Posts tagged with "The GuardianUS"

Idle no more: How automatic mouse jigglers are taking on nosy bosses

March 7, 2023

Working hard or hardly working? Many employers started checking on just what their employees were doing while they were home during the pandemic—checking computer keystrokes to find out whether “hired hands” actually were busy on the job, reports The Guardian.

Enter the automatic—and fast trending—mouse jiggler. Jigglers come in different varieties, ranging from cradles with spinning discs in the middle to DIY creations made from Legos. But they are united as a symbol of resistance against workplace surveillance—even if their very existence points to a dystopian future.

As working from home was normalized in 2020, concerns grew about bossware—software that keeps a close eye on remote workers by, for instance, tracking their mouse movements. Work-communication platforms like Microsoft’s Teams might be less Big Brother-ish, but they can still show when a worker has been “idle”—a word that implies they’re in a hammock with a cocktail when they might have perfectly legitimate reasons to have stepped away from their computer: caring for a child, going to the bathroom, rescuing the dog from a standoff with a rabid raccoon. And even if they are just taking a break, does the boss really have to know?

When bosses keep such close tabs on their staff, it fosters a “lack of trust between employer and employee”, says Diana Rodriguez of Tech8 USA, a Texas-based company that makes popular mouse movers, including small pads that physically move your mouse and USB sticks that simply shift the cursor. What’s more, a lot of remote work—reading reports, listening to meetings—doesn’t require moving the mouse.

“That kind of talent, you can’t really micromanage,” Rodriguez says, so measuring performance by “how long you’ve been on the computer … doesn’t really hold weight”. And research would seem to back this claim: A 2021 study on “micro-breaks”—during which tired workers eat a snack or work on a crossword puzzle—helped them to recover from fatigue and work better.

Tech8 began making mouse movers focused on gamers who didn’t want their sessions to time out when they took a break. Initially, the mouse movers were made using a 3D printer. “And then when the pandemic hit, people started buying the mouse movers for home use. And we were like: ‘OK, this is getting crazy.’ Our five or six printers that we had couldn’t keep up with the demand.” Sales have continued to increase, and the company expects its 2023 sales volume to be triple the 2020 figure.

Even as workers have returned to the office, sales have increased—perhaps in part due to the wide variety of uses for the product. Healthcare workers use mouse movers to keep their computers awake while they talk to patients; IT teams use them to test software; students may need them to make it easier to take notes while they watch a lecture. (Of course, computers can be set to remain awake for long periods of time, but often these settings are inaccessible if your organization controls the device.)

But, even as mouse movers grow more popular, so does sophisticated workplace tracking that monitors keyboard movements or uses facial recognition software. Eight in 10 of the biggest private companies in the US track individual productivity, according to The New York Times.

And workplace computers may be able to detect the use of peripherals, which could reveal some mouse movers to your boss. If your employer has remote access to your computer screen, they might notice repetitive mouse movements that would be a red flag.

“We would love to go obsolete but we see that mouse movers like this help increase productivity and people are less stressed, believe it or not, because they’re not worried about their computer timing out,” Rodriguez says. “They can step away and go take care of a personal thing or go put laundry in or check on the baby.”

Research contact: @GuardianUS

Oh, you’re such a ‘Karen,’ whatever that means

May 15, 2020

It is the eye-rolling rejoinder that makes Karens everywhere—but especially on social media—grind their teeth: “Okay, KAREN.”

Indeed, while it may be familiar and frequently used first name, on the Internet, “Karen” has come to stand for so much more, according to a report by The Guardian.

Judging by the popular meme, Karen is a middle-aged white woman with an asymmetrical bob who happens to be as entitled as she is ignorant—and she’s asking to speak to the store manager.

However, The Guardian notes,  “As the meme has become more prominent in online discourse, its meaning has become confused, and criticism has been voiced that it is sexist—catching real-life Karens in the crosshairs.”

“I spend a lot of time on Twitter, so I find it rather annoying,” Karen Geier, a writer and podcaster from Toronto told the news outlet. “Anything you say, people can be like, ‘Okay, well, whatever, KAREN’ —but that’s not even how the meme is supposed to be used. It’s supposed to be about people who want to speak to the manager.”

Know Your Meme, a Wiki-style site that defines Internet culture, added “Karen” last year as an extension of the “‘Can I speak to the manager’ haircut” meme, born of Black Twitter back in 2014. “Whenever you want to signal that that character’s a Karen, you’ll just toss that haircut on,” says the editor-in-chief, Don Caldwell.

The choice of moniker has been linked to the 2004 film, Mean Girls, in which a character says, outraged: “Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white”—a meme in and of itself.

But more likely, The Guardian says, the name was chosen for its association with whiteness. “Growing up as a kid in the 1990s, I remember people—particularly, other black—being like, ‘You don’t look like a Karen,’” recalls Karen Attiah, an editor at The Washington Post. “It was an unspoken thing, but Karen was a white, older lady’s name.”

When Attiah was born in 1986, she told The Guardian, “[the use of the name] Karen” was already in decline, having peaked in the United States in 1965. In 2018 there were just 468 baby Karens born. “We’re kind of a rare breed,” she says.

Her mother, who had immigrated from Nigeria, chose the name so that Attiah could “easily move around in a white-dominated world”. “It has afforded me, I think, a certain privilege,” says Attiah.

It is that privilege that the meme sets out to skewer. In 2018, it was among a handful of female names to become attached to a spate of viral videos showing white women racially targeting people of color. The antagonist of one such clip, of a woman calling the police over a group of African American men having a barbecue in a park in Oakland, California, came to be known as BBQ Becky (another name applied to white women online).

The meme is therefore rooted in black American Internet culture, says Attiah—an attempt to find humor in real-world racism and oppression. To call someone a Karen is to target a particular behavior: “It’s a very specific definition and, if you’re not acting that way, it shouldn’t bother you,” says Attiah, implying that “to try to hijack the meaning of the meme is “a pretty Karen thing to do.”

The meme has new resonance in the time of coronavirus, increasingly being applied to those who are protesting against social distancing measures or treating the pandemic as permission to unfairly police others.

Karen Sandler, an attorney and software freedom advocate, tells the Guardian that, at first she was “a little sad” to see her name being applied so negatively – “but it’s just so funny, and also clearly, a little bit true”.

It has in some ways been a wake-up call, says Sandler. “I never want to be ‘a Karen’ in the way the meme suggests and, since it’s my name, I think about this often. It has helped me really appreciate the advantages that I have in life, and emboldened me to speak out when I see people being ignored or disadvantaged.”

The Karen character serves as a reminder to support people who are being ignored or overlooked, says Sandler, and to use her Karen powers for good. She included it in a recent talk she gave as an example of how everyone—not just Karens—can learn to be more mindful of others.

“The only way we’ll help our societies to become fully equal is if we each are willing to speak out for other people who have more to lose by speaking up. And Karens are known for their voices!”

Research contact: @GuardianUS