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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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.
Enough with “labor-saving” inventions. We need “management-saving” devices. What’s worse, work or the boss?
— P J O’Rourke
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.
Let’s say you are in one of two relationships. You can say for yourself what kind these are: romantic, familial, or what have you. But let’s also assume that, for other reasons, you can’t easily disentangle the bonding, so that leaving it would have a steep personal cost to you. OK, here we go.
In the first relationship, something feel very strongly is that the other person is committed to you. They show you this in a hundred ways. They cheer you up when your down, they’ll do something that you both know needs doing….without prompting. They “get” you; they know when you need a kick in the butt or a pat on the back, even when you don’t! They see you at your worst and smile benignly. “I love you” need not be spoken; that’s in their glance or their hands. It’s not like they don’t have their own interests different from yours; they get energy from more than you. But their first and second impulses are to want to share what they love with you because they want you to love it like they do! And how happy they become because your happy! You sort of become 3 people; “you”,”them” and “you and them”, it’s own entity.
And how do you deal with each other when things get rough? ‘Shared sacrifice’ is just the start of it, right? You give up things, you work harder, you put yourself in hazardous positions (financially or emotionally, amongst others) because….it’s about that other person first, second, third. If it’s truly hazardous for them (an illness say) and there’s nothing you can do….you suffer far, far more than if it were just yourself. The important thing is that, come fair weather or foul….you will both prevail, and prevail together! Everything in life becomes better….because there is another person to share the joy of life with.
Now let’s move on to the second relationship. You’re constantly “negotiating” things, time, money, friends. That other person learns you like in the first relationship, but here they do what they need to get you to do what they want! A lie that gets them what they want is better than a truth that does not. Bullying, sweet talking, “rational argument” (where what they want is “rational” and what you want is….) all of this is the norm for their behavior. There’s a lot of ‘zero sum’ thinking in this couple, and even if they get along, they’re never really happy. And when things get tough here? The first, second and third things they are looking for are the exit signs. If you ever get your mind clear, how much are you going to commit to them? In bad cases, how many escape fantasies — and worse! — do you get in your head?
Extend this dichotomy out into other major relationships in your life. Your employer, your industry, your government…. Look how often people hate ‘work’, as if that were the natural state of it, and maybe it is! People hate showing up and then their bosses wonder why their productivity is down! And even dealing with this question is viewed negatively; it’s ‘touchy feely’ or ‘New Agey’ to actually respect what people do to make something succeed!
I wouldn’t mind letting my government borrow trillions more if I felt that they really will try to cut costs. But I feel that they want to spend now….and spend later! It’s no wonder they’ve lost the trust of a lot of people.
Make no mistake, I am very aware that for some time to come things will be difficult for many of us. The economy and the culture will be changing, changing in ways we are unsure of, where we may be fearful for what will come. Perhaps I am foolish enough to be American enough to feel and think that we not merely endure but succeed, succeed in ways we don’t yet comprehend. And again, foolish enough to believe in this success for myself and others going through this long period of change.
The other day I was fumbling for a Nietzsche quote in my head, and after throwing out a few bad New Yorker articles, Adam Sandler movies, and more posts, tweets and emails that I can’t believe I wrote, I found it, buried in my heart almost 40 years ago. Nietzsche is talking about God, but substitute “work” for the Lord:
The background of our cheerfulness. The greatest recent event — that “God is dead,” that the belief in the Christian God has ceased to be believable — is even now beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe.For the few at least, whose eyes, whose suspicion in their eyes is strong and sensitive enough for that spectacle, some sun seems to have set just now…. In the main, however, this may be said: the event itself is much too great, too distant, too far from the comprehension of the many even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived yet, not to speak of the notion that many people might know what has really happened here, and what must collapse now that this belief has been undermined — all that was built upon it, leaned on it, grew into it; for example, our whole European morality…
Even we born guessers of riddles who are, as it were, waiting on the mountains, put there between today and tomorrow, and stretched in the contradiction between today and tomorrow, we firstlings and premature births of the coming century, to whom the shadows that must soon envelop Europe really should have appeared by now — why is it that even we look forward to it without any real compassion for this darkening, and above all without any worry and fear for ourselves? Is it perhaps that we are still too deeply impressed by the first consequences of this event — and these first consequences, the consequences for us, are perhaps the reverse of what one might expect: not at all sad and dark, but rather like a new, scarcely describable kind of light, happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement, dawn? Indeed, we philosophers and “free spirits” feel as if a new dawn were shining on us when we receive the tidings that “the old god is dead”; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, anticipation, expectation. At last the horizon appears free again to us, even granted that it is not bright; at last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never been such an “open sea.”
— The Gay Science, Book V, aphorism 343