At a previous job of mine in 2014 at a tiny startup, everyone ate lunch together almost every day.  Ostensibly, it was supposed to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but it quickly became clear that Tuesday and Thursday were expected as well.  One day early when I politely passed on lunch – and was looking forward to going out by myself for a little bit – the CEO seemed perplexed and kept trying to offer one option after another for ordering lunch in.  I had to finally just say “Look, I’m a big girl, I can feed myself!”  This was met with some quiet and awkward laughter.  It’s not that lunch was mandatory, but there was a social expectation, and implicit coercion, that eating together was the right thing to do.

I have come to look for red flags in this regard.  In my current job search, another very small company reached out to me with an interesting opportunity.  But they were located in Redwood City.  I have more than once stated I would sooner move back to New York than take another job on the peninsula – but I played along and politely explained that I prefer to work in San Francisco proper, but did they have flexible or remote work options.  I got the following reply.

We do not do remote. It hinders the culture of the company we are building and we love hanging out with each other.

There are many good reasons that some companies require employees to be on site.  But what this message told me was that the policy was based not on a business or practical necessity, but on a virtue, a belief that this is how people should be.  It says they are more interested in a culture based on “hanging out with each other” than on “getting things done.” It says that to succeed in that culture, one must be someone that they like to hang out with.  And this suggests how cultures of forced togetherness go beyond just wiping out the boundaries between work and the rest of one’s life, but also how the monoculture of Silicon Valley is perpetuated.  If one is looking for “people we love to hang out with”, one is probably going to hire people that share a similar set of backgrounds, styles, and personalities.  Hence, we find bands of mostly young men of white, Indian, and East Asian backgrounds who perpetuate college dorm life into their post-collegiate adulthood.

Of course, these are just simply two anecdotes, along with the concept writ large in Facebook’s Willow Village.  I hope to dive deeper in these phenomena in future articles for the “Forced Togetherness Fridays” series, along with some positive stories of how things can go right instead of wrong with only a few cultural changes.  And I welcome thoughts from others as I move forward, either sharing your own stories of forced togetherness in the workplace, or even counter-arguments in its favor.  Until then, I plan to enjoy some quiet time working hard, by myself with just my cat for company.

CatSynth pic: Arrakis, Poly 800 and other stuff

Arrakis and Poly 800

Submitted by Yann Antimoine via our Facebook page.

As a fan of the Dune series, I can say that we at CatSynth approve of Arrakis’ name :). Additionally, the Poly 800 II was among the first true synthesizer I encountered as a possible purchase (though I didn’t get it).

If you have a cat-and-gear picture to share, you can post it on our Facebook page, where you can also see additional cat posts and banter that don’t appear on the blog.

CatSynth 7th Anniversary!

Today we mark seven years since CatSynth first went online!

Here was the photo of Luna from that first post on July 19, 2006.

Luna_Keyboard_resized_c

 

As we do every yeah, we celebrate this occasion with some stats.

2,278 posts.
12,218 comments.
538,771 visitors.
760 “cat-and-synth” posts.

Some overall stats for the past year:

Our top day for visitors was January 26, 2013. This was during NAMM.
The greatest number of visitors came from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany.
The top cities are San Francisco and New York. The top city outside the U.S. is London.
iOS and Android are among the top five platforms used by our visitors, surpassing Linux.

Our top commenters over the past year:

Tillie and Georgia 187
meowmeowmans 142
Gattina 70
Snowcatcher 57
Kitty 56
CatSynth 53
Beth F 45
Sukhmandir Kaur 42
AVCr8teur 42
Louis la Vache 40
Sue St Clair 39
KatzTales 37
Cafe au lait 34
Marilia 33
The Chair Speaks 29
Sweet Purrfections 27
Cats of wildcat woods 25
Marg 24
Team Tabby 23
Beth @ 990 Square 22
SandyCarlson 22

It’s great to see longtime readers continue to participate over the years, and always good to see newcomers as well.  Interestingly, the number of comments has gone down significantly over the past year.  My conjecture is that an increasing amount of the engagement around CatSynth has migrated to our Facebook page, and to Twitter, where we have lively communities of commenters.  In terms of Facebook, here are our most shared/liked posts over the past year:

The Green Wood, an opera by David Samas 64
CatSynth pic: Brian Eno Purina ad 44
Weekend Cat Blogging: Good News from PAWS 38
Pitta of the Mind, Red Thread, and Pet the Tiger at Turquoise Yantra Grotto 36
CatSynth pic: Gary Mew-man 33
CatSynth pic: Moog Little Phatty 31
Superb Owl 29
Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy 28
CatSynth pic: Chewie on Ensoniq EPS 26
CatSynth pic: Pinto and Moog Little Phatty 25
Jay Korber Benefit Performance, Berkeley Arts 25
The Fashion World of John Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, De Young Museum 23
CatSynth pic: Maggie Monotron 23
Military Cats 20
CatSynth pic: Schnuffi and Modular 19

It’s gratifying to see a mixture of “cat-and-synth” posts and art/music reviews in this list.  It supports my belief that mixing all the different topics together into one stream is worthwhile.  I particularly enjoy our many cat enthusiasts commenting on the music reviews or highway posts.

We hope to continue this project for a long time, and hope it continues to be a valuable and worthwhile resource.  And a big thank you to all our readers and fans!  You make this a joy to work on.

CatSynth pic: Ficus and Yamaha PSR-27

Submitted by Hayley Sims (and Ficus), our 1000th Facebook fan!

Fun with Highways: Livingston (?)

Every so often we like to have fun with the cities and towns that appear in our Facebook Insights and Google Analytics. One town that has been appearing prominently in our Facebook page stats recently is Livingston. However, we have no idea which place called “Livingston” this actually is, so we will explore a few possibilities.

Based on the demographics of our readers and Facebook fans, it’s probably in the U.S., and it is most likely Livingston, NJ, a town east of Newark along I-280, not far from New York City.

Livingston is a medium-sized suburban town. Though its history dates back a long time (about 300 years), it was relatively sparse until automobiles and highways arrived in the 1920s. Notably, it is named for William Livingston, the first Governor of New Jersey. It is also near the Riker Hill fossil site, also known as Walter Kidde Dinosaur Park, a major paleontological site – I remember hearing about the “major dinosaur fossil site in New Jersey” a few times while growing up across the river in New York.

It could be Livingston, California, a town along the Highway 99 corridor in the Central Valley, between Modesto and Merced.

Like much of this part of the Central Valley, it is primarily an agricultural town.

It could also be Livingston, Montana, a picturesque town along I-90 and US 191 north of Yellowstone National Park.

[Image by Jonathan Haeber (http://www.terrastories.com/bearings/) via Wikimedia CommonsClick image to enlarge.]

It has that classic “old US downtown” look with mountain ranges in the background. It also seems like a relatively prosperous town (much of its economy is related to tourism). As of this writing, however, it sounds like they are at the edge of this year’s intense flooding along rivers in the U.S. and the Yellowstone River is again above flood stage as of the writing of this article. We hope they stay safe and dry! In late May, flooding on the Yellowstone River closed parts of I-90 near Livingston.

Livingston, NY is in the Hudson Valley and quite a ways north of New York City. It is considerably smaller than its counterparts in New Jersey, California and Montana.

In the strange way that I remember such things, I am pretty sure I have been through the junction of US 9, NY 9H and NY 82 (and NY 23).

Smaller yet is Livingston, Louisiana.

It is along I-12 east of Baton Rouge. I mention it because it has a gravitational wave observatory. That is cool. Gravitational waves are theoretical ripples in the curvature of spacetime that propagate as a wave – a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but never directly detected.