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.

Fun with Stats: Countries that still have Monarchies

On this Independence Day here in the U.S., a country which has been a continuous republic for over 200 years, we thought it would fun to look at the countries that still have monarchies in 2015.  Most are constitutional monarchies with a limited or ceremonial role, but it still begs the question of why bother with such an expensive and anachronistic institution?

Brunei Absolute monarchy
Oman Absolute monarchy
Qatar Absolute monarchy
Saudi Arabia Absolute monarchy
Swaziland Absolute monarchy
Vatican City Absolute monarchy
Andorra Constitutional monarchy
Antigua and Barbuda Constitutional monarchy
Australia Constitutional monarchy
The Bahamas Constitutional monarchy
Bahrain Constitutional monarchy
Barbados Constitutional monarchy
Belgium Constitutional monarchy
Belize Constitutional monarchy
Bhutan Constitutional monarchy
Cambodia Constitutional monarchy
Canada Constitutional monarchy
Denmark Constitutional monarchy
Grenada Constitutional monarchy
Jamaica Constitutional monarchy
Japan Constitutional monarchy
Jordan Constitutional monarchy
Kuwait Constitutional monarchy
Lesotho Constitutional monarchy
Liechtenstein Constitutional monarchy
Luxembourg Constitutional monarchy
Malaysia Constitutional monarchy
Monaco Constitutional monarchy
Morocco Constitutional monarchy
Netherlands Constitutional monarchy
New Zealand Constitutional monarchy
Norway Constitutional monarchy
Papua New Guinea Constitutional monarchy
Saint Kitts and Nevis Constitutional monarchy
Saint Lucia Constitutional monarchy
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Constitutional monarchy
Solomon Islands Constitutional monarchy
Spain Constitutional monarchy
Sweden Constitutional monarchy
Tonga Constitutional monarchy
Tuvalu Constitutional monarchy
United Arab Emirates Constitutional monarchy
United Kingdom Constitutional monarchy

Beyond actual countries, monarchies and hereditary rulers continue to be a fixture in the fantasy-novel genre, many of which are directly influences by Tolkein’s rather conservative Middle Earth.  Most perplexing of all, however, is the obsession of some Americans with British royalty, the dynasty of the country we declared independence from 239 years ago today.

Weekend Cat Blogging and Photo Hunt: Lazy Cat?

For this week’s Photo Hunt theme of lazy, we have a photo of Luna napping in an extraordinary sun patch.

Luna being a Lazy Cat in the Sun.

While Luna may be able to enjoy a lazy time this weekend, I do not have that luxury. Both today and tomorrow are filled with band rehearsals – three rehearsals for two bands, including preparation for an album release next week – plus stops at an art exhibition and a cat video festival in Oakland tonight. Yes, a cat video festival. There are all of course rewarding experiences and I freely chose to commit to them, so I’m not complaining. But I do sometimes think there is wisdom in the path of the “lazy cat.”

I did hesitate to write this post because of the pejorative use of “lazy” to describe cats. It’s not uncommon to hear cats’ propensity for napping described this way, and I read frequent unfair comparisons to dogs. But domestic cats fill the roles they were bred for, and do so quite well. There are working cats, on farms, in wine cellars, and even at one of our neighborhood arts institutions, SOMArts. The role of the house cat is to provide companionship, an important social and emotional function. Luna does this spectacularly, as do many of the other cats I have met though blogs. And it not a role without risks, as companion animals are especially vulnerable to abuse (sadly, so are humans in domestic situations). So let us honor the “lazy cats” and maybe learn something from them about being in the moment.


The Saturday Photo Hunt is up. This week’s theme is lazy.

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by the Florida Furkids.

And the Friday Ark is on hiatus this week, but will be back on May 17.

Five (or more) Blogs That Make Me Think (The Thinking Blogger Award)

We were tagged a week or so ago with the “Thinking Blogger Award” by our friend (and fellow mathematics enthusiast) meeyauw. We appreciate meeyauw's endorsement and complete, and encourage readers to check out her other recommendations.

Since the rules are for five recommendations, I decided to break it down using CatSynth's motto:

Cats. We are tagging Megan and the Bad Kitty Cats, for their mix of thoughtful writing and love of cats, and helping to bring our own “Cat Blogging” at CatSynth to another level. Megan also tagged us with a meme recently and I will get on that one soon…

Synthesizers. A slight deviation of the rules, we're spitting this one. Matrixsynth is our starting off point for all explorations synth-related, we've found several interesting instruments and other synth blogs by reading – plus it features Cats and Synths. While Matrixsynth remains focused on its core, Muff Wiggler provides a more eclectic mix of personal commentary often revolving around synthesizers and electronic music.

Music. We recently found a few interesting new-music blogs, including New Music reBlog. The authors add their own writing around music and performances, and follow a lot of the same live improvisation that I do.

Art. I have to give a shout out to Placebokatz for presenting modern art via a black cat. While a lot of the performance or human art is not usually my taste, I expect no more and no less from any real-life art exhibition. Also, pawful, the creator of the visual livecoding Fluxus has at least one page that counts as a blog – I have reported in his projects including Fluxus and Quagmire in the past.

Opinion. Our friend jellypizza combined cat blogging with progressive/liberal political commentary and eclectic references from bygone pop culture and our home in Westchester, New York. We miss Taboo; but we're also grateful for setting this example for the rest of us.

Should any of abovementioned sites choose to participate: please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ?Thinking Blogger Award? with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn?t fit your blog).