A Society Without Slack Is A Society Of Telescreens

+“Author who reported Metro worker for eating on a train sues publisher” | NBC News | Dennis Romero

“”It is ironic, having taken advantage of her First Amendment rights with an ill-advised tweet, Ms. Tynes now seeks to stifle and punish use of those very same rights of a respected book publisher who legitimately expressed its opinions of her conduct, rather than take responsibility for her own actions,” it said in a statement.

The tweet, since deleted, accompanied a photo of a black transit worker eating on a break.

“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds. When I asked the employee about this, her response was, ‘worry about yourself.'”

The Washington Metro transit authority expressed appreciation and asked for time markers that might help it track the employee down. But a backlash against Tynes was swift, with University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein summing up the feelings of many: “Eating while Black.”

Rare Bird said last month it would no longer distribute Tynes’ forthcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” which was set to be published on Rare Bird imprint California Coldblood Books.

“Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies,” the publishing company said in a statement.”

1) There was a time when “slack” was a necessary feature of modernity that made living more bearable. You chatted on Yahoo Messenger while you cranked out those TPS reports. You took an extra fifteen minutes on your lunch break but made it back to your desk before anyone noticed. You sent personal emails when you should’ve been typing up that sales letter. Your bartender slipped you a shot of the good stuff after you struck out. And perhaps because you were running late one morning you ate breakfast on the train instead of at home. As you munched you assumed a modicum of solidarity with your fellow passengers. Yes, you were breaking rules. But you were also taking advantage of a little slack in how things are done to remind yourself you’re a free human being. You were like Winston in George Orwell’s 1984, doing what you could to thwart the totalitarian gaze of the telescreen. You didn’t expect that an average citizen like you would suddenly assume the role of Big Brother’s Little Sister with a cellphone. And you certainly didn’t expect you’d lose your job because of a homemade Egg McMuffin. But that’s the world we live in now. Slack is dying, and we should mourn its passing.

2) “Slack” captures all those little chances to get over without getting in trouble. To take advantage of slack is to stick it to The Man, to strike a blow for personal dignity, to get a little action on the side. At the heart of the opportunities provided by “slack in the system” is a simple moral principle: just because one schnook takes an opportunity to get a tiny bit ahead does not diminish some other schnook’s chances of breaking off a nice piece for himself. Unfortunately, increased connectivity and processing power diminish slack over time, as well as over networks. More powerful computers and programs watch, track, optimize, analyze, and predict.

3) The death of slack makes life a zero-sum game. There’s winning and there’s losing and there’s no wiggle room in between. Some “author” with any number of side hustles of her own spies a transit worker eating on the DC Metro and thinks only in terms of someone else getting over on “the system” precisely because she only sees herself as a part of that system. The system itself ensures that she can never see some point beyond its limits. Therefore, she affirms it by identifying with it. Someone else’s gain is her loss, however inconsequential. 

4) And so the death of slack makes us more and more like machines. More and more like programs executing instructions line by line. More and more like Orwellian telescreens keeping each other in check. As machines, we’re alienated from our own sense of empathy. Our new, mechanized commandment is to make sure everyone else is as miserable as we are.


Where are your hammers for these nails?

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Image Source: Image by otrags from Pixabay

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