I wanted to originally do this in one post. But I had to break it into two smaller posts. Consider this my buy one, get one free promotion. I do enjoy having good conversations one on one or with small groups. But far too often we are kept apart from people on an individual basis. We seldom have in depth conversations with our coworkers because there isn’t enough time during the work day to just sit down and chat with your coworkers. And most people are usually too tired to spend time with coworkers at the end of a shift or they have family obligations. We work with these people every day, sometimes for years at a time, yet we rarely get to really know them. The irony about most jobs is that much of what is done during an eight hour work day is redundant busy work, especially in most office jobs. Most of what is done in an office, from my experience any way, seems could be done in half the time the work shift demands people be at their cubicles and acting busy. I found the same thing in high school and college. Some of those classes could have been only half as long and almost all of them could have been more stimulating. I had a couple friends who were homeschooled for part of their academic careers and they said they usually had only four hours of classes a day while I had at least seven. And they still did better on tests, and later their careers, than many kids I went to regular school with. Unless you are working in the trades, working in the medical field, or working in a factory, most jobs could probably easily be done from home via telecommuting or with only four to six hour work days. Even store clerks have to always look busy.
During the years I worked in retail I was told it was bad and tactless to chat with my coworkers while we were on the clock. Who decided this? I wasn’t asked for my opinion. Can’t have coworkers knowing each other and getting along well, now can we? That might make things awkward when a coworker gets fired or reprimanded for arbitrary reasons. As long as we’re not insulting the bosses, the company, the customers, etc., than screw you. As long as we are still helping the customers and getting our work done, it shouldn’t matter that coworkers would spend a few minutes talking to each other during slow times. The same people we sell to in the large chain stores chat with their coworkers in their offices but manage to get their work done, let’s not kid ourselves. Why should we have to look busy when we have a few free moments? Why shouldn’t we be allowed to get to know our coworkers? My coworkers and I didn’t complain when our bosses took half hour cigarette breaks, hid out in their offices for hours at a time claiming they were doing ‘paperwork’, taking longer than allowed lunches, or talked with their friends and family on company time. And some people wonder why fast food workers are demanding $15 an hour. I don’t think it’s the money that’s as large of a deal as the lack of respect and accountability that front line workers get from their managers and their companies.
Yes, the money matters. The money from fast food and service jobs matters more than twenty to thirty years ago simply because there aren’t that many manufacturing jobs left, at least not in America. We are running out of jobs that people with less than average intelligence can hold. Those jobs are being outsourced and even those outsourced jobs are being taken over by machines. A buddy of mine works at a caller center for a bank and is sometimes concerned about his bank outsourcing his job to India. Yet, the man and woman in India may soon be worried about their jobs being taken over by automated programs. I get my prescription medications refilled by an automated program that calls me when I’m running low already. The only time I actually deal with a human is when I pick my medications up at the pharmacy. And in several years when delivery drones get real good, I may not even have to do that. Dominos Pizza is already experimenting with delivery drones that take your order right to your door in some countries. Sheesh, my five year old nephew might not even need a driver’s license when he turns sixteen in eleven years.
No longer can a kid not smart enough for college move into a factory, farming, or mining job for the next fifty years of his life. These twenty to thirty somethings working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart would have been doing factory work if they came of age in the 1950s instead of the 1990s or 2000s. They are not lazy and unmotivated like most of the popular culture and elder generations think they are. People thought the World War II generation were drunkards and fornicators when they were in their teens and twenties during the Roaring Twenties. The clean shaven 18 year old GI who grew up dirt poor in the 1930s that was a private in World War II probably had a 35 year old commanding officer who drank copious amounts of bootlegged alcohol and had lots promiscuous sex with flapper girls and suffragettes during Prohibition. I also doubt the World War II generations of Japan and Germany are held in such reverence; they might even be considered an embarrassment. The world is a stage, we are the actors, and the history books are almost always written by the winners.
If our elders were born in 1980 instead of 1950 they’d be irritated about having only fast food and retail jobs as easily available jobs too. Bill Gates once said that my grandparents generation would have called making hamburgers an opportunity. Smug and hypocritical advice coming from someone who outsourced a lot of his company’s work. It could be that once wages get to $15 an hour, then front line employees will be replaced by machines. Yet, I have never seen a computer shop at Home Depot or a robot eat at Subway. Reminds of a story I heard from a TED talk when the CEO of an auto maker in Detroit and the head of the auto workers’ union were talking. The company president was talking about putting in robots in the factory and jokingly asked the union boss how he would get robots to pay union dues. The union man jokingly asked the auto exec how is he going to get robots to buy cars. Just some things to think about. Things could get ugly in the next couple decades. Occupy Wall Street could just be the start.