The Plight of the Warehouse Picker

Journalist Mac McClelland worked as a picker in an order fulfillment warehouse, not unlike the one that got a bit of press attention in Allentown PA recently, after workers passed out from the heat.

The days blend into each other. But it’s near the end of my third day that I get written up. I sent two of some product down the conveyor line when my scanner was only asking for one; the product was boxed in twos, so I should’ve opened the box and separated them, but I didn’t notice because I was in a hurry. With an hour left in the day, I’ve already picked 800 items. Despite moving fast enough to get sloppy, my scanner tells me that means I’m fulfilling only 52 percent of my goal. A supervisor who is a genuinely nice person comes by with a clipboard listing my numbers. Like the rest of the supervisors, she tries to create a friendly work environment and doesn’t want to enforce the policies that make this job so unpleasant. But her hands are tied. She needs this job, too, so she has no choice but to tell me something I have never been told in 19 years of school or at any of some dozen workplaces.”You’re doing really bad,” she says.

From I Was a Warehouse Slave {mother jones; via daring fireball}.

So small businesses are forced to close their doors because finding a better price online is as easy as launching a smart phone app; big companies don’t collect sales tax on their orders, making their products cheaper, and ensuring that local governments don’t get the revenue; and there’s a proliferation of sucky, bone-crunching warehouse jobs that people are, in some instances, lining up to apply for.

And the internet was supposed to be good for small business?

He’s Watching You


I’m burning through the Steve Jobs biography. It’s a great read for all the reasons you have probably already heard about.

What’s fascinating about it to me is the missing story it reveals between Steve Jobs the husband, brother and father – and the company and products he helped create.

No CEO has such a personal fingerprint on the products they create. His touch is evident in every Apple product. Take the “home” button on the iPhone, for example — the way it makes that satisfying little “pop” sound when you click it. Likewise the iPad’s rounded edges and the way the screen “thumps” when you tap it. These are the little details you know Steve Jobs himself spent days obsessing over, making sure they felt just right. He is personified in the things we use everyday; he is larger than life.

As CEO and co-founder of the world’s most profitable tech company, you see a man with an intuitive business sense, and an talent to figure out what people want before they know they want it (to paraphrase a famous passage from the book). He generated an enormous amount of wealth, but he lived a simple life and rejected superfluous displays of riches.

What I find most inspiring about the book is finding out what made him tick and how he approached his work and life. He was a genuinely curious, passionate guy, who was often hard to get along with but who seemed to have a good heart deep down somewhere. He made things not for money foremost, but out of passion and the belief that technology could improve human creativity and our lives.

While taking a break from reading the book today I watched a neat documentary with some interviews with him and other folks: One Last Thing {pbs}.

Now what?

A media narrative has emerged around Steve Jobs since his passing two days ago. Through the filter of my personal media bubble, it goes something like this.

Jobs’ brilliance was to take technology reserved for the realm of geeks, eliminate complexity, and produce a product that’s intuitive enough for everyday humans — from children to the elderly — to pick up without consulting the instruction manual. Examples of this singular, simple ideal are evident throughout Jobs’ career.

He saw in the mouse and graphical user interface what Xerox PARC didn’t, and created the personal computer. He saw the promise behind the portable MP3 player, and made an interface that’s easy-to-use, forging relationships with the companies who own the content.

In the vein of the Godin post I linked to earlier today — what can we do with Steve’s view of technology and the world? What sliver of an invention is out there today, waiting to be transformed into a simple, delightful product?

Funny how stuff happens

Less than two weeks ago I was tearing down pallets, ringing up customers and working until 1:00 a.m. as a “crew member” at Trader Joe’s

Tomorrow I’m going to buy a car, so I can get to my new job as a copywriter at QVC. I never would’ve thought I’d be working for a home shopping network, but it’s actually a lot more than that, and a pretty cool company. I never thought I’d be buying a car or working anywhere outside of bike-distance, but here I am driving sixty miles a day.

When you’re smaller/in school, the future seems so mappable, and the lives of everyone around you seem pre-ordained. Even though I’ve been following the non-path of an adult for a bunch of years now, I’m still fascinated by the way it actually happens.

The Bicycle is a Machine of Solitude

“Why didn’t you go with them?” Lindsay asked, as we pulled bags of spinach out of a box and tossed them onto the shelf. A group of guys had recently left for a bike trip across the country.

“I don’t know, I think I’d rather go for a bike trip by myself.”

My response surprised me a little too, like when you notice a little detail, a piece of finely painted trim or a flower box hanging from the side of a house you walk by everyday. Something a part of you always saw, acknowledged and seen from a different perspective.

Maybe it was just that particular group of guys that prompted my response. There aren’t too many guys I would want to bike across the country with, but there are definitely a couple, and neither of them were going on this trip.

Another aspect of my response is my style of storytelling. I like to sit down and watch or make a drawing. Most people think that’s boring, or at least would describe my company as such. It’s an old-fashioned, novelistic way of looking at bicycle travel as pioneered by David Byrne; a trip that’s best experienced by oneself.

I’m not planning a trip, yet.