The mouse jiggler: for when you want to pretend you’re working

You can get a mouse jiggler for a tenner, I see behind my computer, although prices go up to around 50 euros. I’m looking further. The mouse jiggler is a fake mouse that pretends to be active at the computer even when you are not. In that sense it is a false invention: under the guise of progress, it enables us to do something better than doing nothing. It has been sold out on many US sites for months. Why are millions of Americans and (to a lesser extent) Europeans suddenly buying mouse jigglers?

Two investigative journalists from New York Times, Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram, recently described in a shocking article how Carol Kraemer, a mostly home-based employee at a software company, noticed that her salary was lower than expected. Eventually she figured out what it was: business software had measured its effectiveness (read: activity on the keyboard) and the payout was ‘corrected’ on that basis. Every ten minutes a screenshot was taken of her, of what she was working on, but also of her face, to confirm that she was making an effort. The company only paid for “actively spent time.” So if Carol went to the bathroom or stretched her back, it was deducted from her pay. But it also happened when she was doing hard-to-measure work, such as reading pieces of paper or guiding colleagues.

“We are experiencing the greatest expansion of employer power in decades,” Kantor concluded on the same topic in the podcast The Daily from New York Times. . For months, Kantor and Sundaram had spoken to hundreds of employees, employers and software developers. “The Magic Word: Efficiency.” That expansion has been invisible: it’s taking place in computers, laptops and phones. As much data as possible is collected from the employees without them being aware of it. And based on this data, a scale is made of how ‘hard’ the employees work. This quantitative approach started about ten years ago in call centers, followed by large digital companies such as Amazon. The pandemic accelerated and extended the trend. When millions of people suddenly started working from home, it was considered legal for employers to monitor their employees. Kantor and Sundaram concluded that eight of the ten largest employers in the United States use so-called efficiency software at all levels of the company.

spend less

Although this research does not relate to the Netherlands, it seems very likely that the same thing is happening here. It is a logical next step for any company that wants to earn more and spend less on its employees. Cantor: “You used to look at the clock. Now the clock is looking at you.”

Chances are, we’ll all be Carol in the future, if we’re not already her. Since reading the article, I look at the eye on my computer differently: who is staring at me? Am I efficient enough? Should I write this piece faster?

It’s a theme that comes up in a lot of dystopian literature: technology is developing in such a way that it takes away from us the responsibility of looking after our own work. Without that responsibility, we are cogs. Thus man creates machines, and machines create more machines.

But we never just accept the gear’s fate. We look for ways to separate ourselves from things or programs to preserve our humanity. That’s why, for those employees who want to resist without being fired, there’s the mouse jiggler. “Without the IT department in the company, you are forever working to figure it out!” screams an ad. “Never jump yellow on Teams again! Live your best life!” said another. In the case of the mouse jiggler, is it a natural, human backlash against a perverted system, or is it simply cheating? What is certain is that the mouse jiggler should not be missing from the 2022 time capsule.

Fortunately, after a long search I find an affordable mouse jiggler. So no one needs to know that I need a cup of coffee now and the rest of my day will be an ode to inefficiency.

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