Stephen McLeod Blythe: Freedom of speech, Internet Law, and all things Digital Marketing
It’s been a few weeks since I started working from home for Automattic, engineering happiness for users of WordPress.com.
Having moved from an (almost) standard 8.30-5pm, office-based working day, the switch has proven to be an interesting experience.
Even with my youth squandered in online tech communities that operate in very similar ways to Automattic, it’s definitely a mindset shift to go from that sort of world being just something that you do, to something that actually pays the bills. Work is meant to force you into set patterns begrudgingly… right? I didn’t expect there to be too much of an overhaul, but a job with complete flexibility has definitely brought with it some interesting quirks.
Here are some of my observations:
One of the usual reasons that people give for ‘not being able’ to work from home is that they get distracted and can’t concentrate on what they’re meant to be doing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s nonsense. Sure, it may well depend on the person, but if you are independent and self-motivated, you shouldn’t find it a problem to set out an area and dedicate the time you need. If a Gen Y-er can do it – with our alleged ridiculously short attention spans – then so can you.
Ahh… the dreaded trip to the bank/post office/travel agent/loanshark. It was always such a torture to have to undertake any sort of task that fell during the working day. This equally applies to the receiving of parcels. Sure, you can get small things delivered to work, but what happens when you order something big? Carting it back from the office is never a fun task… even if you are lucky enough to have access to a car. Working from home sweeps all of these troubles away in one fell swoop.
If you play your cards right, that is. So long as they’ve met you (and you’ve not been weird about it), you can easily become a local everyday hero. Just make it clear that you’re usually around during the day if they have parcels getting delivered, or need an eye kept out for something. Even if they never actually ask you to do anything, you’ve won major brownie points – especially handy when you throw that 7am-finish party with all of your dubious mates.
The first week I worked from home, I ate nothing but bacon sandwiches – purely because I can. That can’t continue for long though, or I’ll balloon to some ridiculous size. In general though, it means you have access to your own kitchen, rather than an awful, over-priced canteen (or a microwave, if you’re lucky). I was never any good at avoiding squashing my sandwiches anyway, so this is a winner. The only real dilemma is… what to have? So much choice!
I’ve luckily managed to avoid travelling every day during the onset of the Scottish winter this year, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest perks about being based from wherever you choose.
It’s pretty soul-destroying to wake up early, in the dark, to make your way into work, only to return home at night, in the dark. What has never made any sense to me though, is the preposterous notion that people should fight their way for hours through gridlocked motorways in the rain, sleet, and snow, to get to an office to do a job that they could arguably do just as well from home. I’d even go so far as to argue that it’s negligent for employers to expect people to physically come in to work on days where the police are ‘advising motorists not to travel’.
That said, I think there are those who genuinely love this sort of daily battle, as if there is some sort of valour to be had in succeeding in such a pointless trip. Those, my friends, are those whom we should mock relentlessly.
Uhhhm, Leave this one with me.
Insert your own joke about how it’s better if I keep my mouth shut here. There’s a lot of commentary about how it can be unproductive to be constantly interrupted in an open plan type office, and it’s definitely true. The flip-side is the total opposite though. Unless you live with other people, you can go entire days without uttering a single word. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a completely zen-like experience just yet.
Watch this space.
This is related to the above. Sure, there are a lot of downsides about working in close proximity with over folk – like having people hang over your shoulder, or force you to look at links on the Daily Mail website (shudders – Linda, you know who you are!), but you can’t really beat the days in work when you’re surrounded by people who are working on the same thing, having a laugh together.
This could well be partly because I am refusing to pay for a TV licence, and so am missing out on the news at night, (disclaimer: I don’t own a TV, or watch it as it’s broadcast online) but more often than we think (yes, even in the age of so-called ‘new media’), news is spread by word of mouth, through the people we come in contact with every day.
If your community is online rather than round about you, very quickly you might find that you aren’t as up to speed on local happenings as you might have been previously. It takes a real effort to keep up to date; a battle that I am currently losing, it has to be said.
I’ve never been a fan of mornings. Not that I don’t like the crisp, fresh air; the tweeting of the birds; and all that. I simply don’t function well at that time.
Part of the problem is that due to whatever screwy Circadian rhythm I have, I don’t naturally get tired until around 2-3am. Irrespective of how early I was up at in the morning, the time I went to bed remained the same. Working from home, I’ve shifted to a 10am-6pm day (roughly), which already means if I go to sleep at 3, I’m getting 7 hours sleep, compared to 4. That’s almost double the amount, and has meant I feel 100% better during the day, with no irresistible urge to disco-nap early evening.
…for a few hours anyway.
Even though I am working the same number of hours, and finishing up the same time I would be getting in from work if I was commuting, the days still seem to fly by. Those extra 3 hours spent getting up, getting ready, and travelling to work in the morning have been converted into sleeping hours, which is probably what they should always have been in the first place.
Weekend? What’s that? With total flexibility, there comes a blurring of the lines between the ‘working week’. When you are able to choose a schedule that fits around your life, that may not be in traditional daily blocks. Many people will shudder at the thought of the lines between work and personal life ‘blurring’, but that isn’t really what’s happening. Just because work becomes spread more diffusely, doesn’t mean that it takes over; it just allows you to integrate it more closely to what fits best for you. Working two hours in the evening or at the weekend instead of on a Monday morning doesn’t mean you are a slave to the job, it means that you are more in control of how and when you choose to give it your full attention.
When you spend all of your time in the one place, with work spread out more than beforehand, It does mean that weekends never feel quite like they used to.
I don’t actually think that that’s a bad thing, for what it’s worth.
‘But… How do they know you’re actually working?!’
Automattic – the company behind WordPress.com, have taken a decisive step in the fight against bogus DMCA claims.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, people can submit a takedown notice to web service providers where their intellectual property is being used without permission. This is the legislative attempt to protect hosts like Google, WordPress, Tumblr, etc from being held responsible for the content that their users post – provided that they swiftly restrict access.
However, whilst this system is designed to give a balance between protection and enforcement, the reality is that many times it is abused by those who wish to silence critics, or to censor views with which they disagree. The Church of Scientology infamously issued thousands of DMCA takedown notices to stop the spread of anti-Scientology views on Youtube, for example. This tactic is highly effective, as the content is almost always restricted (at its peak moment of attention), and the process to challenge the notices (a ‘counter notice’) isn’t something that creators are, or arguably should be, familiar with. In effect, it becomes a virtual game of ping-pong, with the burden of proof shifting to the ‘author’ of the content to prove that they actually have the rights to publish. Sites themselves can take action, but with the sheer volume of notices that they receive, it is often impractical, and rarely a route that businesses want to go down.
I’m both pleased and proud to see that WordPress are fighting back against two such bogus DMCA claims, as announced in this latest blog post, where you can find all the details of the two cases in question.
For the full text of the original post from Oliver Hotham – one of those that fell victim to the misrepresentative DMCA, continue reading below, where it is republished with permission.
The Glasgow Guardian is the student newspaper from the University of Glasgow, and is generally better than most of the publications of this type that I’ve come across – I’m not just saying that because they used to use my pictures.
I was surprised to come across an article in the last issue entitled ‘The day the porn was still there‘, which spoke about the proposed Internet filtering that the Government were seeking to impose on ISPs in the UK.
It wasn’t great. Have a read for yourself.
I wrote a response, which has been published in the current issue, on page 11.
For those of you that aren’t fond of viewing content online in a format suitable for print (and why would you be?) the text is below:
I write in response to the article entitled ‘The day the porn was still there’, published on the 16th of September 2013, by Imants Latkovskis.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a member of the Open Rights Group Supporters’ Council – the ‘London based NGO’ whose views were criticised in the original piece. However, the purpose of this response is not to rise to defend the content of the organisation’s claims; that job is for somebody else – and not what I signed up for.
Aside from the over-use of emotive language, and massively reductive statements (“ticking the ‘I want porn’ box is unlikely to be the start of a dystopian future.”), Latkovskis has managed to miss the point completely; the thrust of the article seeming to be that ‘illegal porn is bad, so it’s good that they want to block it’.
Latkovskis states that in justifying the proposed filter, David Cameron was ‘referring to child pornography, which seems to be forgotten about quote after quote.’ However, he himself is guilty of confusing two quite distinct issues. This isn’t something that he should feel too bad about though, as the proposals have been deliberately designed to have this effect.
We have to separate out whether the purpose of an on-by-default Internet filter is either to:
1. Prevent access to illegal material, e.g. child pornography
2. Prevent people (ostensibly children) from accessing any pornography
These are two very different aims, and require equally different approaches.
It’s a moot point for the purposes of this article that none of these type of filtering systems actually work effectively in any regard. If you aren’t sure about that, just ask yourself when the last time was that you or a ‘friend’ used a VPN to get onto American Netflix, or a proxy to peruse certain eye-patch clad torrent websites. Never, I’m sure!
The concern that any sort of default Internet filter will inevitably also block access to other content is not an unfounded one. Mobile operators such as Orange and T-Mobile have already blocked sites under categories headed ‘Chat’ and ‘Forums’ from their service without an explicit indication that you want to gain access – something that you often cannot obtain until you have been a customer for 6 months or longer. Nobody should have to submit their name to a database with tick-boxes against the categories of content they have chosen to view, or what information they want to exchange, and that is a realistic consequence of these proposals.
This fundamentally isn’t about pornography, and to suggest that those who question a blanket, State-mandated Internet filter are advocating free and unfettered access to ‘material depicting rape and child abuse’ is at best disingenuous, and dangerously mis-informed.
Yet another badly thought out, technologically incompetent piece of legislation (if ISPs are not pressured into this ‘voluntarily’) will do nothing to protect children, nothing to stop the spread of illegal material, and only serve to further squeeze the freedom to communicate and disseminate information online.