April 4, 2024

Grieving over what was lost

How do you grieve for something you’ve lost, when you knew all along that the something wasn’t meant to last forever?

These past few weeks, I’ve been grieving. With a stroke of a pen, the Ontario Digital Service, an organization I helped conceive of and build from scratch, was effectively erased from existence. The reasons people have given for its dissolution are many, and none of them seem adequate enough; a lot of my career self-worth was tied up in the existence of this organization, and it is hard to fully grasp what it means now that it is gone.

Major re-orgs happen in every organization, so I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Even when building the ODS originally, we had said that we hoped it would live until it served its purpose, and then be retired gracefully. We all knew that this was not going to last, but still I am grieving over what was lost.

I’ve been busy with other things in life, so I haven’t fully had a chance to process this change; my thoughts might evolve as time goes on. For now, I am buoyed by knowing that the work that we did was delightful and essential, and that many of the things we built are now existing and thriving in other parts of government, here in this province and elsewhere. As one of the handful of people who created the ODS, I had a direct hand in not only forging the organizational model, but also in building the culture of the organization—one that was mostly lauded as creating a great place to work in public service. I see tendrils of this culture and employee experience extending into different departments and divisions, into different jurisdictions, into the work people do in service of the public everywhere.

I am proud of the work we did in not only building digital products, but in creating standards and expectations that were built on how to best serve people. I am proud of not only the strides we made in embedding digital expertise across public service, but in building a welcoming culture where people were encouraged and supported to experiment and play and grow and thrive. I am proud of the alumni that have come through the ODS and the amazing things they have done since leaving. I am proud of what we built, and how it has grown since its early days into what it was.

I am lucky, in my career, to have been part of the teams that have launched some big initiatives that have had lasting impact on the way organizations best serve people. I am sure, very soon, I will have the opportunity to be part of something new, and I am excited for that prospect.

For now, I grieve what was lost. We did great things, and we did them well together. To all my colleagues, past and present: thank you for making the ODS a place I was proud to call my workplace over all these years. Here’s to new adventures ahead, and to fond reminiscence of what once was.

A poem

You Lose Something Every Day
Willie Perdomo

It was Dre who once said,
You lose something every day

Your mind on the way to the store
The floor on the way to your mind
Your mind on your way to the clinic
The clinic on the way to one more

The mad in the way of your kind
The lyrics to your favorite song
The cure on the way to the camp
The finish on your way to the line

Your nickel in the way of a dime
The short to your favorite long
The loss on the way to the find
The skin that was yours to bare

The crown that was yours to wear
The floor you were forced to clean
The game that was yours to fair
The face you were pushed to mean

It was Dre who once said,
You lose something every day

This is one of the most beautiful and most wrenching things I’ve read in a while: The Sadness Scale, As Measured by Stars and Whales:

There’s a whale in the Pacific Ocean that sings at such a high frequency no other whales can hear it. Scientists have been monitoring it for over twenty years, and for all that time it’s been alone, still hoping someone is listening. Speaking of singing, every year on the anniversary of its arrival the Mars Rover sings Happy Birthday to itself, millions of miles from anyone, and if that doesn’t send some wind sweeping across the ocean of your insides, I don’t know how to reach you.

I wonder when our daughter is going to ask for a phone of her own, and what technology will be occupying the heads of children when she reaches that age, too:

Valorising technology, on the empty assumption that the work of corrosion and subversion and redefinition it is doing is emancipatory and progressive, became very hard to distinguish from worshipping power for the sake of how powerful it is. Enthusiasts were keen to read healthy tidings in the rise of the internet, and benefits both spiritual and political from the psychic and social changes it wrought, even though the clearest, the most potent, the only obvious claim that it could make for itself was one of brute ontology. It was an emergent phenomenon of singular scope and reach and gravity. But its spokespeople continued to read its effects as progressive, to insist it was doing humanity’s work. They continued to mock those who publicly worried about its dangers, even as its growing power to remake everything, by its own inner logic, and on behalf of the most profitable companies in the history of capitalism, was growing ever more flagrant.

The babysitters we’ve used so far have all been in their 20s and work as early childhood educators. It seems as though the stereotypical teenager-as-babysitter trend is waning everywhere:

The archetypal sitter lived just a few doors down. She was the daughter of your friends; she was the girl you’d been watching grow up for years. But Americans today tend to be less well acquainted with neighbors than they used to be, and they trust other people less in general. If you’re not familiar with the high-schooler on your block, you might not feel comfortable placing your children in her questionably capable hands. Even more than that: You might never connect in the first place.

Are We Watching The Internet Die?:

Generative AI models are trained by using massive amounts of text scraped from the internet, meaning that the consumer adoption of generative AI has brought a degree of radioactivity to its own dataset. As more internet content is created, either partially or entirely through generative AI, the models themselves will find themselves increasingly inbred, training themselves on content written by their own models which are, on some level,permanently locked in 2023, before the advent of a tool that is specifically intended to replace content created by human beings.

A few more AI-related pieces:

Why you, personally, should want a larger human population:

If genius is defined as one-in-a-million level intelligence, then every billion people means another thousand geniuses—to work on all of the problems and opportunities of humanity, to the benefit of all.

Last week I mentioned that I was loving the new NYT game Strands; Ian Bogost agrees in The Atlantic.

As a man with skinny chicken legs, the return of wide-leg pants is not something I’m looking forward to at all. (Though, in fifth and sixth grade, you couldn’t find jeans wider and baggier than mine, as was the mode.)

How’s your breathing when you’re working? Do you have email apnea?

I love reading stories about research and technology that tangibly and drastically improves lives: this look at the drug that changed how we treat cystic fibrosis is fascinating.

I’m fascinated by how other countries are dealing with the opioid crisis, especially those seeing success with harm reduction and treatment approaches.

A report found that some retailers seem to have used rising costs as an opportunity to further hike prices.” This report is for the US, but I’m sure they’d find the same thing in Canada, especially with Loblaws/PC grocery properties. Grocery prices have risen way past the actual costs of providing them.

I’ve heard the story of Edmond Albius and the pollination of vanilla beans a few times, but it’s worth revisiting.

Things that don’t work.

The world is in the midst of a city-building boom.

We went to visit the alpacas.

Why do animals play?

I don’t wear suits anymore, but I’d definitely wear one regularly if I had one by Martin Greenfield.

This list of Great American Novels has been a boon to my must-read list. So many great things to add.

Fascinated by this: Vancouver’s new mega-development is big, ambitious and undeniably Indigenous.

Should there be an Oscar for title design? There should definitely be some kind of award, I think.

As a Liverpool fan who wouldn’t consider themselves a superfan but is still invested in the team, I’m intrigued by the cultural divisions cropping up in Premiership fandom these days.

A sandwich is not a thing; it is a set of practices.” Is a hot dog a sandwich? The experts weigh in. (Whether it is or not, it’s still one of my favorite things to eat.)

In the U.S. you don’t need 7-Eleven to have a good life. In Taiwan you cannot have a good life without 7-Eleven.” Why are Taiwan’s 7-Elevens so much better than ours?

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