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Inside voices

A company offers a tradeoff: it captures employees’ productivity, to create a lens focusing many hands on big problems. Post-internet, I see a new downside to this: the company is also capturing its employees’ free expression. I suspect many professional voices — people talking frankly about the work they do — are going unheard.

The voices I mostly hear on YouTube and podcasts are the same sort of media personalities that I’ve always heard from. There are fewer gatekeepers, but it's largely the same type of person. In fact, it may even be a smaller group — we have narrowed it down from all journalists to only those who are good on video or radio. I’d like to hear more people talking about their real jobs, not being dumbed down for a mass media broadcast by a journalist, but speaking in the jargon of their industry.

There are examples of the professional conversations I’m talking about. Software developers produce them; they built the internet and have infovore tendencies, so I’m not surprised to find countless deep dive software podcasts, Software Engineering Daily is a good example. There are great deep dive podcasts with Film people, for instance Better Call Saul Insider has editors and directors talking to each other. On YouTube there countless pros and amateurs documenting their process: athletes like Adam Ondra, engineers like JerryRigEverything, musicians like Nahre Sol, chefs like Chef Wang and even lawyers like Legal Eagle to name a very very few. Some interviewers approach the kind of insiders conversation I’m talking about. Conversations with Tyler work because the amount of research Tyler does makes him almost-an-expert for the duration of the interview. Eric Weinstein’s The Portal — specifically the episode when he interviewed physicist Garrett Lisi. But it seems to me that the professionals speaking out come from a fairly narrow range of endeavour: fields like academia, media, software, art, craft and engineering. These are all fields where people can work alone. We are missing the corporate voices.

When employees talk about their work, they will also talk about their employer. Employees’ opinions — once restricted to their immediate friends and families, now disseminated to the world via social media — can be explosive, causing massive reputational damage to companies. This is a particular problem for companies for whom their people and their ability to attract and retain them are their only resource, e.g. service sector or tech firms. So, companies try to prevent their people talking about their work, and the higher paid the employee, the tighter the restrictions.

I believe that many professional voices are currently going unheard — can I hear how people talk behind the scenes in finance, pharma, government, construction? I got into professional software work through reading conversations between hackers on the internet. Are good people put off entering fields for a lack of frank discussion about what it’s really like to do the job? Is there a productivity cost to a lack of light shining on real-world work processes? If corporate employees really aren’t talking, is it because there are policies and contracts banning them? Are some people loath to speak out because they aren’t proud of their industry and find it hard to justify the value in what they do?

Richmond, London, 07/01/2020

Tags: #corporate #economics #internet