Tag Archives: work

Happy Labor Day 2022!

Today is Labor Day.

For most people, it’s just a generic government holiday. Most treat it as the last chance to enjoy proper summer activities, like cookouts and going to he beach. For kids, it’s often a clear sign that summer break is over and it’s time to get back to school.

However, these past two years have changed a lot about how we see labor, holidays, and traditions in general. I don’t think I need to remind everyone how much change and upheaval we’ve had since 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I’d rather not remind anyone of just how bad things got for so many people, especially the working class.

So, rather than dwell on that, let me just take a moment to ask that everyone remember what it means to work hard and toil for a living. Many of those reading this have probably worked a menial, arduous job for minimal pay and little benefits. Unless you’re born rich and well-connected, it’s practically unavoidable.

I certainly couldn’t avoid it. One of the first jobs I had was at a fast food restaurant. It was a tedious, laborious job that always left me sore, drained, and moody. I had to help impatient people get greasy, unhealthy food. I had to constantly empty out the trash, clean the toilets, and sweep disgusting crap off the floor.

But the worst part of all was just how slow time seemed to go every day I was at that job. I swear a minute felt like an hour and an hour felt like a day. It also paid minimum wage and the only benefits I enjoyed was a free meal every day.

It was as unpleasant a first job could be. However, it gave me an immense appreciation for those who work hard and toil at these jobs that a lot of us don’t give a second thought. To this date, I try to make it a point to be extra courteous and kind to those working jobs like that. I also try to tip generously whenever I can.

I encourage everyone to do the same because if nothing else, these past two years have shown just how vital these hard working people are to our society. We literally could not function without them. Whether they’re flipping burgers, delivering packages, or crunching numbers behind a computer screen, their hard work and toil deserves to be celebrated.

Labor Day might not offer much to those who still strain their bodies and souls every day, just to survive. But I hope it offers some perspective to those who truly appreciate the value of hard work.

So, in that spirit, I wish everyone from all walks of life a Happy Labor Day.

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A Brief Message After One Of The Busiest Weeks Of My Adult Life

Every now and then, we have one of those weeks that really tests us. Whether you’re in high school or a working adult, you just find yourself navigating each day like it’s a marathon after another marathon. It’s exhausting, draining, stressful, and even frustrating most of the time.

Then, you make it to the end of the week and it feels so good.

That’s basically the week I just had. I feel like this past week has been one of the hardest of my adult life. I won’t get into all the details why, mostly because it would require a book’s worth of backstory, context, and plot. I’ll just say that I found myself juggling way more challenges than most over the span of just a few days. On more than one occasion, I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to manage it all.

But in the end, I did.

I didn’t just make it to the end of the week. I actually finished everything I wanted to finish and did it with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence. That just made it all the more rewarding.

I’ve had long, arduous weeks before. Sometimes, I’ve had several in a row, but this week was different. It felt like a perfect storm of issues and challenges. All sorts of factors, none of which I could control, seemed to converge on just a handful of days. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s usually very stressful.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to manage that stress. I like to think I’m better at it now than I was when I was a younger. That still didn’t make it any less draining. When I got home yesterday, I basically fell onto my bed and just laid there for a while. I also enjoyed an extra glass of whiskey, which is typically my preferred method of unwinding on Friday nights. And I can confirm it tasted that much sweeter.

I know it’s a bit cliché to say that hard work can be very rewarding, especially for those doing jobs they hate or dealing with issues that frustrate them. However, there is something to be said about making it through a difficult week and succeeding in everything you set out to do. It really is uniquely satisfying. It shows just how strong you are and how far you’ve come.

I’ll likely face other weeks like that in the future. Everyone reading this now will probably face the same. Take heed from this message.

You will make it through.

You will overcome.

You will be stronger because of it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s another glass of whiskey waiting for me.

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Lessons From Japan’s (Deadly) Work Culture

Karoshi: Why Do So Many Japanese Die From Overworking?

In general, being a hard worker is a respectable trait to have. Regardless of your background, culture, or political affiliations, we tend to value and celebrate those who are willing to put in the extra effort into whatever they do for a living. It’s not easy. It can be incredibly stressful at times. Then again, most things worth doing are.

I certainly remember plenty of times when I worked hard. Going all the way back to high school, I can recall days in which I spent nearly every waking hour grinding away at something or another, be it schoolwork, chores, or a part-time job. I remember being drained when all was said and done, but I was ultimately stronger because of it.

That being said, there is a certain threshold in which hard work ceases to be about productivity and just becomes downright damaging. I suspect many people have approached or cross that threshold at some point in their lives, whether it’s with school or a career. However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how damaging excessive work can be.

This brings me to Japan and their legendary, albeit infamous, work culture. Think back to the longest, hardest day you had at school or your job. In Japan, that’s basically Tuesday. Work for them is not just some 9-to-5 gig you do for a paycheck. It’s a sizable chunk of their lives, more so than American or European workers.

Working overtime, sleeping at the office, and sacrificing for the company aren’t seen as above and beyond. That’s the standard. Yes, it’s a very high standard, but let’s not forget these are real people pushing themselves in extreme ways to meet that standard.

While this high emphasis on work has helped Japan become one of the best economies in the world, it does have a dark side. It’s so prevalent and common, in fact, that the Japanese even have a word for it. It’s called Karoshi, which translates to “overwork death.”

It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it’s actually more complex than that.

It’s a serious ongoing issue in Japan. You don’t have to look far for horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to Karoshi. There are real cases of otherwise healthy 31-year-old men dying of heart failure after regularly working 14-hour days for 7 years straight.

Take a step back and appreciate that kind of strain.

You work so long and so hard that your heart gives out.

It’s one thing to work until you’re tired and sore, but it takes a special kind of strain for your heart to just give out.

As bad as that is, this isn’t the only way Karoshi manifests. Beyond the long hours at the office and the constant stress that comes with it, you can see other signs throughout Japan. It’s not that uncommon to see people asleep on the streets or on park benches. It’s as normal as seeing someone taking selfies.

For a more in depth look on how this unfolds in Japan, check out this video. It’s what got me interested in this topic and inspired me to bring it up.

Now, I’m not looking to denigrate or demean another country’s work culture. I understand that not every society sees work the same way or approaches it in a way people from my part of the world would recognize. At the same time, it’s hard to overlook the issues that result in people dying of heart attacks before they’re 40.

It’s something the Japan is trying to address, but changing ingrained culture isn’t easy. Changing peoples work habits isn’t easy, either. People are set in their ways. I say that as someone who regularly struggled with Spanish quizzes in high school, but never though to adjust study habits.

It’s also an issue I think highlights and important lesson for any society that emphasizes hard work. Yes, it’s generally good, but there are limits. There comes a point where the work is more valued than the person doing it and when you reach that point, the well-being of the person becomes an afterthought.

Those who claim that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life may beg to differ. To them, I would remind them that the human body doesn’t recognize whether or not you’re doing something you love or something you hate. It just knows when it’s being strained to the point where it starts failing.

I feel like this will become more relevant in the coming years. The events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have already significantly affected the workplace and I’m not just referring to the rise of telework. If anything, these events have accelerated the pace of automation. The jobs that used to require all that grinding are becoming less and less necessary.

What will that mean for workers in general?

What will that mean for work culture like that of Japan?

Will it make Karoshi better or worse as certain jobs become more scarce or unnecessary?

These are difficult questions to answer right now, but I suspect that these trends won’t change peoples’ inclination for hard work. It’s just a matter of where that effort will be directed and how we’ll balance it out with the health of the individual. That’s a balance that we still need to strike, no matter how many jobs get automated.

Work/life balance isn’t just a popular buzzword. It’s critical to those who want to both be productive and live fulfilling lives. If you’re life is all work, then is it really living in the grand scheme of things? If anything, the Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi offers insight into what happens when there is no balance. The line between working hard and working yourself to death can get blurred at times, but it’s worth making that line just a little bit clearer, if only to navigate it more effectively.

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My (Non-Expert) Proposal For Automation And Greater Human Prosperity

62% say robots can be more productive than human workers —V1 study

I’m not an expert on much. I don’t consider myself exceptionally smart on matters that don’t involve superhero comics, NFL football stats, and quality romance stories. I make that disclaimer because I don’t want to give the impression that I know more than I know.

That kind of perspective is important, especially if you’re going to talk about complicated issues with not-so-clear solutions. I’ve attempted to talk about some of those issues on this site, some being much more complicated than others. I don’t claim to have shed new light on a subject or changed a few minds, but I like to think I still contributed something.

To that end, I’d like to make another contribution to a subject I’ve also touched on before. In the past, I’ve highlighted both emerging and potential issues associated with the development of artificial intelligence, including the sexy kind. I’ve also highlighted the issues we may face in a future where so much traditional work has been automated.

Now, in wake of a global pandemic that revealed just how much we can get done at home, I suspect that trend will accelerate. I also expect that trend to bring many problems, not the least of which involve people struggling to find the kind of good-paying blue collar jobs that have helped people rise out of poverty.

Turning back the clock or just trying to ban automation at a certain point is not a viable solution. There’s just no way to enforce that in the long term and it’ll only get more difficult once artificial intelligence gets to a point where it can match the capabilities of an ordinary human. At some point, we’ll have to adapt and that includes changing how we live, work, and play.

The living and playing part have their own set of unique challenges, but I think the work aspect is more pressing. When most people express concerns about automation and AI, they revolve largely around the economic impact and understandably so.

Historically, people have had to work in order to earn money or resources to survive. Whether you’re on a farm in the 10th century or in a city in the 20th, this dynamic has remained fairly constant.

Automation, especially once supplemented by artificial intelligence, will likely upend that dynamic completely. It’s entirely possible that, at some point this century, we’ll develop machines that can do practically all the work humans have had to do in order to survive.

That work includes, but isn’t limited to, farming our food, mining raw materials, producing our goods, maintaining our streets, protecting our homes, and even governing our society. Since machines never tire and are prone to fewer errors, what other jobs will there be? I don’t doubt there will be jobs, but what form will they take? More importantly, will they pay enough to large swaths of people?

I don’t claim to know the answer, but I suspect they won’t. The dynamics of labor markets just can’t function when the machines are capable of doing so much more work than large swaths of people. Even if those people don’t work, they’re still going to need money and resources. How will they go about getting it?

Answering this question has often led to discussions about a universal basic income, which has actually become a more viable policy position in recent years. I’ve even touched on it a bit as well and while I think it’s a great idea, I think there’s also room for some supplementary policies.

For that reason, I’d like to submit one of those policies that could be implemented with or without universal basic income. I call it the Individual Automation Matching Dividend, or IMAD short. This policy would work like this.

  • All adult citizens within the borders of the country will have a piece of identifying information, such as a social security number, voter ID number, or driver’s license number, turned into a special digital token.
  • That token will be ascribed to a machine/robot/android that is currently active and conducting work that had been done by humans at some point in the past, be it manual labor, service roles, or something of that sort.
  • The productivity and wages of work done by these machines will be indexed to a minimum annual salary of approximately $78,000 in 2021, which will be adjusted for inflation on a yearly basis.
  • Any work done by these machines that exceed the value of that salary will be diverted to a national welfare fund to provide extra support for those who were sick, disabled, or otherwise in need of resources beyond that of a healthy adult.
  • No citizen will be ascribed more machines than any other and any machine ascribed to them that is lost, damaged, or obsolete will be replaced in kind by the state.

I apologize if some of what I just described is confusing. I tried to write this out like a lawyer or someone proposing a new policy to a future government. For those who don’t care for legalize, here’s IMAD in a nutshell.

Once you become an adult, you get your own perfect worker robot. That robot may take many forms, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it’s an android in the mold of those we saw in the “I, Robot” movie. They can work without rest, do everything a healthy adult can do, and have roughly equal to greater intelligence.

You’re given this robot by the government to basically act as your work avatar. So, instead of you going out to work every day to earn a living, this robot does it for you. The work that robot does will be compensated, but the money will go to you. Basically, you get paid for the work your android does. It’s more a dividend than a wage.

Remember, since the robot doesn’t age or get tired, it can work 24/7/365. In principle, you won’t even have to meet it. It just works all day and all night on whatever job requires labor, be it construction, assembly, shipping, farming, cooking, etc. You just get all the money, up to about $78,000 a year.

Now, why did I choose $78,000? I didn’t pick that out of thin air. That’s a figure ripped straight from a real-world case study from a company that started paying all employees a minimum of $70,000 a year back in 2015. The idea was that previous studies had shown that when people make more money beyond a certain point, their happiness doesn’t increase. This company just took that idea and ran with it.

The results, by and large, were overwhelmingly positive. With that kind of money, people could create more comfortable lives. They could buy homes, start families, plan for retirement, and make investments. It makes sense. When people have this kind of money to work with, they have the resources they need to create prosperous lives.

The idea behind IMAD is to mirror that by leveraging the added productivity afforded by automation. It’s not some large blanket package of money like a universal basic income. It starts with an individual, acknowledges the work that they have historically provided for a society, and supplements that with technology.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect proposal. I’m not even saying it’s smart. For one, it assumes that one human-like android is enough and that we can control the artificial intelligence necessary for them to operate on a large scale. That’s still an ongoing issue. I’m sure there are plenty more problems I haven’t thought of, but that’s exactly why I’m sharing it.

Surviving a future with intelligent machines is going to be challenging enough. However, we can’t just stop at survival. We want to prosper. We want to live, love, and build better futures for ourselves and our loved ones. Technology like automation and AI can help us get there, but only if we use it wisely. It’s a big if, but one that’s worth working towards.

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Happy Labor Day 2021!

Sexy Sunday Thoughts: Labor Day 2018 Edition | Jack Fisher's Official  Publishing Blog

It’s been another rough year. Compared to last year, though, I’d still say it counts as an improvement. We’re still a long way from where we want to be, thanks largely to a vocal crop of idiots who insist on making everything worse for everyone else. As frustrating as that might be, improvement counts as improvement.

Today is Labor Day and this is a day in which we should celebrate the hard work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made. It has been another trying year and it’s far from over. However, we’ve made it this far. We’ve managed as best as we can under difficult circumstances. I feel like we’ve all earned a day off to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Whether that means hanging out with friends, going to a barbecue, or taking one last trip to the pool, use this day to take a step back and relax. That’s especially true if you’re an overworked health care worker, paramedic, nurse, or doctor. You’ve more than earned a breather.

I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves to taste the fruits of their labor at some point. It shouldn’t happen just once a year, but it should still happen. Working hard is all well and good. Let’s just make sure we’re working for something better.

Take care, stay safe, and have a Happy Labor Day!

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The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

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The Future Of Telework: A Trend That Transcends Pandemics

In early 2020, which might as well be another lifetime, I speculated on the lasting impact of increased telework and distance learning due to the pandemic that uprooted our entire society. At the time, I didn’t know just how bad this pandemic would get. In my defense, my hopes were still intact. Now, they’re charred ashes, but that’s beside the point.

In essence, I speculated that once people got used to teleworking, they would not be eager to go back, even after the pandemic had passed. That wasn’t exactly a bold speculation. You don’t have to be a world class psychic to surmise that people will come to enjoy working in their underwear, not having to commute, and enjoying the general flexibility that telework affords.

I’ve been stuck in enough traffic jams to appreciate that kind of flexibility. I know I’m not the only one who might become too fond of telework.

Well, that all-too-obvious insight is starting to take hold in many sectors. It’s not just related to typical office work in cubicles. Everyone from the United States Military to big tech companies to law firms are embracing this new normal for the workplace. Even though it’s more out of necessity than innovation or good will, it’s still happening and there may be no going back.

The pandemic has already forced a mentality shift among the workforce. According to research done by Pew, telework was mostly seen as an optional benefit reserved for an affluent few. That’s not surprising. That kind of flexibility just felt more like a luxury, one that someone had to earn by establishing trust and credibility from an organization.

Now, it’s not just a necessity. It’s unavoidable. The world we’re living in now just cannot accommodate the same professional environment we once knew. I’ve worked in many professional environments before. I can attest that some of them are not built with pandemics in mind.

At one point, I worked at a company in which my desk was crammed into a closet-sized space with three other people. If even one of us caught a cold, we’d all be sick by the end of the week. It was that bad.

I doubt that’s an isolated case. In some of the jobs I’ve had, I have been able to work from home, but it’s only as a last resort. The only times I actually had to do it involved an emergency that occurred on a Saturday morning and one instance where the office was being renovated. In both cases, I still got plenty of work done. I just did it in my underwear.

In that sense, I get why many organizations reserve telework as a luxury rather than a norm. There’s this underlying sentiment that people will abuse it. If they can work from home, they just won’t get as much done. They’ll be too tempted to just grab a bag of chips, lie down on the couch, and watch game shows.

While I don’t doubt there are people who do that, this pandemic has revealed that most people aren’t assholes on that level. In some cases, it’s increasing productivity. Apparently, when workers are comfortable and afforded flexibility, they can get more done. That shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s still remarkable in its own way.

This has born itself out in subsequent studies and surveys. For some industries, telework is probably more productive in the grand scheme of things and that shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who has ever had a lousy commute knows why. If a good chunk of your day is spent waking up, putting on itchy clothes, and spending hours in traffic, you’re not going to be in a very productive mood.

That won’t be the case for certain industries. If you’re a doctor, a police officer, a fire fighter, or a trucker, you just can’t telework. The nature of the work doesn’t allow it. That’s still going to be the case, at least until we have robots capable of doing those tasks, which we are working on. However, there’s also sizable chunk of work that could probably be done remotely.

I think the impacts of this emerging truth will extend far beyond the pandemic. I’ve already seen it with people I know. They enjoy teleworking. They don’t want to stop, even after the pandemic becomes a bleak footnote in history. Some are willing to still go into the office some of the time, but they would prefer to telework. I suspect that’s going to become the new normal.

Last year has proven that people can, for the most part, be responsible with the flexibility afforded by telework. As long as they’re getting the work done, who cares if they do it in their underwear while Netflix plays in the background? Considering how costly commutes can be and how expensive office space can be, it might just make more fiscal sense in the long run.

Like it or not, businesses and various organizations tend to err on the side of reducing operating costs. It may mean more employees waste time at home, but if the difference is made up by better productivity, then it’s a net gain overall.

That shift could have impacts that go far beyond business operations. If people have to commute less, then that makes living out beyond urban and suburban settings more feasible. Given how expensive it is to live in those areas, this could spread people out even more, which is an objectively good thing if you’re looking to prevent future pandemics.

It might even help those in depressed rural areas in need of human capital. I can easily imagine some people preferring the quiet, less crowded environment afforded by a rural setting. If they can live in that environment while still getting their work done via internet, assuming they have a reliable connection, then that’s another big benefit that goes beyond the business itself.

This is likely to be a trend. That’s not a fanciful prediction. We’re already seeing it happen. The pandemic just forced it to accelerate. There will likely be other impacts. It may very well change how cities, suburbs, and rural areas are planned from here on out.

I don’t claim to know the specifics, but we’ll likely see it continue in the coming years. I, for one, welcome this change. If I can reduce the amount of time spent in traffic and increase the amount of time I spend in my underwear, then my overall well-being improves considerably.

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From Stimulus To UBI: Has The Pandemic Made Basic Income A Relevant Issue?

Sometimes, it takes a big, jarring, and outright awful incident to spark meaningful change. It’s an unfortunate necessity, given the stubborn proclivities of human nature. People naturally resist change. Change is hard, risky, and potentially dangerous. Even when the current state of affairs is awful, we won’t pursue meaningful change without kicking, screaming, and whining every step of the way.

The murder of George Floyd was one such incident. As bad as previous acts of police brutality had been, this one was just too awful to stomach. It triggered a wide range of vocal protests that, while limited in their impact, has made the need for change more palatable. It’s frustrating that it takes this kind of horror to get us to change an objectively flawed system, but that’s just the cards we’ve been dealt.

While efforts at justice reform and tempering police brutality are important endeavors, there’s another major change that has been brewing in recent months. Again, it’s becoming relevant due to something utterly horrific. In this case, it’s the COVID-19 global pandemic that has upended our lives, our economy, and our politics.

Now, let me make one thing clear. This pandemic is fucking awful. It’s killing people. It is, by any measure, doing a massive amount of harm to people all over the world. There is no silver lining that’s worth all the lives that have been lost and all the suffering this disease has caused. From killing thousands to canceling major events, this pandemic is as bad as it gets.

That being said, this might be the big, horrific event that makes Universal Basic Income a relevant issue and a feasible recourse for the future.

I wrote about Universal Basic Income, also known as UBI, a few years back. At the time, I considered it a fringe issue that wasn’t going to gain traction in the United States, or any other country, for at least a couple decades. It shouldn’t be that radical, giving people money directly instead of having them jump through so many bureaucratic hoops. Unfortunately, it was still seen as an extreme by ever political party.

That started to change with the surprisingly successful Presidential campaign of Andrew Yang, who made UBI the central pillar of his bid. That campaign helped expose more people to the idea while making it a legitimate political policy.

Then, as has been the common mantra of 2020, the pandemic hit and everything changed.

Now, with millions out of work and unemployment benefits being incredibly limited, the idea of UBI doesn’t seem so extreme anymore. If anything, it’s starting to feel necessary. That could ultimately accelerate this issue’s ascension to the mainstream much sooner than any could’ve expected.

In America, millions have already gotten a taste of it in the form of a one-time $1,200 stimulus check. It wasn’t much, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t going to fix the many problems that were unfolding as millions of people lost their jobs, due to the pandemic. It was still real money that people desperately needed.

I can personally attest to how useful this money was. Like many, I received a stimulus check around mid-April. While I wasn’t in the same dire straits as millions of other working class families, that check still helped a lot.

At the time, I had some back-taxes that I was still trying to pay off from having purchased my current home. I wasn’t in a position to pay it back all at once. I would likely need a payment plan, which would’ve accrued interest over time. Then, the stimulus check came and I was able to pay it all off at once with no interest. I even had enough left over to do some overdue car repairs.

My situation was not typical. Millions of people spent their stimulus checks on a variety of goods and services, but therein lies the key. It still got spent. In economic terms, that’s critical for a functioning economy. While the state may take a short-term hit in its finances, a sizable chunk of that hit will be countered by people buying things and subsequently paying taxes on them.

While economics is an insanely complicated endeavor, most people understand the importance of having money to spend to keep businesses going and communities intact. Other countries are conducting even bolder experiments in this pandemic. The results vary, but the basic trends are the same. When you give poor, desperate people money, they spend it. They have to in order to survive.

If you’re rich, or even upper middle-class, you have the luxury of saving. An extra $1,200 isn’t going to do much. For some, it’s not even a single mortgage payment. However, since most people aren’t that rich, it’s guaranteed that money is going to get spent and push the economy along. It helps poor people and it generates business for the not-so-poor.

It certainly isn’t without cost, but the benefits thus far have been more than worth it. As more people who experience those benefit, the idea of UBI is only going to grow in terms of appeal. It’ll even become more feasible because these recent stimulus checks have proven that the government has the infrastructure to make this work. It just needs the scale.

Even after this pandemic ends, there will be huge upheavals for rich and poor alike. The economy is never going to be the same. Society will never be the same. The continued impact of automation and artificial intelligence is sure to accelerate that change. UBI might not have seemed feasible or necessary before, but 2020 has changed that. Expect more changes before all is said and done.

This pandemic has caused a lot of pain and irreparable losses. If, however, it can be the catalyst to make UBI a viable policy, then we might be able to draw some meaningful good from it. Only time will tell.

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How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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