Marxian Alienation And Web Development
We who work in web development are getting more comfortable with talking about burnout. This is a good thing, or it would be if we were prepared to acknowledge what burnout really represents.
Burnout is not just overwork, or the ensuing exhaustion. Some of you will already know this. It is also not failing, or not getting anywhere. Because some things are worth trying—and are fulfilling to try—even if they don't succeed.
Burnout is where your work isn't yours. It's when you give yourself, but what you give is not allowed to be you. Your energy, your passion, your value co-opted, corrupted, and erased.
If you work in a capitalist organization, you will experience burnout. You may be well-paid, work with a diverse and friendly team, and feel secure. But so long as what you are doing is, ultimately, being ground down into mere profit? The burnout is coming.
Burnout is what Marx called alienation. It's when a worker becomes estranged from their work. It sounds like a big, grand thing, but it happens every day, in small ways. As a web designer or developer burnout comes calling when you try to do good work, but you're not allowed.
- You want to make the app more performant; your boss wants to fill it full of third party trackers
- You want to make the app more accessible; your boss wants you to focus on the ‘able market’ instead
- You want to word the app more clearly; your boss wants to trick users with misleading language
If you are a good developer, and a good person, asked to do shit work, you will burn out. You will feel yourself turning into burning shit.
It's not a nice experience, but it's not an uncommon one. In fact, it's one of the more persistent and prevalent features of capitalism. It's simply not possible to reconcile your desire to do good, for your users, with the organization's monomaniacal desire to siphon money to shareholders, no matter the costs or consequences.
And 100,000 ping pong tables, awards, charitable donations, and free lunches won't make up for one jot of it. If you are working for a capitalist organization, you are working for a bad one. It doesn't make you a capitalist, or a bad person. But it will make you vulnerable to burnout.
If you struggle with burnout, you are not alone. It's the ones who don't struggle with it, who need no more than a big paycheck and a pat on the back, who bother me.
But there's enough of us that we can ignore them. In threads, forums, meetups, and conferences around the world you'll find developers, people, who've had these same experiences, and felt this way. By finding each other, and working together, we can not only make a better web, but a better world. One we can be proud to have worked on.
For now, let's just keep on talking. We have a really good, public, unproprietary, and free means of doing that.