Every weekday at 3:40 p.m., the message popped up on my phone: 22 mins to Work. Google Now was doing its job. It was reminding me where to go and how to get there.
Google Now, in case you don’t know, is the flagship software embedded in the Android smartphone operating system (it’s also available on iOS); its aim is to seamlessly turn your device into a personal assistant that provides “just the right information at just the right time.” It achieves this by using Google’s devouring awareness of your calendar, inbox, and movements. It tracks and predicts your travel, your appointments, your web interests: it tracks you. That may make some people antsy. Not me. Let’s be real: Google knows so much about me already. Might as well put it to use. For me, Google Now is strange and neat and vital.
It can also be kind of a jerk, which brings us back to this daily reminder.
“Work” was the label that, at some point, Google Now had suggested for the place that I went most afternoons: the home of the Kim family, whose kids I tutor. I had okayed this label, tickled that Now was finding patterns. But seeing those daily directions to “Work” quickly began to sting. Because tutoring—and the Kim kids are terrific, really—is not my work. This, what you’re reading, is my work; the novel I’m trying to push up the sales rankings on Amazon is my work. I’m a writer: Writing is my “Work.” Tutoring is a thing I do because, let’s face it, my income as a writer can be inconsistent. Like many writers, I’ve come up with a narrative for this, an equilibration of present and future that looks forward to a time when I don’t need to tutor, sort-of accepts that now is not that time, and holds tight to the fact that my real work is writing—and then there’s this other thing I do for right now that’s really not so bad.