Saturday, September 24, 2005

Musings on a new job

Hmmm... It's been two months since I wrote in this. And lots of stuff has gone on. In fact, this is the first weekend since I've been in Fredericton that I can say I don't have anything that has to be done this weekend, and I can just relax. Of course, most of the stuff I've been doing is horribly geeky. Then again, someone I know is working on isomorphic binary structures. Don't even ask, I have no idea. Apparently something that involves letters, and some words, but no actual english, from the explanation I got. So it could be worse.

For those who care to know, I've been learning a lot at the new job. Love it. People who are just a few years older than me, rather than just a few years younger, so there are some peoople at work I can really learn from, but still relate to. It's nice. Plus, I'm learning to put fake enthusiasm into my voice, which is probably going to be a useful skill. It's for reading tech stuff for the courseware I'm voicing, not pretending to care about random stuff, but hey, now that I can, why not?

You wouldn't think it, if you're casually reading this, but reading can be pretty hard. Voicing content requires something similar to the voice training you would need to sing. Not that I've ever had that training, but it's what I think you would need. You need to get the pitch, and intonation and rhythm right. It's fun, now that I'm starting to get the hang of it. Kind of like singing to yourself in a little room, but then eventually thousands of people get to hear it. After it's been digitally edited so that I don't breathe. No joke. Apparently breathing is unprofessional. Who knew?

So anyway, today is my first day of real relaxation since I got here, or actually in about the last 3 months. I passed my first MCSE exam Thursday, barely. Huge milestone, because passing certifications is an important part of my job. I've been studying like crazy fior the past few weeks, so a huge amount of stress off me. And now I've decided to take this day to myself and just do nothing. Just relax, and think about things.

And as I do that, as I just sort of sit back and look around my apartment, it occurs to me how rare that is. Not for lots of people, here in Canada, I know. Lots of people can slack off for a day, a week, or more, and assume that's normal and that they have a right to do it. But for every one of them, there are two or three people working really hard to get ahead. I've been talking to different people in different life situations. Single parents, or people who aren't in good relationships and don't have a lot of support. Older people still in university. People who are just making ends meet, barely. And it makes me think, yeah, I worked hard over the past few months, and I'm doing well, but there are so many people who worked harder, and yet aren't doing as well. There was a guy I talked to recently who works two jobs as a janitor just to get enough together to eat. And then I think about all the people who aren't paid, the parents who stay home and work all through the day and don't get the luxury of a break, or often even recognition that what they're doing is actually more valuable than what I'm doing. It's silly that I'm paid enough to keep me going and be independent, while people who do much more important work are made to be dependent on others, and are put in a position where people rely on them but they don't by themselves have the resources to deal with that effectively.

And notice I haven't even gotten into people outside this country. All the people I've just described come from the "better off" parts of the world's population. Part of the reason I could take this break today is because I don't have to do any of the labour that goes into growing, harvesting and preparing my food, clothing, shelter, power and water supply, furnishings, communications media, and the list goes on. That work is done by other people, and I benefit, and often they don't. Even the work of getting me to be the person I am today was mostly done by other people, when I was younger, who realized what I needed to learn and made me do it. And believe me, making me do things when I don't see the sense in it is HARD work, and has often been thankless.

So if you've had the time to read this, take another minute or so. Think about the people who have helped you along the way, and the people you don't even know who have made your life easier, even if they didn't know it or mean to. Some people feel like they've earned everything they've ever had, and were never given anything, and if you have less it always means you didn't work as hard. But I think, in the big picture, for most of the people who will have the time to take a break and read this, we should be thankful. A lot of where we are and who we are isn't because we deserved it or are entitled to it more than other people who don't have it. So feel lucky you are where you are, and thank someone who's done somemthing for you. And try to pass on a little of what you've been given to others who might need it, and even deserve it, more.

Bye for now

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why people don't have to care about my blogs

Something has just occurred to me. I could write something just for the heck of it, because I find it interesting, and put it up for everyone to see, and whether or not anyone else actually checks it out or finds it interesting doesn't matter in the slightest.

And this isn't some antisocial "I don't care what anyone thinks" rant, by the way. What has occurred to me is that historically it's been pretty important that when you take the time to create something, somebody, and preferably a bunch of people, care that you've done so. It's been important because it's been ridiculously expensive to create things, and ridiculously expensive to spread thoughts around. This blog, for example, is going to take me a bit of effort to create. But historically, if I wanted people to see it, that would take a whole whopping load more effort. I'd have to get it printed, then take it around to people, or find someone who would give me space to post it up on a wall somewhere forpeople to read. And then the prints would fade, or get lost, or get put in a corner somewhere, and nobody would ever be able to find them again, even if they thoght what I wrote was neat and worth sharing.

Millions have been made on the idea that it costs more to publish content than it does to create it, and that even creating it is too expensive for most people to bother. Huge publishing companies have taken advantage of economies of scale and reputation to make money off of getting content to people, and then funding the creators to create more content. Now, publishing is not entirely free, but is so cheap that companies can offer it for free. Similarly, E-mail isn't free, but storage space and processing speed has become so cheap that E-mail accounts offered for free have as much space as a hard drive I once owned that probably cost about $500, in dollars that were worth more than today's.

Of course, many people have had these ideas before, and if anyone reads this they're probably going to wonder when I'm going to say something original. Thing is, very little is truly original content, and maybe to someone who will read this it will sound original. I'm thinking of writing another entry musing on why people always want to know who had an idea first, but that's for another day.

Thing is, we're always taught that you have to do things that are "important", or of interest to the wider society. Our economy is based on finding things, ideas, and artifacts that large groups are interested in, and then producing millions of those things, and charging a little bit for each one and making a ton of money to cover the huge investments required to produce stuff. The entire multibillion dollar telemarketing, survey and market research industry exists largely to reduce the risk that somebody will produce something that only 5 people want, because under our current set of taken-for-granted assumptions that would be disasterous. But now for information we have a situation where you can just produce stuff because it feels nice, and if people like it they can read it and share it and print it and modify it and maybe even turn it into something millions of people will want. Or not, but either way the cost is basically the same, and is small enough that it can be given away for free. I just read an article that says 60% of the content on the internet (quoted as 800 billion web pages, or over 100 per living person on the planet) is created for free, just because people want to. It also said that nobody predicted this would happen 10 years ago, when the internet was getting started. All the market research said the audience would never get involved in making content, or organizing content (think ebay seller reviews, or item reviews on Amazon and hundreds of other online shopping sites).

So my question for whoever reads this (if anyone) is this: What happens when things besides information are so cheap they can safely be given away for free, like this blog and my E-mail account? We're already getting there. Before mechanization, it took about 100 hours of human labour to make a t-shirt. Now, with robotic manufacturing, if a company feels like giving away a t-shirt to get you in a store, or to get you accept a credit card (and then cut it up and throw it away and enjoy your new shirt) they can do it. Universities can charge $20 for a pub crawl, pay $17 to bar owners for cover, and give everyone a T-shirt to spill beer on. I give my shirts for free to second hand stores when I'm done with them. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the world today who are millionaires, and for whom the necessities of life are as good as free. And every year, productivity in the US, which produces 25% of the world's goods (about $11 trillion) goes up by about 3% per person because we are producing more stuff with less human labour. Now, granted, almost none of this goes to the general population, whose standard of living has gone down by a lot of measures since the 1970's (when one person's typical income could support a family). This is a problem that is addressed elsewhere. If I could remember the address, I'd link to Marshall Brain's Concentration of Wealth blog. I'll do that later. But my point is that we are rapidly approaching (and will see within our lifetimes) the point where the basic necessities of life CAN (not to say WILL) be free for all, in just the same way that this blog is right now. The internet has turned the economics of producing and distributing ideas on its head. What happens when increasing mechanization turns the idea that everyone has to work in order to live on its head?

Something to think about. And not by any means an original idea. Google "Basic Income Guarantee". But to me it's interesting, and nobody else has to care.