There is a very powerful paragraph in one of Heinlein’s juveniles, a note repeated again when he’s talking about American exceptionalism, and again when he talks of the need to go to space. It is apparently a paraphrase of a well known quote, which I found attributed to Albert Schmidt, and also as anonymous, and also as being written in some museum, but as that page is no longer available, I can’t say where. Also, apparently Maya Angelou (!) mentioned this quote. Of all of the people who made this statement, it fits the spirit of Heinlein’s juveniles the best. “The cowards never started. The weak died on the way. Only the strong arrived. They were the pioneers.”
This in Heinlein’s juveniles is often related with going to space, but it occurs to me that it’s any new technology and any major change in society driven by technology (not the vapid ideas of politicians.)
Changes – major changes of any sort – are always scary to an established society. History has shown time and again that people will endure near-unendurable conditions rather than revolt, but they WILL revolt against change. Because we know we are surviving – sort of – right now, but will we after the changes. And most of us want to be able to visualize what things will look like after the changes.
Which is why when tech starts changing too much too fast and hitting the social structures, people go nuts. The French revolution was the fruit and manifestation of the industrial revolution. So was our own revolution, think on.
And if you look at it right the fourteenth century and its unending barrel full of misery was not because things were getting worse, but because there had been some developments that had made life better. Hence, war plague and famine, of course.
Now, think about it, the fourteenth century was the result of changes accumulating through the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth, but that was still too fast for us.
The twentieth century… there’s a reason that it was even more blood soaked than the fourteenth.
And now, it’s much faster and much worse.
The revolution we’ve facing, in a hundred different ways of doing things, from manufacturing to data processing (including that peculiar form that involves fiction writing) to a million other things, is so radical that it might be that long waited trans-humanistic thing, even if it doesn’t mean we’ll all live forever or look like the borg.
Just computers will affect the way we mate – both by bringing together unlikely mates (I managed it the old fashioned way. By stealing time at the phone booth!) and by moving the nexus of work to the house (no, not yet, but like the ebook revolution it’s coming and it will be sudden when it comes) and thus favoring mates in the same profession, who can share work. It will affect the way we live – I am one of those people who like people, and for me it probably means going very urban so I can, you know, live where I can go out to a coffee shop, or something. But for other people it means living in the middle of nowhere, working in the big city and shopping wherever you want.
My guess is that no one alive today will see the end of this transformation. It’s that huge and shattering and it feeds other transformations.
As for people who say “but it’s always changing.” Sure it is, but it’s punctuated equilibrium. For a while things seem to be stationary and then it accumulates and it comes crashing on society as a disruptive and sudden force.
Writing is going through it. I’ve given my opinion a lot of other professional fields are headed for it. I’ve also said, until you’re probably all tired of it, that this in conjunction with the current political insanity might meant the end of jobs as we know it. In the future we’re all contractors, with both the risks and the benefits of it.
It’s not a lifestyle that suits everyone, but neither was 9 to 5 and yet mid 20th century it consumed almost everyone who needed to work, and influenced everyone else’s life.
So, in that spirit, and based on what I’ve seen in my own field, here is my take on what will happen and what you need to know.
1 – If your job entails prestige, be willing to make a choice between that and making money. Right now a lot of writers are not just refusing to go indie, but screaming at everyone who does, and complaining it undermines the prestige. A result of the “indie revolution” coming everywhere will almost certainly be an end to credentialism. People will respect what you can do, not where you went to school. Sometimes they’re related. More often they’re not. Right now institutions, particularly large ones, rely on credentials to avoid complaints of discrimination. But when hiring contractors for the job, the job will be more important. Fortunately for me, I was born without any social graces! But you might have a bigger adaptation.
2- You must work. This is the biggest barrier, and why managers still dislike sending people home to work. They’re under the impression people just won’t. This is silly, since if they don’t, they can be fired. OTOH because we’ve equated work with time throughout the 20th century, they might be afraid you’re working very fast and goofing off the rest of the time. Both the stupid laws penalizing employers over a certain number of employees and a certain number of hours, and tech will defeat that. My kids are used to doing their homework and tests (even) by computer, and to doing group work via computer too. When their generation rises to managers, they won’t have our prejudices. And perhaps they’ll be better at working remotely. My guess, though, is “no.” Unless you set up a completely separate place in your house, keeping up work surrounded by home and family is difficult. Almost everyone I know who works from home has issues with it. It’s a skill, though. Learn to cultivate it.
3- You must have time off. Yes, yes, I know. Sarah, take your own medicine. But I’m in the time when to launch my career I MUST work hard – very hard – at many things for a few years. Still, I’m considering taking Sundays off. I must read SOMETIME. The point is, if you’re of a certain type (my husband and I seem to be) working from home means working ALL the time. You forget to quit. You must control that because
4- Regardless of whether you like people or not, you need to have some people contact, now and then. In person, not just over the computer. Even if it’s just your family. Also, make sure the family knows you don’t hate them, you’re just busy. Make time for time with them, or you won’t have them.
5- This is important because, you should never, ever, ever count on indie/contractor being easy, or even easier than whatever you’ve been doing. Yes, going contractor or indie gives you freedom to work the way you want to. That means you places your bets, you takes your earnings – and sometimes you’ll goof. (Everyone does.) It’s important not to build up a beautiful image of the fleshpots of Egypt in your mind. What I mean is, don’t, in retrospect make “jobs” and the way things are done now into a wonderful thing. Remember it too had difficulties. Also remember if you’re one of the ones breaking out in your field, or whatever, that you’re a pioneer. You might not be on one of Saturn’s moons, but some things as unpredictable as ice storms will destroy your hard-earned stability. Look at what happened with Rusch and Ella. Sometimes you’ll be knocked to zero and have to start again. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Just that the high-change state is unstable and the landscape changes ALL the time.
6 – Related to five. Stay alert. Keep up with what’s going on. Ever since I came into writing, people have given me advice that’s out of date. This is how I ended up writing short stories for years, because I thought that’s how one broke into novels. This was no longer true when I tried it. However, people could still give you advice a year or two old and it would work. Now? Ah! I keep up with Rusch and the Passive Guy and a dozen other blogs, plus take recommendations from friends more plugged in than I am, and things still blindside me. As in an alien planet, keep moving, keep ahead of the shifting landscape. And evaluate each mutie on his own. Some are friendly. Some will eat you as fast as look at you.
7- There are no guarantees. The future is being built under our eyes. NO ONE CAN PROMISE what you try will work out. So keep your fingers in as many pies as you can without killing yourself. What moves might NOT be what you expect. (For instance in publishing I’m doing large press, small press and indie. Because I feel safer that way.)
8 – Help others on the way. This is not necessary so much as it will help you in the long run. Except for some right bastards (actually mostly left, but that’s neither here nor there) most people return good with good. You don’t need to make the trade explicit. You help a lot of people, some will be there for you when you’re down. And all contractors have ups and downs. Cast your bread upon the waters and spread your generosity widely. And remember to pay it forward. (This is already making relationships between writers much better than the old hierarchical model where publishers picked winners and losers.)
9- Have a hobby that can become your main profession if you need to. Yep, if this writing gig goes south, I’m a recreational clothes ironer (totally a word. Deal.) and a middling filet crochetter – for the win. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll rant at people for a living. Actually have two hobbies that can become your main profession. And accumulate as many abilities as you can. Yeah, okay, I learned seven languages because I thought it would improve my chances of employment. Then I moved here. Not the smartest move. BUT some of them work. I’d carefully cultivated a knowledge of science fiction for instance (otherwise called how I wasted my youth) and it came in handy.
10 – Don’t brow beat others. Yes, you’ll be very afraid at times, but projecting your fear onto others and saying if you can’t do it no one can is contrary to the bread upon the waters thing. It’s also contra productive. The cowards never started – but lower than a coward is the one who tries to make other cowards.
On a related note, my post at Mad Genius Club today is on Fear.
Now go forth and instead of being scared of this innovative times of ours, be excited about them. You’re a pioneer. That means you get to shape the future landscape for your grandkids.
Like most pioneers, you’re being forced onto it by circumstances and by the status quote becoming untenable. But it doesn’t mean you can’t take the opportunity to build something better.
Now go and do it.
UPDATE: My PJM Column is up.