August 2022 - Symposium Learning

August 31, 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

1.    How did I come across this book?

I picked up this book in the local library together with 2 crime novels the day before my holiday. It is a short book which I read on the return flight from Milan in just over 2 hours. The title and the content linked with the much larger essay of Shoshana Zuboff The Age of Surveillance Capitalism on which I laboured over for most of 2021. The title remind me of the fictional story of The Circle by Dave Eggers.

My interest was to engage with a work of literature addressing key questions of the modern workplace separately from the non-fiction sphere. For example, George Orwell 1984 offers a critique to 1948 society and its aspirations. A work of fiction allows emotions and empathy to play a crucial role and helps the reader to connect with the heroes and the villains, identifying a right and a wrong rather than processing balanced arguments of pros and cons.

2.    Does it keep its promise?

Yes, it does.

The start candidly asks the question that we, readers, really want answered: “so what kind of things did you see?”, “what’s the worst thing you ever saw?”

The voyeurism which is at the core of the production of shocking and morally questionable videos and content on social media is activated.  We want to know what is hidden from us when we surf the platforms and this is why we have selected this novel. We want to know why it is hidden and how the decision is taken.

The answer is even more shocking that I imagined – the protagonist, a gay woman Kayleigh, is swallowed by her reality as content moderator to such an extend she wont be able to see the changes in her own perception, understanding and interaction with reality.

3.    Take away that won’t spoil your reading

For those of us savvy with call centre environments the description of how KPIs are set and enforced is very familiar.

The daily target is the review of 500 content pieces per person per day, there is a QC process and a score to achieve of no less than 90%.

Consider a shift of 8 hours x 60 mins = 480 mins of work – this makes each single content review approx. 96 sec –approx. 1 min and 30 secs – plausibly the average length of videos that are served to us in most social media platforms.

Now, consider the time available to a moderator to decide if the content is to be kept or removed.

There is research behind the book. At the end of the novel the Hanna Bervoets shares the lists non fictional books and articles used.

For Irish audience, an article published by Tommy Meskill on RTE websites refers to the appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee and the term “horrible lucid dreams” perfectly reflects what Hanna Bervoets has depicted in this short novel.

4.    About the author

We had to remove this post is Hanna Bervoets’s first book translated from Dutch into English. It has been translated in 18 other languages. The original title “Wat Wij zagen” literally translates into “What we saw”.

Her education includes a Master in Journalism and Research – skills which are evident in this novel but that do not shade the epistolary style.

Reading her website I am encouraged to read more of her novels as those contemporary topics like self-definition in climate crisis, mental health and “the way (scientific) change and new technologies reshape human relationships and behaviour.” Her novels “often combine literary narratives with science fiction themes and fantasy tropes, always with strong queer overtones”

An author who is collecting numerous awards.


5.    What others are saying about this book

Goodreads give it a 3 out of 5 starts and it is tag under “Horror” as well as Adult and Queer.

The Guardian finds it laboured. I admit that as my plane was approaching Dublin airport I was able to shim through some pages without losing too much sense of the work or content. Arguably I have lost intensity to be fully engrossed in the revealing closing scenes. The Guardian review offers the readers some of the insights on how content is moderated “ for example, does a video featuring two dead kittens count as animal cruelty, if they’re already dead at the start of the clip?” as well as sharing example of the mental health problems experienced by Kayleight and her colleagues. I do not agree with the closing remarks that the novel “offers little in the way of psychological acuity” On the contrary, it shows that the damage lived by the main character is yet to be fully processed by her refusal to get help. It provides a vivid insight how insidious the danger of exposure to violent images and content can truly be.

The New York Times defines it a triller – honouring Goodreads tag as Horror. Like the Guardian it offers some spoilers on the training received by the content moderator – training that discloses the rational behind what can be left rather than removed. Because the challenge is that – it is already live and the question is for how long more. Work conditions are defined as brutal  which is a adjective I do not remember been used in the book and, as I express above, the practices of KPIs enforcement, bathrooms breaks and QC practices are far too familiar and adopted in other centre where Emotional Labour is required by operators.

August 30, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes
  1. How did I get to this book?

During the month of November 2021, as I struggled to close what has been a very busy year, this book appeared in my own Kindle library and, seeking motivation, its promise renewed its appeal. Searching through my Amazon Kindle orders I discovered that I have had this book in my e-library since February 2018. Aside from the title and the overall concept – which is clearly laid out in the caption The 6 habits that will transform your life before 8AM – little of it has remained in memory, therefore reading it again gave me a great sense of novelty and enthusiasm.

The expectations were clear – I wanted to connect to a writer who could make explicit and shared the challenges I was facing: life stress of a working parent augmented by a pandemic, climate crises and conflict.

  1. Does it keep its promise?

The book gave me exactly what I was seeking – words to described the feelings that were running scattered in my mind.

Did I ended up following the the Morning Miracle 30 days Life Transformation Challenge? No

What does the book promise? Discipline, Clarity and personal development as core element of a fulfilled life. It begins with a letter to the reader and a declaration of intent “There is at least one thing I know we have in common: we both want to improve our lives and ourselves.”

Inspiration comes from the session on visualisation and positive thinking: not a new idea in new age thinking but Hal Elrod brings it back to contemporary working lives.

“By waking up each morning and practicing The Miracle Morning you will begin each day with extraordinary level of discipline (the crucial ability to get yourself to follow-through your commitments), clarity (the power you’ll generate from focusing on what’s most important), and personal development (perhaps the single most significant determining factor in your success)”

  1. Take away that won’t spoil your reading

The Miracle Morning habits are Six “Life SAVERS”: silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribbling.

To complete in 1 hour, each morning, before the “rest” of your day begins. The books discussed the misfortune of the snooze button, the benefit of running and the therapeutic wellness of writing and reading.

The most impressive observations are about the GAP focus: when we focus on the gaps in our performance we injure our self-image and create feelings of not been good enough. The Gap Focus affects everyone – also the high-achievers – those who keep pushing themselves to be better and in the pursuit of excellence. 

Elrod articulates very clearly the challenges that limit one’s own confidence and self-belief. He describes the daily ritual of visualisation as the antidote – when visualizing of one’s goals and desires we correct the negative impact. He quotes Marianne Williamsons : “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’ t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.” (A return to love, M Williamsons – on Amazon)

Elrod asks about GAP Focus: “is it hurting or helping you?” and reflect that “it is almost impossible to maintain an accurate assessment of ourselves and our progress” (p. 118). The habit of journaling does help to create a structure approach to recognise and manage the feelings that GAP focus can bring.

I am already a believer in journaling and I took the time to really reflect how easy is to visualise the gap and negative outcomes – for example how nobody will be interested in reading my reviews – so that I am prepared for failure and disappointments. This change in perspective, visualizing success and how I would feel as a consequence of reaching my goals is something that I will be actively practising.

  1. About the Author

Har Elrod, is a role-model: someone who has overcome extraordinary adversities and realised his life vocation: to share his own realisation with humanity.

He is someone who has not stopped at “Base Camp” or even at “Camp 1” of his career and pursuits – he progressively sets new goals. The summit of his life journey and mission remains a work in progress.

We learn quite a bit about Hal Elrod in the first pages book – his success in sales and of the life changing car crash which guides his desire to be an example rather than an influencer.  He shares the pictures of the crashed car and of himself lying in the hospital bed. On his website we learn he is a cancer survivor. The message is load and clear: “if I can do it, so can you”.

Aside from these biographical details, however, we know little – marital status, family ties… where did he study? who influenced him?

  1. Other reviews and comment

The book and its fame are supported by a large social media group with more than 56K followers on Instagram.

The book received 4.5 starts on an Amazon rating but no traditional Guardian or FT review are available on a quick Google search.

August 29, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes
  1. How did I get to this book?

Books come to us in a different ways: mostly by recommendation. I take recommendations from friends, reviews on newspapers, HBR and some podcast. I also like to browse airport’s bookstores and pick a best seller.

Often the title promises to answer a question I might be pondering about.

2. Does it Keep its promise?

Many books follow a standard format: say it, say what you said and say it again. The objectives are clearly stated in the opening remarks and in most business genre books the synopsis are good summaries on how performance and management strategies will be affected. Not all, however, deliver on the promise.

3. Take-away that wont spoilt your reading

I will share some take-aways that I will attempt to implement in the course of my training and management courses. Some will work, some wont. This is the beauty of learning.

4. About the Author

Is the author an expert in the field? Does s/he have direct lived experienced? What else is relevant to know so to position the book in the correct context?

5. What others are saying about this book

References to other book reviews or commentaries will be given, especially when the book was a referral. The aim is to ensure a broad understanding of the book and its contribution.

What else….

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