Happy Sunday everyone!

Last Friday, Google announced it would layoff more than 12,000 employees. This is the latest in a series of such announcements, coming from Salesforce and Amazon, Microsoft and Meta—of course from Twitter. 

It is obviously terrible news for those now faced with finding work in a difficult economy. And I wonder if this turn of events will allow us to dispense with the idea of the tech world as an inherently wiser realm, its leaders visionaries whose dreams inevitably become our reality. 

I've spent my career in journalism, a field that's routinely demeaned as not sufficiently appealing to tech companies. As a  resident of tech-centric Austin for more than 15 years, I'm used to going to parties where, after I'm asked what I do, I have to endure an employee from one of a million start ups, or from Google or Meta, cocking his head to one side (and let me say it's just about always a "him") and smugly noting that publishing is struggling these days. Who even reads anything anymore? Isn't everything on Wikipedia?

I like to save the fact that our magazine publishes in print as the kicker, usually the conversation-ender I drop to leave my new acquaintance speechless. 

To be sure, such questions aren't necessarily unreasonable. I spend most of my waking hours trying to figure out how Stranger's Guide can attract more paid readers and bring in more dollars. (Please note, you can help here.)  I also spend plenty of time myself on my phone and on my computer reading free content and playing with random new AI tools.

Still, in the wake of this new round of layoffs, we can now all take note of how much tech companies themselves struggle to bring in enough revenue to come close to covering expenses. And yet, I'm guessing, even now their cocktail party experiences remain much less vexed than my own. 

Sustainability has long been our goal at Stranger's Guide; finding ways to continue doing the work that we believe is meaningful. While I don't have much advice for the tech world, I do think that entertaining the idea of aiming for sustainability, instead of profitability, might be a useful thought experiment.

The excerpt below is from our South Korea guide, which went to press in April of 2020, after we pushed back our deadline when the lockdown left us scrambling. Our team raced to remake the guide, reworking pieces and commissioning new ones to offer a portrait of South Korea's approach to the pandemic—a very different approach than that of the US, for instance.  

I'm proud that we pulled through by producing that guide, and never stopped publishing. I continue to feel that our work, which doesn't leverage algorithms or search histories, continues to deliver powerful stories that are unlikely to be featured elsewhere. Here's to sustaining that work for years to come. 

The Perfect Read for the Globally Curious

Excerpt from "Chaebol; by Geoffrey Cain

From Stranger's Guide: South Korea

In 2010, a Samsung employee tipped me off to a leaked video of Samsung recruits standing in formation before a scoreboard displaying a motto. In black-and-white rococo regalia, including a cravat—attire as ornate as the military dress of a French musketeer—a cheerleader uttered a battle cry: “Youth with boiling blood, conquer the summer season!”

The phrase “pride in Samsung” was hoisted on a banner on a nearby hill amid the pine trees and fertile summer grass. Amid a sea of blue costumes and yellow capes, the recruits on the field smartly fell into formation in the shape of a trapezoid. Senior employees watched from the sidelines, behind the cheerleader, their company division identified by their color of dress.

“Victorious fighting spirit! Sensational telecommunications, team C!” the cheerleader shouted. She jumped in the air, then flung her right arm out, ruffles on her wrists, and snapped a forefinger in a white glove.

“Start!” The day’s recruits were the newest class to enter the gates of this silicon castle, at an event called the Samsung Summer Festival. They’d been preparing to join the knighthood of Samsung Men and Women for more than two weeks. They’d been through boot camps, hiked, and suffered sleep deprivation while learning to work together and treat each other as family.

Four Samsung recruiting divisions performed that day, each wearing its own distinct uniform, in what was meant to be a team-building exercise. It was meant to be fun. But the company elite were watching.

The recruits broke formation and sprinted outward to form a rectangle, picking up bags at their feet to create a checkered pattern using the Samsung colors of blue and white, spelling the word “victory” one letter at a time.

The recruits then formed the numeral “10,000,000”—the number of mobile phone sales that Samsung had set as a tar get. That year’s Samsung D500 handset—a simple, compact slider phone—had rung in a bonanza. The recruits formed a picture of the phone, followed by the word “champ,” before forming a digital watch with the word “hero,” then another mobile phone with the word “star.”

“It was amazing, scary and weird,” said a Samsung employee whose manager helped run the event. She and many others likened the pageantry to North Korea’s mass games ceremony.

A Samsung public relations executive, told of the comparison between Samsung and North Korea, told me over Korean barbecue one night, “That’s offensive. We are a company. Don’t compare us to North Korea. Compare us to Apple, IBM, HP.

“Yes, we’re secretive,” he admitted. “But so is Apple. The Samsung Man is just a stereotype . . . It’s not the company I see.”

Continue reading here

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