A lot of the friction of modern life comes from capitalism's mandate that the workplace must operate with the smallest number of staff possible. To do otherwise is to needlessly spend money that could go to profits, the theory goes.

In practice, this means that every workplace is constantly running on the ragged edge of failure and disaster, keeping it together by their fingernails. So staff are stressed, struggling and burned out, and customers are rarely if ever satisfied.

@DelphineUnseen Something I often think about when researching tech companies back in the 1980s was that there was still an expectation you needed to build your staff, especially when it came to customer service.

Think about. Companies like Activision used to have entire telephone support staffs to answer technical--and even game-related--questions from customers. And this was considered normal.

Now it's basically a bunch of underpaid moderators for some social media accounts, if anything.

@chronrevisited The obsession with quarterly profit goals is where I'd place the most blame for this change.

If cutting a service today helps you hit your numbers next month and get a golden parachute, why do you care if it means your services are degraded and your company is hurt in the long run?

We've built an entire economic ecosystem that embraces being penny-wise and pound foolish, and grinds people to dust in the process.

@DelphineUnseen Indeed, in researching my last post I found a quote from Aldus founder Paul Brainerd where he said the pursuit of quarterly profit goals after taking the company public made him miserable, which is why he ended up selling to Adobe. And that's a story you hear from a lot of early tech founders.

The only people who like living and dying by the whims of the stock market are assholes like Bobby Kotick (speaking of Activision).

@chronrevisited @DelphineUnseen

I honestly want to know what specifically happened to the idea of long-term corporate stability.

I can understand how it's in the best interests of the shareholders to maximize their profits at the expense of the business's well-being -- but how was this allowed to become the norm? Why do the execs running the business allow it?

Was it just that the voting shareholders populated the Boards with "shareholder-friendly" members who would fire a CEO that didn't kowtow to the quarterly projections? If that's so, why didn''t it happen decades sooner? What changed?

cc: @eryn

@woozle @DelphineUnseen @eryn I think this has always been a problem with public companies, even going back to the 19th century. For example, the company that became IBM basically started as a stock swindle. A speculator put together a bunch of unrelated companies hoping to quickly inflate the stock price and cash out.

During the 1960s this type of "conglomeration" became popular again, which was actually what drove the Warner scenario I mentioned earlier.

@chronrevisited @DelphineUnseen

But you were saying that tech companies used to have staff for user support, and that this was normal...

(...which agrees with my own memories from the 70s/80s, fwiw).


@woozle @DelphineUnseen @eryn Well, those early tech companies were either still private or had just taken their first steps into the stock market. They were not yet in the "growth at all costs to appease the speculators" phase. I cited Activision, which went public in 1983, which was long before Bobby Kotick entered the picture.

Things didn't really get bad until the 1990s when the first big consolidation wave hit.

@woozle @DelphineUnseen @eryn I think the poster child for what happened in the 90s was SoftKey, the Canadian software company started by Kevin O'Leary (yes, the "Shark Tank" guy).

O'Leary went on a rampage in the 90s buying up tons of successful software companies like The Learning Company and Broderbund, stripping their staffs down to nothing, and then pawning the whole worthless bundle off on Mattel, which nearly sank that company.

@DelphineUnseen People often joke about the Atari game "E.T." causing the video game crash back in 1983-84. But the real trigger was Warner Communications revising their quarterly forecast downward, which was primarily the result of cooking its Atari subsidiary's books during the previous quarter to make the numbers look better.

@chronrevisited And the difference today is that they're better at cooking the books so that the repercussions don't necessarily hit in the very next quarter.

@DelphineUnseen Experienced CEOs do tend to be better at "managing expectations" as it were. The Warner thing was almost a Biblical case of managerial incompetence.


"Just in Time" (JIT) needs to be replaced with "Just Before Failure" (JBF).

In engineering, eliminating excess strength is a benefit. In designing the Gossamer Condor, parts that failed every time got strengthened; parts that NEVER failed got weakened.

Works in machines because failure-space analysis is a science. Doesn't work in trans-human organisms (corporations) because the meatbags are infinitely unreliable.

@Benhm3 Which then leads to an obsession with weeding out the "less reliable" workers, ie, anyone who has personal challenges or needs accommodations. So that the vulnerable are left even further behind, and this is treated as virtuous and good. It's sickening.

@DelphineUnseen And individual staff feel they are letting the team down if they take a day sick or just a day off. This is often encouraged by managers.

@naga Our culture is so suffused with this attitude that a good manager has to actively and frequently encourage staff to take time off just to overcome the guilt or fear that so many feel.

@DelphineUnseen The fewest people, paid the least possible, with the least support, and treated as instantly replaceable parts.

It's the dickensian workhouse mentality, and it nearly killed me.
It killed a fair number of friends and co-workers.


A certain money-transferring service I was forced to start using appears to have no customer contact info at all. I think I could only get that access if I called myself a vendor, which I'm not. So.. short of marching on their offices with cannons and poison gas, I guess I'm stuck with every dissatisfying practice they choose to foist on me. I'll be well and truly boned if I ever have any complaint bigger than, *the way you run things is really annoying*.

@DelphineUnseen YEP. YEP.
Fun fact: every time someone jokingly says "year of the desktop" I think about how much stuff my team could be doing at my company to make things decent that we just don't because it would require spending money on more staff.
Honestly it's kind of funny because I'd even say that capitalism is detrimental to capitalism in this regard. I've seen so many good ideas that would technically make money get dropped because no one wanted to spend the money to make them happen

@DelphineUnseen or the crazy constant amount of corporate restructuring I constantly see happening with the reasons of "we'll have less conflict across teams and more productivity!" as if the reason our productivity is suffering isn't a direct result of the fact that no one wants to hire more staff ever.

@DelphineUnseen also whoops, meant to say "year of the linux desktop"

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