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The Myth of Aesthetic Productivity

By Rachel Zimny


Productivity is a curse. Under capitalism, productivity is the catch-all word to describe what you should be doing to meet someone else’s quota. This isn’t to be confused with the organically produced productivity of meeting personal goals. No, I’m talking about the kind associated with unrelenting hustle culture all around us.


It doesn’t sound so sinister on the surface. After all, what’s so bad about making extra money or organizing your schedule? Upon first glance, the fascination with remaining productive seems relatively innocuous, if not a good thing on the internet. For example, the #productivity hashtag on TikTok and Tumblr is filled with neatly organized, colorful notebooks, pens and workspaces. If you take a deeper dive, you’ll begin to notice how many of these content creators are sponsored by companies. You are being sold to through simple stationary and clean gliding pens.


The study web aesthetic is just one factor of a much larger issue. Social media encourages us to log every moment of our day, to document how we live and what we do. Corporations have taken notice and begun to use this to their advantage. As an employee anywhere, you will be virtually strip-searched. You may be rejected from employment if your online presence doesn’t fit the hyper productivity mold. In fact, you might even be fired from a current job if you speak honestly about personal work experiences online.


With companies following us in our most intimate moments to surveil and to advertise to, there comes a push to consistently perform. Especially after the last year of so many of us being sequestered in their houses, the boundary between personal life and work life has blurred. You are no longer guaranteed privacy. You must consistently be playing the role of hard worker, dedicated employee, organized and neat professional at all times.


This invasive treatment, of course, could not take hold if wages were not stagnant, if rent was not unbearably high across the board, and if labor rights hadn’t been stripped bare in the past 30 years. That’s the biggest contributor to toxic productivity in my opinion. We wouldn’t have to rise and grind if our workforce had any real, meaningful protections. People would not have to constantly perform professionalism, then pick up a side hustle, then show it off on the internet if we were afforded a living wage. Working ourselves to the edge of sanity all day every day with constant monitoring is not something to be proud of--it’s mind-bendingly evil.


Not only have they sold us an unachievable standard, they’ve sold us the removal of privacy and we are expected to say thank you and rise to the occasion, give our labor, time and energy away for free.