by Mike Shea on 17 March 2014
Evernote has given me a great way to archive my favorite articles. Looking back over 2013, I find a few themes in the articles I felt were worth saving. These themes surround the changing state of jobs and the economy based on massive technological upheaval over the last 20 years and what the future may look like. Spoiler, it's nothing like what we have now and bleak for most of us.
David Simon 'There Are Now Two Americas'
This first article builds a stark baseline on economic difference in the united states. The discussion of the "upper 1%" has swarmed news and politics over the past few year, yet this article, written by David Simon of the Wire, better defines it than any other I've read.
The last job of capitalism — having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what's a good idea or what's not, or what's valued and what's not — the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.
How Technology Is Destroying Jobs
Technological changes in the past 20 years including the internet, mobile technology, and social networking; have completely changed the fundamental nature of "work" and many companies simply haven't caught up. The recent decoupling of jobs, salaries, corporate profits, and the gross domestic product shows that many companies have figured this out but not in a way that increases jobs. This is going to be a huge change in the western world, and probably not for the better. This article and the accompanying graphic share a scary story.
Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?
A fantastic article that looks at our continuing path towards the Singularity in which AI may fully come into being. We look at the Matrix as though it's science fiction but it really may not be that far off. The visualization of one glass of water doubled every 18 months eventually filling Lake Michigan is fantastic.
Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization
More on the state of jobs in the future. About half of all jobs can be automated by computers. What would the markets look like with a 45% unemployment rate?
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed
What's it like going from a nine-month zero-income backpack life across the world to a normal 9-5 job? Is the 40 hour work week designed over decades to break down our abilities to make good decisions and find peace and joy in things that don't burn up the income we work to earn? Do we live in a culture of unnecessary work for unnecessary pay to buy unnecessary stuff? Good thought provoking stuff from someone who moved from freedom back into corporate life.
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
If you read only one article about the changing states of "knowledge work" these days, this is the article to read.
"If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it's hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) — and particularly it's financial avatars — but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days."
How do those of us who aren't 15 year expert programming veterans turn the job of knowledge work into one of substance, meaning, and respect?
The Management-free Organization
What about managers. Surely we'll still need managers, right? Maybe not.
Management only exists to compensate for its own poor hiring decisions. The Internet makes it easier to locate and then work with capable partners. Therefore, the need for management will shrink - at least for some types of businesses - because entrepreneurs have the tools to make fewer hiring mistakes in the first place. Management won't entirely go away, but as technology makes it easier to form competent teams without at least one disruptive or worthless worker in the group, the need for management will continue to decline.
Get It Done Day
This one is important not because it speaks truth but because it shows you how many corporations think about "work life balance". We should all take note of what psychopathic companies think we want, which is ways for us to disengage from our lives so we can work 24 hours a day. When we consider this in the context of all of the other articles this year about how the nature of work is changing, what exactly are we working on?
The Inner Ring
Did you ever feel left out of a group of people you desperately wished you knew better? Have you ever been accused of being part of a tight clique when you didn't see it that way at all? So did C.S. Lewis and he wrote all about it in this fantastic lecture he gave at King's College in London in 1944. There are organizations people write down in fancy org charts and there are the real networks that run things—the personal networks and social networks. These are the networks that matter and it's the reason Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn make so much goddamn money and impact in the world. Lewis comes to a conclusion that is best articulated by Stephen Stills:
"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."
Why I Love Being A Programmer in Louisville (or, Why I Won't Relocate to Work for Your Startup)
A glimpse of what life looks like for someone with expertise who understands the power of true global economic forces.
Amanda Palmer sells $15,000 worth of merch in three minutes; you probably can't, but that's OK
Amanda Palmer shows what the future of successful fine art looks like and validates the 1,000 True Fans idea. You don't have to sell a million books to make a living, you have to sell 10,000.
Now, if your plan is to do what Amanda is doing in order to keep yourself in room and board, you will probably fail. But that's nothing new: practically everyone who set out to earn a living the old record-label way also failed (failed to get a deal, or, with a deal, failed to earn a living from it). The important thing here is that this can work, and work at least as well as the old system -- without demanding that the entire internet be surveilled, without making war on fans, without buying corrupt laws, or turning artists into sharecroppers.
Neil Gaiman University of the Arts Keynote Address 2012
Neil Gaiman has some wise words for those just beginning in the creative field. These words and $5 might get you a cup of coffee but they're still worth listening to.
"In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more."
What Kickstarter Shows Us About Making a Living as an Artist
Is Kickstarter the way for artists to make it today? It sure appears to be headed in the right direction.
America and the world is still recovering from the effects of a hit-driven culture, which thinks only multi-million-selling mega-hits are worth the time of day. This mode of thinking comes from the broadcast/agency era, which built its business around hits, and being niche was not considered a desirable trait. I believe this still discourages artists, who simply couldn't (and may still not) see the in-between area that Kickstarter is only now starting to reveal. Today, the internet, social media, and Kickstarter make niche okaymaybe even preferable.
Humanity's Deep Future
Let's jump way ahead in the future. What sort of world will we see? What really is the future of humanity? Nick Bostrom has some pretty amazing thoughts, thoughts that led to me writing my Cyberpunk adventure Aeon Wave.
That's why Bostrom hopes the Curiosity rover fails. 'Any discovery of life that didn't originate on Earth makes it less likely the great filter is in our past, and more likely it's in our future,' he told me. If life is a cosmic fluke, then we've already beaten the odds, and our future is undetermined the galaxy is there for the taking. If we discover that life arises everywhere, we lose a prime suspect in our hunt for the great filter. The more advanced life we find, the worse the implications. If Curiosity spots a vertebrate fossil embedded in Martian rock, it would mean that a Cambrian explosion occurred twice in the same solar system. It would give us reason to suspect that nature is very good at knitting atoms into complex animal life, but very bad at nurturing star-hopping civilisations. It would make it less likely that humans have already slipped through the trap whose jaws keep our skies lifeless. It would be an omen.
Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Coming back down to Earth and our current place on it, what are we all doing it for? When we come to our end, what will we really care about? If we truly optimize for happiness, than we should understand what we will really care about when we're at the end. I'll spoil it for you:
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