The Future Some Assembly Required — A Blast from the Past from May 2013

The Future Some Assembly Required — A Blast from the Past from May 2013

*First, I must be clairvoyant on how the economy would go.  Maybe I should hang a shingle. Second, yeah, I’m fobbing you off with a BPF.  Yesterday I ended up losing the say to cleaning carpets.  Greebo has developed this trick of biting the head off catnip mice, then rolling on the catnip all over the carpet, and it REALLY had to be cleaned.  Also, one of the cats (Euclid) is the pukamatic and the other two are sheddomatics.  I meant to do a quick clean, but I HAD to shampoo the downstairs carpets.  Three times to get all the staining out.  This meant I lost the day to write, and I’m BEYOND late.  I’m thinking lovingly of monk’s cells and such, where all I’d have to do is write.
Anyway, then as now, yes, we’re facing horrors as presidents, but who told you the government should make life easier for you?  It’s a constant battle to keep the damn thing small and relatively powerless.  And mostly — like a bad cat — it gets in the way.  (Okay, a saber tooth cat, but never mind.)  Work around, work under, work over.  The future is yours to build.

A further note: I KNOW I have some guest posts, but I can’t find them.  I had to switch to Thunderbird and its search function sucks. So…*

The Future Some Assembly Required — A Blast from the Past from May 2013

We come back to how things are changing, how the future is changing, how work is changing.  Part of this is stupid government tricks, of course.  Yes, 30 hours work week has long been a socialist dream.  Besides drinking their own ink – i.e. believing their own propaganda – the rats in their heads about wealth tend to spread to everything else.  Since wealth is finite, then work is finite.  (Well, think about it.)  At least work on decently planned and properly efficient and NEEDED goods.  (Why would you want luxury goods?  Do you want to be better than other people?  You want to have a lollipop?  Did you bring enough to share with the entire country? I don’t think you’re properly committed to socialism, tovarish.)

Since work is finite, the only way to deal with unemployment is to put things in the law that make it impossible to work more than 30 hours.  In places like France they simply pass legislation making it impossible to work more than thirty hours – which is another reason it’s an American socialist dream.  You see, they’ve gone to France on vacation, and they’ve seen people lounging about with time to enjoy life.  What they don’t see is the outdated appliances, the outdated houses and the narrow lives of common people, because they also normally stay in the best hotels and hang out in the rich areas – but Americans are so… ungovernable, that if if you just did that to them, they would work seventy hours, just to spite you.  So instead you hide the 30 hour a week poison pill in the Health Care legislation.  Employers who would be bankrupted by it, are then forced to dial back everyone’s hours to 30 a week (at least on paper.  Look, I worked exempt positions before. Your hours are not what you put on the time sheet.  Your hours are what it takes to get the job done.)  In the bureaucrat’s mind (not in the real world) this means that the employer will have to hire a new employee for every three on the payroll.  More jobs created.  Everyone is up.  Up everyone’s chocolate ration to two grams a week.

As I mentioned in Drinking Their Own Ink (I really need to tag these d*mn posts.) what actually happens is that everyone lies about it.  People report thirty hours and go on working the normal forty or fifty or sixty.  (Remember the reason the employer is cutting down people’s hours on paper is that he’s already so close to the bone he can’t afford the mandated boondoogle of minimum insurance which includes hypnotherapy and weight loss or whatever they consider minimum.  Perhaps little Asian girls who run on your back for back pain.  Who knows?  It’s a government scam plan.  You will pay for treatment for Brucitis Of The Cleaning Lady Knee even if you’ve never been in the same zip code as a cleaning lady.)

So, everything changes on paper, but not in reality.  Except that analysts, bureaucrats and those of us who work with words, look at the figures on paper, confuse it with reality and announce that due to efficiencies and robotics and stuff we no longer need to work as long.  Then the big government types start talking about this vast underclass who will never find jobs again, and which includes everyone but the top two percent or whatever, and who will need structures to support them the rest of their useless lives.  How can you be against that?  Do you want the useless to starve?

(Rolls eyes.  Rolls eyes so hard that she should use a cup to contain them.)

I confess I would be far more impressed with this if I weren’t following the politics and the laws and seeing the pressures bringing it about, which have nothing to do with technology.  I also confess that I MIGHT still fall for it if I didn’t happen to have a good enough memory to remember Carter’s administration.  (Yes, I was in my cradle.  Shuddup.)

The exact same things were said then, and the science fiction magazines were full of stories about how most people would be unemployed forever, because… because… because… CHEESE!  Okay, they didn’t say cheese.  That would have made way more sense. They said that back then – seventies, remember – our tech was just too darn efficient, and so all these low-level employees weren’t needed and therefore we were headed to a world where the majority would be unemployed like forevah.  The kindly state had to take care of them or they would die – die I tell you, die!

Then came Reagan and near-full-employment and they forgot they’d ever said all that stuff and slinked off without even the decency of a “Never mind.”

Now it’s back.

Ignore them.  Ignoring people who think that a vast majority of people “NEEDS” to be taken care of by an incompetent, massive, bungling bureaucracy is always a good idea.  Look, these jokers aren’t even good at taking care of the few desperately needy people.  You think they can take care of a majority of people in a way that doesn’t lead to massive atrocities?  PFUI.  Most people – even the truly needy – dependent on the government have to exert themselves NOT to be destroyed by clerical error.

No, robotics didn’t become that all-better in the last four years.  Would that they had.

To some extent automated factories were already much, much better.  Eric Flint last week was talking about the hell of assembly line work, but the truth is that the only places that remains are places where it has to by union rule.  Back in 88 I knew someone who ran a plastics factory.  It was just him (and I don’t think he’d ever finished high school) and a bunch of automated machinery.  He poured the mixture in and he pushed buttons and voila, plastic spoons and forks and stuff just came flying out the other end.

This was sort of held back or perhaps dialed back by the commerce with China, where it’s cheaper to have five year olds carve the plastic forks from a plastic block (I’m joking, I’m joking.)  But the tech is there and has always been.

The robots, they shall always be with us.

So… what about work?  How will we deal with the vast army of unemployed people roaming the country side going “braiiiins.”

We won’t because as with zombies, they won’t exist.  At least they won’t exist if our government stops making it a crime to start/run/make a profit at a business.  And even if they continue their war on what you DID build, they still won’t exist.  They’ll just be unemployed on paper, collecting welfare, but inexplicably very busy and perhaps driving Mercedes.  (See Portugal and Greece for what people do when making a living becomes illegal.  And that’s Portugal and Greece, not the US. If you ask in Portugal and Greece, I bet you that they’d say their reason for living is their – hyper extended – family.  In the US people are likely as not to mention work.  Even those who mention family tend to mean their nuclear family, and then after that work.)

What this law has the potential of doing is making us all contractors.  Which means what is happening to writers is heading everyone else’s way fast.

Yesterday some of you in comments got rather lost in the weeds of “specialization versus generalist.”  But, truly, that’s not what’s at stake.

Look, I’m a contractor anyway, so it’s a little different, but being a writer working for a house (or many houses) is sort of a limbo thing, since not only do you license your copyright to them, but they expect you to do all sorts of other things which makes you sort of a contractployee.  What I mean is, the way things used to be, with the few gatekeepers and a lot of writers trying to sell, they could require you do all sorts of things beyond writing the book.  I’m always highly amused by the people who say they’re now going traditional because “that way all I have to do is write.”  Sure it is, if you want the book to tank so badly it leaves a dent.

Among the things I routinely did for my publishing houses were: paying someone to edit, so that if they missed something I’d catch it; paying someone to go over their edits to make sure nothing got changed in a weird way (and with Berkley this was a constant battle); working at publicity, including making publicity materials; paying someone (agent.  Yeah, that worked) to verify the contracts and make sure that everything was right, and to negotiate for me for less than appalling covers (that worked too!)

So, I was already running a little empire of sub contractors.  All that is happening now is that I’m adding another layer.  I might, for instance have to pay someone to put the books in paper, since I can’t seem to figure it out (though I might experiment with my How To Write Interesting Books and maybe I can.)

As an indie publisher it’s the same thing, only I’m doing it on my own and adding artists.  That’s it.  But I also get a much bigger cut of the money, so it works out better.

The only other thing is that you have to look for work, and see the opportunities for work.  And that’s the BIG, major difference.  Look, not all work will ever be automated because work like wealth is infinite.  If everyone automated everything we all do tomorrow, people would come up with new things they need.

Let’s not even go to buggy whips and candle makers.  What about the typing pool?  Every company used to have it, even in the eighties when I started working.  Where has it gone?  Are all those typists roaming the streets flexing their fingers in despondency?

No.  Some are now computer design specialists.  Some are serving coffee at Starbucks.  Some are doing other things that, like those two, were not major employment categories in the eighties.

Open your eyes.  Then (to quote Pratchett) open your eyes again.  See what you’ve been ignoring.  Don’t count on anyone to look after you.  You do not belong to the Government, no matter what the government thinks.  And if you did, yeah, they’d have to feed you but only to their standards, not yours.  And they could choose to stop at any time.

I’m giving you the same guidance I give my kids, who, though they’re both in STEM degrees, cannot – of course – be sure of being able to do anything with them, because – beyond stupid government tricks – the tech is changing so fast:

Look for things people might pay you for.  Then do them.  Get good at doing them.  In the future there might be no jobs, no “employment” as we have grown to think of it.  But there will be work.  And people will still pay for work that benefits them or makes their life easier.  Now, you might end up working four contract jobs in ten hour increments and taking the income from those multiple streams to make a full living.  I’m here to tell you it’s doable. (At least if you add the Jim Baen dictum “Don’t work for buttheads”.)

The future is wide open.  You just have to make it yourself..

52 thoughts on “The Future Some Assembly Required — A Blast from the Past from May 2013

  1. For many in this economy the thirty-hour work wee has become the achieved dream. Sorta.

    In order to avoid the excessive costs of government mandated insurance, many employers (especially those running small shops in declining niches; Hallmark stores are as much or more about selling knick-knacks as greeting cards, these days) are limiting employees to 28 or 29 hours a week.

    Of course, many of those employees, living 168-hour weeks, find their earnings insufficient t their needs, especially once their taxes have been withheld. Consequently, many take a second job, also at 28 or 29 hours a week … and have to navigate the conflicts between schedules as best they can.

    But that”s a small price to pay for achieving the Liberal’s dream.

    1. And finding 2 jobs that will let you balance your schedules is getting harder and harder as they all want open, full-time availability but can’t/won’t guarantee a number of hours worked.

      1. Thus the advice from that renowned researcher, Dr. Elon Spengler: “Don’t cross the streams.”

    2. Well, some of them are getting more full-timers hired. After Seattle’s minimum wage went out, one business owner found the general reaction of his part-timers was “Cool. Fewer hours.” First they ask for fewer, and then they call in sick.

      They ended up getting zero, and some full timers got hired.

      1. And then the fired go on to mope and whine about how unfair things are, and the evils of Big Business, and ect.

  2. It should be noted that many Liberals work in government, and thus it could be argued that the reduced work-week comparably reduces the mischief into which they can get. Many of those hours spent working are in fact spent not-working — using their government computers to surf for pron, or going to conservative blogs to troll, or hanging out in employee canteens doing their best Homer Simpson impersonations.

      1. Acknowledged. My point was that reducing them to 28-29 hour work week might prove beneficial as they would experience productivity gains because, whereas they previously spent three quarters of their time shirking actual work, under the new regime they would spend only two-thirds of their time doing so (admittedly, this assumes for ease of computation that they spend ten hours a week doing actual work, an assessment which is probably unduly optimistic.)

        While I am confident that our government bureaucrats are up to the challenge and could manage to shirk twice the work in half the time, the greater likelihood is that the bureaucracies would hire more personnel in order spread the shirk load more fairly.

        Man, when I think what Abbott & Costello could do with this …

        Hey Abbott, how’ve ya been?

        I tell ya, Lou, I’m exhausted. You know I work for the SEC, right? Well they’ve cut back our hours and it’s killing me trying to keep up.

        Working you too hard, huh?

        Lou, you have no idea. Used to I worked forty hours a week, of which I spent ten hours shuffling paper and thirty watching porn. Now I’m only working thirty hours a week, so I only spend six hours shuffling paper and in the other twenty-four I have to watch thirty hours worth of porn.

        Gee, that sounds rough, Bud.

        You have no idea! I don’t have enough time to look for good stuff, so I’m having to just rely on whatever my search engine tosses up and some of that stuff is awful. No camera technique, no color balance or lighting sophistication … if it wasn’t fr the guys’ cheesy mustaches and the generic background music you wouldn’t even know this stuff was porn.

        That sounds terrible, Lou!

        You don’t know the half of it. I’ve had to cut back on breaks and spend part of my lunch hour watching this stuff, just to keep up. I swear, I’m a nervous wreck. I used to love this job, with the high speed internet and HD monitors … now I’m looking at Anthony Weiner’s twitter feed and wondering where things went wrong.

  3. Bursitis is something I get from tripping and falling down onto my knees, as opposed to falling full length like a sensible body. It must be a middle-aged thing.

    Icepacks/bags of frozen peas and elevating your knees. Not much else helps your poor bursas shrink back down again.

  4. I came to the conclusion many years ago that cats and carpet should never be installed in the same house.

    I make minor exception for rugs, which can be taken outside and beaten thoroughly (if only that worked on the cats too!) and hosed down in the driveway.

    But wall to wall? Never.

  5. The things I do for work cannot, currently, be done by a machine. One, at least, might get there in the next 20 years or so. The other? Well, there’s nothing quite like human interaction when you want good customer service. Amazon is getting close but there are some things that you actually want to touch, feel, try on and get a second opinion on without waiting for the shipping.

    And when I’m eventually replaced by robots? Well, here’s hoping that I’ll have figured out the whole “writing for money” thing by then.

    1. Amazon has some really awesome customer service– the big hitch is in finding the right path to it.

      (I actually *LIKE* chat based customer service– especially when they have people who actually know what theyr’e doing. Amazon’s real secret, they either aren’t going off a script or they’ve got REALLY GOOD scripts)

      1. I’m guessing really good scripts 🙂 I’ve had some great interactions with Amazon customer service but it’s a learned skill that some people can’t be bothered with and it’s hard to program. Not impossible, mind, but difficult and not particularly cost effective for brick and mortar stores. Which, yes, a lot has moved online but not everything.

        1. I’d guess that at least half of it is that they sort out the support to the correct area *before* you start talking to someone.

          So when I figured out that my subscriptions were headed to the house we didn’t even live at anymore, the five or six different menus I went through before talking to someone sorted me to someone who 1) had a clue, and 2) wouldn’t be using a generic script.

          1. and they seem to keep the information you entered at the start so you don’t have to keep repeating it until you’re at someone who can deal with you specifically.

            1. ….have you been watching me cuss out the scripts for Centurylink?

              Seriously, I made a file to copy-paste the phone number, account number, address, specific issue and such because I’d enter it when I was getting the support open, enter it when I talked to the first person, enter it for the second, then the third…..

              1. Nope, that’s basically my experience with every other company except Amazon. In person or online. I don’t know if it’s worse or just weirder when the person helping me shop for shoes refuses to go off script. At least on line I have a decent chance of the “person” I’m talking to actually being a computer.

  6. What about the typing pool? Every company used to have it, even in the eighties when I started working

    When I started working in semiconductors after college, email was just barely coming in, and a lot of the managers and pretty much all the directors on up had their secretaries print out their emails, they would dictate or hand scrawl a reply, and then the secretary would type it in for them and hit send – because typing was secretaries work, and they were managers, darnit!

    1. Yep. In the early 2000s my then agent did this. Part of my decision to leave him was influenced by seeing this process. The other part was, as a bestselling friend said, that he had the attention span of a cat with ADHD.

    2. Heh, me too. The large utility company to which I was contracted also had a typing pool in the 80s. In fact, they still had the specialized word processing systems with 8 inch floppy drives.

      1. I recall reading that computer programming in the Fifties was developed by women for that very reason: it involved typing and was therefore secretarial work.

        Obvious nonsense, as we all know that logic is a tool of the patriarchy and computer programming reputedly requires logic.

        1. But that’s impossible! Everyone knows that women weren’t allowed to work or go to college until the Sexual Revolution, and before that, all women everywhere were forced by the Patriarchy to be barefoot and pregnant in their home kitchens. / sarc

        2. Ah! That explains the “code and fix” –> “spaghetti code” software development life cycle, as opposed to logical analysis and software engineering …

      2. Huh, wonder if that’s why one of the shop heads “couldn’t” manage to get his tool calibration paperwork to print off, or respond to emails from other shops.

        He wasn’t that old, but if he was raised with that kind of an expectation…..

        1. I saw a lot of that, back in the day.

          About half of senior management lived at the keyboard, and the rest wouldn’t have a PC in their office. Or if they did, it was the most expensive high-end workstation, ostentatiously never turned on.

    3. Back in 1995-1996 I wrote a medical tracking system for a large local hospital. It basically aggregated a couple dozen forms into a single screen-based database application which could graph changes over time.

      The hospital administrators who were paying me intended that the doctors would lug around a laptop and hunt-and-peck the information into the program. I observed that doctor time was quite expensive, and it would be more reasonable to have their assistant do the keyboard work – the same assistant that was writing notes on a clipboard anyway.

      A couple of decades later, I noticed they had a new system, with the doctors wasting time hunting and pecking… but they’d apparently lost their PAs, so there was nobody else to do it.

      Putting it all on computer makes it better, right?…

    4. In college I read that that was actually one of the early impetuses for voice recognition software. The idea was that it might be useful for CEOs to be able to use their own computer, but we couldn’t expect them to learn to type–that would just be a waste of the CEOs valuable time.

      Then, by the time voice recognition got to the point where it was usable, everyone and their five-year-old brother knew how to type…

  7. “I might, for instance have to pay someone to put the books in paper, since I can’t seem to figure it out ”

    has this been figured out?

  8. There’s a lot of jobs in large organizations, especially in skilled labor, where it pays to hire someone full time even if there’s not enough work to occupy him 40 hours a week. Take, for example, a plumber in a hospital. Miles of piping, hundreds of toilets, thousands of valves. He reports to work, the maintenance supervisor, providing there is one and he’s competent, hands him the work requests that appeared over the night. He’s go out, fixes whatever was leaking or not draining, comes back. No new work requests. So, he takes out his notebook of things he checks on on a regular basis, and walks around and checks them. Makes adjustments as needed, heads back. 90 minutes left in the day. There’s nothing broken, so no need to fix anything, so he’s not working the last 90 minutes. The supervisor could send him out to janitorial stuff if it’s a non-union job. Do that once to often, which could be once, he’ll be looking for a new plumber. If the complex is small enough you only need a plumber once a week, call one in and pay them the going rate. But if you need on at least once a day, hire one. Much cheaper in the long run, even if you don’t have 40 hours a week worth of plumbing work. Same with any skilled trade. If there’s work that needs to be done, they work. Otherwise, they wait.

    Think about professional firemen for example. Do you really want to find makework for them to keep them busy if there are no fires? “Hi, I’m from the fire department and I’m here to make the mandatory yearly housed inspection. Are all your smoke alarms in working order? Do you have a fire extinguisher mounted in the kitchen? Do you….” Thanks, but no thanks.

    Virtually any 24/7/365 operator job is the same thing. You’re paying people who know what to do if the SHTF, you’re not paying them to keep busy for 40 hours. You want them to keep the generators rolling, the steam flowing, the pipeline full, whatever. They make sure it’s done.

      1. I know you didn’t. But some jobs just aren’t suited for part time work. And there’s not much way around it.

    1. You want them to keep the generators rolling, the steam flowing, the pipeline full, whatever. They make sure it’s done.

      Yeah, that same electric utility (since bought out by a competitor) had a profit sharing plan. One of the criteria to see if you got your profit share (in a quarter, I think) was how much the lights were on (except they had another term for it, reliability maybe); the score had to be over 99.99 percent. I think it went to four digits to the right of decimal and the last digit was an eight, if I recall correctly.

  9. Well, cleaning jobs certainly haven’t disappeared anywhere yet. I’ve been doing it on and off since the 80’s, and there are still plenty of small and not so small firms hiring, and hiring constantly (since it often is one of the jobs for students etc, there are far more part timers – the way I do it, especially nowadays, with my knees I would probably not be able to work as a cleaner for a full 40 hour week anymore – and people who do it just for a while than there are full time cleaners), as there was then. And now there are more people who work as independents. Would certainly pay a bit better that way, so I have considered it.

    One real problem with that type of jobs is the fact that for many people they do become bit of a problem years before they reach retirement age. For me it’s knees, but general wear and tear of the body, even when it doesn’t prevent you from working at all tends to at least make you slower and less efficient when you age.

  10. Copy editor. Types she who just finished going through 208 pages of copy and light style edits. Despite what a lot of people who ought to know better, but don’t, may claim, you need someone who can balance the rules of grammar and spelling with keeping the author’s voice and who is also aware of the latest shifts in colloquial usage. (Or is a member of the euphemism-of-the-week club.)

    1. Somebody who actually knows the rules, too, rather than “annoying rules nobody follows unless they’re trying very hard to sound proper” or “things that were imposed in 18-something as part of the attempt to make English a Latin language,” or “well my English teacher had a snit about it so it must be Good English,” or “the British do it, so it must be right,” or…..

      I’m kind of a stickler for rules, so it really annoys me when people insist on rules that not only aren’t rules, they haven’t been common use…..

  11. I personally have no problem with the idea of 30 hour work weeks. Indeed, I really wish I could afford to work only 30 hours a week! And who knows? Perhaps circumstances, as they are currently playing out, will force me to actively seek out such employment…

    I remember a study done in Europe that suggests people are no happier working 30 hours a week than they are at 40. My reaction to that was, “Well, duh! You guys are trying to *force* the issue. I suspect that there are a lot of people who *want* to work 40 hours a week, and some who would *like* to work 30 hours, but *want* the money from 40 hour workweeks more. By forcing everyone to work 30 hours, you please the 30-hour-a-week guys, but displease everyone else! So, of course, at best, it’s going to come out as a wash…”

    1. Depending on how you define it I would love a zero hour work week. Of course, it would look a lot like a 60 hour week. A lot of it is in POV and how much you have to sacrifice choice to make money to sustain your lifestyle.

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