After the love is gone….

Let’s face it…work is a mess…for many people, it’s gone and not coming back.  And for those left?  I wonder how many people actually like what they do as opposed to just getting a paycheck.

Our politicians think they can fix the work mess.  Both left and right flail away about work in ways that more match their particular pair of rose-colored glasses (thank you, Immanuel Kant!)  but what if what we are going through with work is….a divorce?

Work doesn’t want us anymore; but we cling to it, hope it will still love us, lie to ourselves about how much we still love it, and Work is the party that sees through the self deceiving BS.  Neither party is sure where they are going next; they just don’t want to be together, deep down, any more.  We say it’s necessary to stay together, but if you’ve ever been that situation, all you can think about is getting out, getting away from that which is causing you a lot of pain, necessity or no.

People getting divorced can’t see an upside when they’re going through it, all they are feeling is pain.  But once apart, you can begin to heal yourself and come back around to “being productive”, which, in this case, we have no idea what that means.



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Also interesting….

I saw this link on the Ricochet site and it is a podcast that discusses many of the things we’ve been talking about here.  The shift in society from money from wages to ownership is something that will occur over time and affect not only work, but even things like schooling.  I’ve always been amazed that we are still being taught a range of skills that are suited to the economy we are leaving behind and not the economy we are heading towards.  It’s amazing to think about how little people understand about running a business and a whole host of skills that are strongly related to how you make money these days.  What would be interesting to me is the extent to which we as a country will shift in that direction…what would it mean to have a nation of people who are very, very sensitive to markets, business, etc?  As technologies tend to greater and greater specific changes, the technological, the cultural, and the financial will merge.  In some ways, (cultural, I think) we are already there.  We will become used to subtler and more “bespoke” products, each made just for us with almost as a little effort as mass market products are made today.  As is mentioned in the podcast, I can’t wait for the day of owning my army of robots!

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We’re still ahead of the curve!

I saw this piece in ComputerWorld which says, albeit darkly, stuff we’ve been saying here for some time now.  It doesn’t have to be a dystopic view of things, but I’ll bet that’s we will stumble into if we don’t think through the consequences of the path we’re moving down.

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Not Dead Yet…

I saw this over at Ace of Spades and thought I have to post it here as well!  Thus, the revival…

A report from researchers at Oxford has suggested that almost half of American jobs will be replaced by technology.  While this sounds mighty grim, the upside take from the article is that this will emphasize the development of more creative and social skills.    This would certainly be an interesting society!  Full of writers and musicians?  Maybe….but perhaps people will be more creative about things they are not about now.  More refined solutions to ever more complex human problems!

This also hits an EOW theme….how can we really place psychological value in work when so many forces are trying to take it away from us?




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In Situ

One post in like 6 months is a sure sign this blog is moribund.  Upon reflection, I’m not sure that a blog was the right way to approach this topic, which is still in my head a lot.  I don’t mean to beat myself up over doing this as a blog; it just didn’t really give me what I’ve needed to have, and I suspect I haven’t really given the readers what they wanted to see.

I’m open to what people want to say about this in the comments and perhaps I can find a way to get back to this as a blog again….otherwise, not so much.

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We really do neither

So I was watching Washington Journal on C-SPAN this morning and they were talking about the soon-to-be released 1940 census.

Much of the discussion was centered around charts and data…and comparison to the 2010 data.

Based on the 2010 data the percentage of Americans working in BOTH agriculture AND manufacturing is…12%!

Think about that — only 1 person in 8 in America grows food or makes things….wow.


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EOW quote of the day

Enough with “labor-saving” inventions. We need “management-saving” devices. What’s worse, work or the boss?

— P J O’Rourke


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Here is an article that distills a lot of what we’ve been talking about here at EOW into two simple categories:

Physical work, which is the first work to get extensively automated and

Mental work, which is now, relatively recently, getting the same systematic treatment that older physical work has.

Here’s a paragraph that hooked me:


To be frank, I’m not that sorry for them. Over the years, I have come to realize just how many skilled white-collar professionals are just phoning it in when they go to work every day. They fill out paperwork and connect the easy dots in pre-established formulas, rather than doing original, creative, conceptual thinking. Chances are you’ve seen one of those “mystery diagnosis” shows on cable TV, the ones that tell you the story of some guy who suffers a mysterious, debilitating ailment for years before he finally finds a specialist who tells him he has some rare disease. It seems like every one of those shows begins with a doctor who listens to the patient’s symptoms, plugs them into a common, familiar, and completely wrong diagnosis, and then lets it go at that. It begins with a doctor who’s going through the motions rather than doing original thinking to solve the problem.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the falling value (and rising price) of a university diploma, and this is part of the reason for it. Much of a contemporary university education is designed to train dot-connectors, to fill students’ heads with established formulas and the received wisdom, but not to teach the kind of creative problem-solving that can only be learned, in my experience, by going beyond the canned knowledge peddled in the classroom and dealing with actual, real-world challenges.

[my emphasis]


It also strikes me how many “knowledge professionals” want to race to stuff some problem they’ve encountered into a known (to them) model or paradigm because it relates so strongly to how they make profit in their work.  The irony to me is how they racing to become…machine like.  Is it any wonder than we want the REAL machines to do more and more of these tasks?


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Hidden Virtues

I often wonder how much time in traditional jobs are people there less to do the work, but more to fill in a “slot”.  Now, I’m not saying people in jobs don’t work…but rather, how much of their working time is defined by the needs of others, of organizations rather than the task of work itself.  I say this reflecting on my own past work.  I was hired by a place because my background matched perfectly what they wanted me to do which they thought would take 2 years. So I left my older employer, got a fairly big raise, and looked at the task they wanted me to do….and it was nowhere near 2 years work.  Not even close.  It took me awhile to realize that no one there had really thought through what a software project would take.  They weren’t programmers…far, far, far more hardware oriented folks.  When I took the time to sit through and code what they needed (in a tiny, tiny closet filled with hardware racks, air conditioning vents to keep the hardware from frying, 1 Monitor, no phone, barely room for one chair, set in the midst of a titanic industrial environment)

4 months later….I was done.   What a mistake!  At first my bosses didn’t believe that I could finish a ‘2 year task’ in 4 months…..this involved me ever-so-politely pointing out to them they had no idea how software projects are designed, which, after a time sunk in.  When I asked ‘what now?” they said, “We’ll figure it out.”  Weeks later they had not.   More weeks went by.  My coworkers resented me not working on their hardware projects and only dimly grasped that I knew absolutely nothing about their hardware and they had zero patience/willingness for teaching me.  So I sat.  And sat.  And sat some more.  People thought I was being clever to get a check and do nothing. I hated it.  Every attempt I made to try and break out of my rabbit cage was discouraged with flamethrowers.  ‘No. Sit. We’ll get back to you’  When I made a huge list of the software projects that could have been done…just by me…my boss looked at me like I wanted to re-enact the Manhattan Project on his budget.  No. Sit.

Eventually, I quit.  Today, I probably would have cashed the checks and laughed at the Fools Employing Me, but back then I just hadn’t reached Schadenmaturity.  I could sure use the cash now.

Think this an isolated case?  That capitalism would weed out such companies?  I have dozens, literally dozens of such stories from folks, from failed companies and still prospering ones.  Get a few drinks in me and I have stories about a yacht club(!) that was conned into a computer that the NSA could use to crack codes…and the Potemkin staff they hired for a set of bizarre set of reasons, none of which were around the machine they bought.

I apologize for the long screed.  How does this connect to EOW?  That’s easy.  More, and more and more of work can’t afford this kind of nonsense, within companies and without.  No one wants to really say what they feel:   Companies frequently make people unproductive.  As the responsibility gets push on us, we’ll develop more of a sense that the reward will move downward as well.  It may not, but that’s what we feel should be the case, and the more we feel that way the more we will be trying to make it happen.  Companies have, for a long time, berated “inefficient” employees; this will turn on the companies themselves when people really embrace their awareness of how effective they are compared to the organizations they are with.  You know better what makes you work at your best more than your boss does.



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The Longue Duree

For purposes of this blog, history really begins at the point where we go from being an agricultural economy/culture to….whatever comes next, usually industrialization.  And when we go from that second phase of economy to what we are now….that change happens faster and harder than the first.  And what we’re going through now?  I see the flames coming outta the engine of the Batmobile my friends!   This set of cycles, these ‘interlocking rings’ of tech, economy and culture are going on everywhere not just the US or Europe.  To be sure, how other places do this doesn’t have to replicate our experience, but may be informed by it.  Iceland went from an almost Medieval culture at the start of the 20th century to building modern cities, poof, from whole cloth thanks to the economic miracle known as the codfish! (See, Cod by Mark Kurlansky, one of my favorite books of the last few years!)

But it is quite sobering how much evil and suffering have occurred throughout the world in the same relatively short time.  When I read accounts of the First Battle of the Marne in WWI, I wind up feeling like we just handed monkeys machine guns and artillery and let them kill 100,000 people and wound another 400,000….in a week.  Even more sobering….that’s merely the tip of the iceberg of horrors in the last 150 years.  You know the names of the more famous horrors; do I have to spell them out?

Plus, there’s nothing to say that things won’t even get worse.  That’s the danger in times like this; the ‘solutions’ we think make sense may indeed damage things, well, I won’t say ‘beyond repair’, but such that fixing them will be exceptionally difficult.  Once we get behind bad ideas they entrench just as deeply as good ones.

But if there’s one thing I have confidence in, especially in America, is that we will work out things and the flaws of the old regime will be things we make fun of in the future.  I think it’s because we really don’t value the past all that much.  I know a lot of people that view this as a flaw, but I generally don’t!  There comes a point when we’ve peaked out with the old ways even though it’s hard to see.  I’ve long believed that everything becomes its own parody.

And, sort of amazingly, even older things get better than they were.  We’re far better at growing food than we were 150 years ago, and we’re better, more effective manufacturers than we were 70 years ago.  So, while we ride the wave of change, remember that we will find a way to build on what we’ve done.  The “information economy” we’ve been building for the last 30-40 years I view as kind of developing a ‘central nervous system’  for us as a culture.   But what brain will form from this?


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