Google engineers and other workers at the company announced on Monday that they’ve formed a minority union. The Alphabet Workers Union represents more than 225 workers out of 260,000-plus at the company, the New York Times reported.

“There are those who would want you to believe that organizing in the tech industry is completely impossible… If you don’t have unions in the tech industry, what does that mean for our country?” Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America, the larger union that Google’s will be affiliated with, told the Times.

The Alphabet Workers Union will be able to include contractors—a huge portion of the workforce at Google and in tech more generally. Last year, OneZero’s Sarah Kessler reported on union-busting efforts in the tech industry that specifically cited solidarity between employees and independent contractors as a growing concern. …

A new study redefines our impact on the natural world

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Siak River, Pekanbaru, Indonesia. Photo: Barcroft Media/Getty Images

There is considerably more plastic on our planet than there is living animal mass. Buildings and roads account for more mass than trees and shrubs. As of 2020, the weight of humankind’s creations is on track to surpass that of all the living biomass on Earth, a remarkable development that gives us a new way of understanding our impact on the natural world.

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel detailed this claim in a study published in Nature last week. The authors call 2020 the “crossover point.” After this, human-produced mass, or anthropogenic mass, will outweigh the planet’s natural biomass. There will be more people stuff than other stuff. …

‘End of life’ messaging should be an industry standard

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Photo: Apple

Just in time for the holidays, Apple has announced a new, expensive model of over-ear headphones. The AirPods Max are $549 and will start shipping on December 15.

For that money, you better be certain they’ll last a long time. In this regard, Apple has something of a mixed record. And with a recent precedent set by Sonos that high-end audio gear may not carry you endlessly into the future, you should know exactly what you’re getting into before you make your purchase. …

‘If you’re going to have users generating content, you’re going to have users generating harmful content’

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Facebook profile images collected at the 2015 Big Bang Data exhibition in London. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House

Last week, Evelyn Douek, a Harvard lecturer who studies online speech, spoke to OneZero’s Will Oremus about a rising tide of moderation controversies across platforms as diverse as Peloton, Pornhub, Facebook, and YouTube.

Peloton has hosted QAnon hashtags; Pornhub has a deeply troubling child pornography issue; and there’s not space enough in this post to enumerate the issues with those other two.

“If you’re going to have users generating content, you’re going to have users generating harmful content,” Douek said.

The responses to these problems have become predictable and, in some ways, ineffectual, she said. Oremus paraphrased a four-point theory Douek has developed to describe the “inevitable life cycle of a user-generated content…

The New York Times on Friday published a report that details allegations of a racist culture at the cryptocurrency startup Coinbase.

One particularly striking passage:

One Black employee said her manager suggested in front of colleagues that she was dealing drugs and carrying a gun, trading on racist stereotypes. Another said a co-worker at a recruiting meeting broadly described Black employees as less capable. Still another said managers spoke down to her and her Black colleagues, adding that they were passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced white employees. …

With Black Friday upon us, tech writer Lance Ulanoff has wisdom to share about the presents to avoid. Why are stores still hawking DVD players and Blu-Ray discs? And $25 Apple Watch knockoffs? Don’t fall for any of it.

Read the full story at the link below:

A very bad year with a number of very good movies

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“Sound of Metal”

Like many people—most of them, I’d assume—I miss quite a lot of things this year. Two in particular: My mom and movie theaters.

They’re still here, but the pandemic has rendered them inaccessible. It feels like we are divided by something like the Shimmer from Annihilation. I reference them in the same breath for the simple reason that, without my mom, I likely would not have developed my passion for film.

When I was young, she nurtured my affection for them, taking me to unusual foreign or animated features at the Century in Chicago. She enrolled me in classes for children at Facets Multi-Media on Fullerton Avenue, culminating eventually in my selection as one of a few middle schoolers sent from the United States to participate as a judge in an international children’s film festival in Giffoni Valle Piana, a small town in Italy. …

Read OneZero’s interview with author Anna Wiener

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“Uncanny Valley” author Anna Wiener. Photo: Kelsey McClellan, as seen in OneZero’s February Q&A.

Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, a ruminative and cutting memoir about tech startups in the 2010s, is officially one of the best books of the year—at least, according to the New York Times. On Monday, the paper placed the book on its always buzzy top-10 list.

Earlier this year, OneZero held a panel discussion with Wiener, Jessica Powell, and our senior editor Brian Merchant, touching on topics like sexism, power, and diversity in Silicon Valley. Wiener reflected on her decision to write Uncanny Valley as nonfiction.

“My reason for writing the book as memoir was I felt that — especially as a nontechnical woman with the story I had — if I had disguised it as fiction, it would not be taken seriously,” she said. “I wanted people to understand that these things all happen, the good and the bad, that my experience here was as fortuitous as it was disenchanting.” …

I don’t agree with Farhad Manjoo’s conclusion. I can see how someone would reach it.

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Photo by Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Last week, I cried for the first time in… well, I guess about two years, since I saw that wrenching documentary about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. These were big, gummy sobs, the kind where your sinuses plug up and you yawp for air.

I had just gotten off the phone with my mom, whom I haven’t seen in a year, explaining that my wife and I would not be flying from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving as we had planned. When we made the arrangements, Covid numbers were down, and it seemed — with proper distancing, quarantine measures, testing, and high-quality PPE — that we could travel reasonably safely to a gathering that would exclusively involve my mom, her partner, my wife, and me. …


Damon Beres

Editor in Chief, OneZero Team at Medium

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