Gabriel Doyle, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics and writes the blog Motivated Grammar, told me that "sort of"' is a "de-precision device." As Dr. Doyle put it: "The speaker is saying, 'Don't think of this as being overly accurate.' "
In other words, people throw "sort of" into their speech because they're unsure. Our language is reflecting modern life.
We sort of have stable jobs until our company outsources or downsizes. We can sort of count on Social Security in retirement. We're sort of done fighting a war in Iraq. It's my nonscientific theory that "sort of" is, in part, a linguistic manifestation of the indefiniteness we feel, a noncommittal expression for a time of rapid technological change and instability across our social structures.
LAANE's Jon Zerolnick spoke with Tom Slee, an Ontario-based writer whose work on the intersection of technology, politics, and economics has appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, The New Inquiry, The Guardian, and Jacobin.
One other thing that bothers me is a rhetoric the companies all use around the idea of "extra money." As in, "it's not a job, it's just a bit of extra money." Once you say "extra money," it's like, "Oh, we don't need rules and regulations, because it's just extra money." This is the same rhetoric that was used back in the 60s around women's jobs. There wasn't equal pay for equal work, because "it's not a real job, it's just extra money." Using the phrase "extra money" is a slippery way to undermine employment standards, and to undermine things that unions and progressive politicians have fought for for a long time. Any low-paying job is a way to earn "extra money." There's no such thing as "extra money."
I'm involved in digital technology, but over the last few years, people - especially Silicon Valley companies - have taken a lot of the democratizing and egalitarian rhetoric around the internet - the rhetoric of openness - and they've used that to make money. What annoyed me about that is the betrayal: you're taking language that I sympathize with, that I identify with, and you're using it to make a big pile of money.
For instance, Airbnb just closed a funding round for $450 million. On paper, the founders will now be billionaires. And yet they're using the language of community and the language of sharing. While the sharing economy presents itself as a communitarian movement, the venture capital-funded wing of it is an extension of the harshest of free-market economics into areas of our life that have previously been protected from it.
So who benefits and how?
The people who will do quite well off the sharing economy as it is evolving are consumers. Airbnb is a perfectly fine thing for travelers, and I wouldn't be surprised if Uber and Lyft managed to offer reasonably good services most of the time. These things naturally work to do low-price, widely-available services, and might well work for consumers in the same way that Wal-Mart offers good things for consumers. They all offer low price, but what's the cost of that?
Is there a way to achieve the communitarian benefits without the social costs?
I think there is. It comes down to two things. One is that venture capital is a real problem for the sharing economy. Once you've got large-scale capital involved, you have incentives that lead to problems. Venture capital demands a return, right? That means growth becomes the number one priority. And the demand for growth works against a number of the ideals that are used to promote [the sector]. Let's take the idea that the sharing economy is sustainable, which has a big appeal to a lot of people in the green movements: sharing rather than buying, that's a good thing. But that's not how it works once you get into the venture capital mode.
To take an example, Zip Car was an early internet car sharing company. Then Zip Car got sold to Avis, and their goal, all of a sudden, is growth. So what do they end up doing? They go to university students and say "You don't qualify to buy a car on your own, but you can access a car through us, because you can share it with other people." Instead of being an alternative to owning, the venture capital people turn the service into a gateway drug to consumption. The goal of Zip Car is to get more cars on the road, as long as they're Zip Cars. The goal of all of these entities is to grow the number of transactions, and all other considerations get pushed aside.
And two, micro-entrepreneurialism is a problem. That's the Silicon Valley sharing economy phrase of the day: "You can make a living at this, you can make money from this."
Stimulants were not "drugs of abuse" because people who overdose "feel nothing" or "feel bad." Yet these drugs are classified by the government among the most abusable substances in medicine, largely because of their effects on concentration and mood. Overdosing can cause severe heart problems and psychotic behavior.
Slides described side effects of Adderall XR as "generally mild," despite clinical trials showing notable rates of insomnia, significant appetite suppression and mood swings, as well as rare instances of hallucinations. Those side effects increase significantly among patients who take more pills than prescribed.
Another slide warned that later in life, children with A.D.H.D. faced "job failure or underemployment," "fatal car wrecks," "criminal involvement," "unwanted pregnancy" and venereal diseases, but did not mention that studies had not assessed whether stimulants decreased those risks.
When federal guidelines were loosened in the late 1990s to allow the marketing of controlled substances like stimulants directly to the public, pharmaceutical companies began targeting perhaps the most impressionable consumers of all: parents, specifically mothers.
A magazine ad for Concerta had a grateful mother saying, "Better test scores at school, more chores done at home, an independence I try to encourage, a smile I can always count on." A 2009 ad for Intuniv, Shire's nonstimulant treatment for A.D.H.D., showed a child in a monster suit taking off his hairy mask to reveal his adorable smiling self. "There's a great kid in there," the text read.
Insurance plans, increasingly reluctant to pay for specialists like psychiatrists, are leaving many A.D.H.D. evaluations to primary-care physicians with little to no training in the disorder. If those doctors choose to learn about the diagnostic process, they can turn to web-based continuing-education courses, programs often subsidized by drug companies.
A recent course titled "Unmasking A.D.H.D. in Adults," on the website Medscape and sponsored by Shire, featured an instructional video of a primary-care physician listening to a college professor detail his work-related sleep problems. After three minutes he described some attention issues he had as a child, then revealed that his son was recently found to have the disorder and was thriving in college on medication.
Six minutes into their encounter, the doctor said: "If you have A.D.H.D., which I believe you do, family members often respond well to similar medications. Would you consider giving that a try?"