Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The future of jobs

I'm purposefully avoiding a "thoughts about 2012 post", not because I don't like them, but because I can't think of anything to say which hasn't already been said elsewhere. What I do hope we can look forward in the future is the growing understanding that world we live in cannot be understood by the rules of the world from which we have come.

One area where I think we need to really re-evaluate how we understand things is when it comes to jobs. Before his flame out from the Presidential campaign (surprisingly due to having an affair, rather than being too stupid to have an opinion on Libya) he had these pearls of wisdom to share about the world of work:
Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!
Now, I know what he was trying to say, but frankly, he's an idiot. Everyone, no matter how limited their understanding of the world, thinks everyone can be rich. Even in the best economic times there will always be the rich and the poor, if only because the definitions of those terms will change to reflect the new reality.

However, on a more fundamental level, how much longer can we go on pretending that there will always be enough jobs for everyone. Amazon has around 33,700 and a revenue of $43.59bn according to the most recent figures I could track down. Of course it also creates thousands of jobs by providing a service through which third parties can retail their products, in a way which would have been impossible without Amazon. However, there is no way of cutting it to suggest that Amazon is, or ever will, create the vast numbers of jobs a company this successful would have done 50 years ago.

The norm, increasingly, is that companies are going to drive towards more knowledge based systems. This is true even of manufacturing, where robotics will continue to improve until humans are essentially unnecessary, apart from in the event of some catastrophic failure, although possibly not even then. Even my job, a market research position, will one day be a job I share with sophisticated AI programs, who will do the lions share of the boring things, while I (hopefully) am retained to do the "story" part of the job.

With that in mind, it will eventually become the case that there is simply no way of pretending any more that there are going to be enough jobs for everyone. What will society look like when politicians have to face up the reality that there is one less job than the total number of people, let along a deficit of a few million jobs? That's the world we're heading for, without a shadow of a doubt, and there is nothing that can change that.

The present day welfare state is nothing compared to what is to come. When hundreds of thousands of people will live their entire lives without any real chance of employment for the majority of that time the state will have to radically reform its role.

My prediction, corporation tax will go up, and income tax will go way down. The state will need to provide the benefits required to prevent civil unrest, and the money won't be coming from the legions of the unemployed, and the state will have a vested interest in making sure that those who do have jobs are spending as possible supporting the high revenue, low employing, companies which support the economy.

However, there will also be much larger numbers of people creating small companies, which will exist at the periphery of the larger entities, much as Amazon works with third party retailers today. This will provide many people a small income, which will help ensure the state isnt completely crushed by the weight of organising the welfare for its citizens.

Anyway, that's my predication for the day, but the most important part of this is that we need to start moving away faster than we are from the assumptions which governed the world as it existed previously. The emphasis of Government cannot be to recreate the world of yesterday, but it must instead work to build the world as it will exist and create institutions which are resilient enough to survive change.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The New Year

Its the New Year, and has been now for several days and in an attempt to find some new purpose to infuse into this year I have been wracking my brains and largely coming up empty.

At least until the last few days, when I realised that the fundamental problem with my life is that as of late I don't "do" enough.

Thats not to say I don't socialise, work, eat, sleep, and all the rest, but of late my life has lacked a great deal of the direction which I usually try and ensure is there. This realisation has caused me not a small amount of consernation as I consider myself to be an ambitious and active person.

For reasons which are far too complicated to go into I have found myself retreating from things which are new and might challenge me in ways which I am not usually challenged. Again, something which was, up until recently, anathema to my way of thinking.

This led to a conversation with a friend of mine who is in much the same boat and in a fit of minor inspiration we decided to swap notes on how we might improve the quality of our lives. And over the last few days a few things have been working their way through the fug of things which I would, under no circumstances, want to do.

I have been lucky enough to fall into an opportunity to do some volunteering of late, and really enjoyed it. So I'll be sticking with that for the forseeable future.

Its been a goodly length of time since I took a good stab at my old foe, foreign languages. So, once I have sufficient finance and opportunity I will be giving that another try. Rather than simply going for one of the European languages which I have little or no interest in I will instead be giving Arabic a try. Its a region I'm fascinated by and I hope that this level of interest will give me a different type of impetus to want to learn. We shall see.

I'd like to give salsa a try, or some other type of dance. Thats one which is still being pondered.

I want to write more, hence the appearence of two posts on the same day after a significant hiatus. The main goal is to get something published in my own words in the next few months.

Last year was largely a year stuck in the mud. I'd rather like this year to be different and I fully intend it to be so.

Of Protests and the Protesting

Firstly I should state for the record that I believe protesting is an excellent form of public demonstration. It can be an outlet for national discontent, bringing an important issue to the fore, if only for a day. I've been on protests, I will go on more protests and I'll continue to encourage other people to go on them if its a cause I believe in.

That said... most of the protests we see most of the time arent protests. They're a group of middle class folk out for an afternoon complaining about something, or they're a group of extremely angry people shouting at the police.

They fail most times to grab the national imagination, or connect with people who were unaware or uninterested in the issues being raised. They simply serve as an outlet for a smallish group to feel like they've done something, so they can go home and feel righteous.

One of the greatest problems with modern protests is that they are organised by committee through the internet. This leaves little or no room for spontenaity or excitement, the sort of things a hungry media crave and might actually land a protest on the front pages once in a while.

Walking past two protests today I was surprised to notice that whilst there were police, none of them looked bothered by what appeared to me to be an angry mobs on the verge of losing it. Instead they were largely standing around chatting and occasionally glancing over as if to check an errant protester hadnt escaped to spread their message to the general public.

The police know full well which protests are likely to get out of hand, they can check the internet pages of the organisers. If its held anywhere near central London they can define where the protest can occur. If they need to they can simply refuse to allow a group to protest.

Surely at some point this turns the whole thing into something resembling a poorly organised dance. With protesters on one side, police on the other, going through the motions until everyone goes home and has a nice cup of tea, job done.

I'm not advocating that protests should be violent or anything else for that matter. It just all seemed a little silly to me.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Of emotional men and the confusion of women

Feeling as I can the angry gaze of at least one of my feminist friends on the back of my neck I think I should come to the point with rather greater alacrity than I might under other circumstances.

Men should be in touch with their emotions. I've long long since forgotten how many times I've seen or heard some variant of this particular desire, largely stemming from women. Most recently I got into a spirited debate with a pair of young women, one recently single from a relationship with an "emotional" man, the other currently in a relationship (the emotional status of her boyfriend was never determined). During dinner I was once again exposed to the apparent female desire to have relationships with men who knew a bit about their own emotions.

I've always been quite leery of this concept, despite being relativly emotionally enlightened. After another rather vivid conversation with a friend of mine I have finally reached the end of the thought process that began some weeks back.

Women do not want emotional men. They want men who understand their emotions and have confused the two. They believe the more emotionally in touch the man is to his own emotions the more he will understand their emotions.

I hate to break it to you, but if your sitting here thinking that, you are sorely mistaken.

Men who are in touch with their emotions it seems to me, end up so wrapped up in the confusing morass of emotion that they utterly lose track of how their feelings impact on people around them. We (and I speak from personal experience to some degree) do not deal well with the extremes of emotion. I'm not advocating bottling it up, or pretending we dont feel things, we do and thats good, be aware of it, but there are a group of men out there who need to learn that being ruled by your emotions is deeply unhealthy.

Women seem to have found a good middle ground, being emotional creatures, but not having to express every little thing like its a shakespearean tragedy. Watching the tragic flailings of those few "emotional" male friends who I have failed to lose track of or utterly disown I am increasingly convinced that this quote applies:

"Men are allowed to cry at their mothers funeral, and possibly a sporting event, the rest of the time they need to shut the [expletive deleted] up"

I paraphrase, but the person quoted will, I'm sure, recognise herself.

What women in fact want is a man who understands their emotions, they want empathy, they do not want expression by and large. Except perhaps at mothers funerals.

Men the world over need to learn the moods of women, and learn them well, because in learning "the moods" you will reap the rewards. If your 90% sure shes had a crap day, buy some flowers, if your 100% sure those flowers should come from a florist and perhaps have chocolates attached in some way. Worst case in the 90% scenario you turned up with flowers, best case you made her damn day and you will, I absolutely promise, not regret that.

Because heres the thing, women remember everything. I'm not talking most things, they seem to have an uncanny ability to carry around a notebook in their heads within which are two lists, "good things" and "bad things" and a score is being taken.

So learn. Learn to empathise, its not hard. Women are relativly good at expressing themselves and if you engage your brain you'll probably figure out quite a lot for yourself. Feel free to express yourself too, but do it in the right way at the right time. If your a bit down feel free to share, but check the timing is right, dont be a jackass, she wouldnt be and she probably expects the same from you.

Men need to understand the emotion is a good thing, but we are too easily ruled by it. So when your "feeling" something you need to do what most women seem to do, stay on top of it. Women dont want you sobbing and out of control. Its not sexist to say that a lot of women want some reliability from the man they are with, they dont need him freaking out over the smallest slight, or a jibe at the other end of the telephone.

So emotional guys, next time you decide to have a hissy fit because your pain is so very very unique and needs to be expressed RIGHT NOW! Take a breath, step back and ponder, is your pain really so special, or do you need to shut up, man up, and express yourself with the non-committal grunt that has served our half of the species so well for millenia.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A distinct absense of myself

It transpired that I did indeed get the job and hence the last two weeks have been rather consumed by ensuring that everything is up togeather for me to escape two jobs and prepare myself for a new one.

A heavy dose of the flu didnt help with the process of getting myself in any sort of fit state.

Anyway I have returned and will soon be following up on this blog with an entry about my desire to re-institute Victorian models of judging people on their appearence.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

I am humbled

I think its fair to say that I am by no means a people person. Even on a good day I treat my friends and family with a certain amount of casual contempt and have generally been surprised they stick with me all the same. However I've today realised why this is, they have a keen sense of proportion and have heard of the guys who are going to run the worlds largest supercollider.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/science/29collider.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

A lawsuit is currently underway to try and prevent the use of the new Large Hadron Collider, located on the border of France and Switzerland, on the basis that the scientists involved have dramatically underestimated the chances of annhiliating the entire planet.

Now these are people who really have no real regard for human life, on a level which I personally cant comprehend. To be willing to take the risk of exterminating the planet in order to prove some theories about the conditions at the start of the universe is pretty goddamn impressive in my opinion.

The scientists have declared the chances of them accidentally creating a black hole large enough to consume the earth, or even producing a so called "strangelet" a particle capable of converting all matter it touches into similar particles are "very small." Personally I would prefer they were "extremely small" perhaps even "miniscule" but then I'm extremely fussy.

It should be kept in mind that scientists have actually already probably created a black hole or two in other supercolliders but so far they have remained small enough that they have collapsed after microseconds of existance. Since they existed below the critical Planck mass required to sustain black hole growth.

I like how much science is like religion sometimes. Guys in funny costumes tell us things are beyond our understanding and that only they can tell us the truth. Often they ask for large sums of cash (in the case of science usually from the government, so indirectly from the public) in return for unspecified returns. We are told to take it as a matter of faith that the activities of scientists are "for our own good" and to pipe down while they throw the big switch.

Often the scientists themselves will admit under pressure they have no goddamn idea what the heck is likely to happen. According to Dr. Arkani-Hamed one of the scientists involved in the CERN experiment "almost anything can happen" due to the nature of quantum theory. Now to me this isnt actually all that reassuring, although I'm sure he intended it to be. But then I've seen a lot of star trek. I know the odds are against creating a bridge in space between here and a sinister "alternate universe" in which we all exist as evil opposites, but even so, its not impossible.

This really isnt a diatribe against science. I love science as a field, both for the advances it gives us, and the collosal screwups that it produces. And in this case I'm in awe of the people at CERN who have declared that at the end of the day the survival of the world is dependant on a maybe.

At the end of the day, if it all does go wrong, at least we can blame the French before we spiral into oblivion.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The News and the children

It seems I can rarely turn on the news any more without being recalled to the shrill caterwauls of one of the characters in the Simpsons imploring the world with her cries of "Won't someone please thing of the children"

Note: I'm reliably informed by those who are more worthy Simpsons watchers than me that the character in question is Helen Lovejoy, wife of the Reverend Lovejoy.

Recent stories such as those surrounding Shannon Matthews and the extremely obvious Madeline McCann have filled the papers, tabloid, broadsheet and online news sources. These stories run their course, often to destruction and usually without conclusion. More worrying they seem to often lack any real details as to what exactly is going on beyond the lurid suggestions put into the media.

Take the latest story, and the inspiration for todays tirade:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bradford/7333898.stm

This story is wonderful for the news outlets. Its got a big of everything, a sinister uncle, a (we are led to think) abused child, angry police, a criminal mother and a regular carnival procession of other ner-do-wells. The lurid fumblings of the media to find news where in truth nothing exists are never better highlighted than when it comes to dealing with this kind of story.

So much is implied, but so little is ever substantiated.

In fact child kidnappings are something of a myth. The horror of the event and the visceral terror every parent must feel allows for the creation of something which is fundamentally untrue. An article which demonstrates the point with rather more clarity than I am likely to achieve can be found here:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/mick_hume/article409237.ece

The media does love its fads undeniably. Which is why we live in an age where no child is safe, the world is running out of air, and terrorists lurk behind every door.

In reality children are by and large safer than they have ever been. Modern security and police forces ensure that even when the worst happens the response is usually effective. The sky seems unlikely to fall just yet, despite the best efforts of ranting Green activists to say otherwise. And terrorism is no more a risk than it has ever been.

With so much more to report why does the media focus on the things it does?

Because they are undeniably easy to report and because people can connect to them without engaging any of the gray matter evolution has been kind enough to gift us with.

It horrifies me that supposedly intelligent people are able to engage so readily with the material which is spoon fed to them by the media yet here we are, when i can barely turn on the news or open a paper without being told my (hypothetical) children are constantly in danger of death and kidnap.

Why oh why can we not have real news?