Work, Education, Future Tech, Minimalism, and Mental Illness

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Even though mental illness has cost me any potential career, wealth, or family, I am still quite happy overall most of the time.  I would say that age 37 I’m far happier and content now than I was 10 years ago.  I have come to the acceptance that I don’t need a career to validate my life and existence.  That is something most people in modern civilization never come to realize.  I still get the questions of ‘what do I do for a living’ all the time when I’m out in public.  Anymore I just tell people I do online computer stuff from home, which isn’t a lie.  I just don’t get paid for it.  For years I lied to people about what kind of job I had.  And I felt guilty about it because the very question seemed to imply that I had to validate my existence by what I did for several hours a day.  What does it matter what I do all day as long as I’m not breaking the law or hurting other people?  I know some exceptionally brilliant people who more or less dropped out of modern society because they saw the whole idea of a 40 hour work week and family and house in the suburbs as self defeating and pointless.  I mean I don’t need to have a job paying me six figures when, as a minimalist, I can live comfortably off less than 20 grand a year.  Besides, with soon to be eight billion plus people living on our small planet, we’re going to have to learn how to do more with less anyway.

What does it matter what a person does for a living in many cases anyway?  There are studies out there and can be viewed online that state that as many as 50 percent of current jobs could be assigned to machines and done better within the next 20 years.  When this happens, and it will happen despite political interventions and social upheavals, we as humans will have to find new ways to define ourselves outside of paid employment.

And I can’t figure out why people are so scared senseless of having their jobs assigned to machines.  Practically everyone I know hates their jobs.  I have heard that old “Oh God It’s Monday” and “Thank God It’s Friday” nonsense since I was five years old.  Seems to me that griping and moaning about how much your job sucks is as American as baseball.  If I were a business owner, I think I’d install machines just so I have to deal with as few bad attitudes as possible.  Most jobs are in the service sector anymore that don’t pay as well as the old unionized factory jobs.  And most people that work in these sectors are treated poorly by bosses, customers, and even fellow employees.  I will never voluntarily work in customer service ever again.  I have enough problems of my own to be working maximum hours for little to no benefits while taking abuse from customers and bosses.  The way normal people treat customer service employees is really heartless and uncivilized.  I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves through that except for the need for money.  And I don’t need the money, so I won’t put myself through it.

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Seems to me that we are running out of low skill jobs while many high skill jobs like doctors, engineers, teachers, trades jobs, technicians, etc. are going unfilled.  Our schools, for whatever reasons, simply aren’t producing the quantities of people that are needed to keep our high tech civilizations functioning and advancing.  That concerns me.  We know my country doesn’t do a good job teaching science or math in our grade and secondary schools.  We have known this for over 40 years now.  And nobody seems interested in updating the American school systems for the high tech realities of modern times.  Our civilization cannot afford another 40 years of poor science and math education.  Why aren’t we making the changes?

Yes, our schools served us well in the industrial revolution.  But they are a poor design for the information revolutions we have been in for at least the last 30 years. Then again, with as fast as things are advancing, much of what an 18 year college freshman learns will be pointless and obsolete by the time he/she graduates from college four to five years later.  So we may have to teach kids to learn how to learn rather than give them certain facts and expect them to spit them out on a test only to be forgotten a week later.   I would love to see some kid write on her high school tests, “Why should I clutter my mind with facts I can look up on Google?” That kind of testing seemed pointless to me as a teenager and it seems even more pointless now in 2017.  Fortunately for older people like me there are mediums like youtube, khan academy, free online course through places like MIT, etc. that are keeping us more informed than we would have been in previous generations.  Used to be that a person could rote learn facts and then spend the next 30 years working on a farm or in a factory simply because the science and tech didn’t advance very fast.  Of course many people didn’t live past age 50 either, so retirement and the diseases of old age like heart disease and cancer weren’t very big problems.  Those days are as dead and gone as the draft horse and wagon.

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Unfortunately many people of my generation and the previous generations made the mistake of ending their education once their school years were over.  This we could afford when science and tech weren’t advancing really fast and people weren’t regularly living into their 80s and 90s.  But as fast as things are advancing now, it’s hurting us that our citizens and elected leaders aren’t able to keep up with the advances.  I doubt most people in my government even understand that robotics, computer programs, and AI are getting good enough that many jobs will be disappearing within the next decade or two.  My politicians are talking about bringing back old style manufacturing jobs.  As good as automation is, that’s not happening.  The U.S. is already the number two manufacturer in the world, behind only China.  Even China is automating much of it’s manufacturing now.  And when 3D printers get really good and easy to use, that’s going to end even more manufacturing jobs and retail jobs.  When I get a good 3D printer someday, I will never set foot in a Wal Mart or mall ever again.  As it already is, I do most of my shopping online.  I even get delivery pizza and deli online anymore.

I don’t even have to go back to school to learn new things, thanks to online learning.  For all I know, our grandkids’ generation may be able to have all their education online without having to set foot in a classroom.  I’ve already learned as much online through five years of rigorous study on youtube and khan academy as I ever did in my years of formal education.  And I absolutely love it.  Maybe one of the reasons I’m not scared of the avalanche of changes our civilization is and will be facing in the next couple generations is because I have had to reinvent myself several times because of mental illness.  We as a civilization will have to reinvent ourselves to avoid destroying ourselves.  Maybe my schizophrenia inadvertently sling shot me ahead of most of the crowd.  We are heading towards some really cool things in the future, but whether or not we as a species make a successful transition is not certain mainly because we are stumbling around without much of a plan to manage the transition.

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Changes In Interests With Mental Illness

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Over the years of working with schizophrenia I have had to reinvent myself a few times.  When I was first diagnosed in 2000, I was a wreck.  I pretty much left my dorm room only to go to classes and go to the mess hall twice a day.  I couldn’t concentrate in classes or doing homework for longer than a couple minutes at a time.  I was trying different medications twice a month just hoping to find something that would work.  As a result of these struggles I had to drop out of my pre med major.  I even had to take a semester off from college because I was in danger of flunking out entirely.  After a few months off the academic grind and finally finding some medications that worked well, I was able to return to school be it with a different major.  I decided to do business management because I really knew little about money and business and thought I could find a job in that field once I recovered.  I never did completely recover but I did graduate college with a business degree.

After a year of working in sales I tried my hand at getting a masters’ in business.  At the time my dream was to teach basic economics and personal finance at a small college.  That was before I realized how tough it was to get tenure and that the majority of junior college instructors are not full time.  After two semesters in the program my grades were hurting enough that I lost my graduate assistant job.  I could have stayed in the program but I would have to go deep into debt.  So I left the program.  After my failing to become a college instructor, I got a job in a factory.  It was simple enough work but I couldn’t adapt to the overnight hours and my work suffered as a result.  Two months of this I decided I would put in for a transfer to morning shift.  I was denied so I quit.  It also didn’t help that I was threatened by one of my coworkers with violence because of my mistakes.  A few years later I heard that the factory was shut down.  So many people lost their jobs, probably due to automation.  It made me kind of thankful I didn’t stick it out with that job.

About the same time I failed at the factory, I applied for disability pension.  It took two years to get approved for it, and that was even after I hired an attorney to fast track the process.  Here I was with a mental illness that clearly ruined my ability to work and I was getting to where I was running out of money.  Shortly after I gave up on the factory, I moved into low income housing because that was all I could afford.  I could have moved back with my parents but the mental health care in that rural of an area was quite primitive.  And I was too embarrassed to face the people of my hometown with a mental illness.  Ten years ago there was even less understanding about mental illness than there is now.  Small town gossip is vicious and unavoidable.  I didn’t like living in my parents’ town as a kid because I never fit in and my skills sets weren’t conducive to a farming dominated economy.  I may live in a town of about 40,000 people (which isn’t big compared to many places) but it has far more to offer than my parents’ town of less than 500 people.  I just didn’t want to go back home, admit defeat, and face the scorn of the people of my hometown.  To this day I still won’t go back for class reunions or alumni events.  Too many people just don’t want to accept that mental illness is real.

As a result of having to abandon my childhood hometown, I had to find other means of socializing.  That’s about the time I signed up for a Facebook account.  The majority of my contacts on Facebook are with people I met in college.  I don’t have that many friends from my old grade school and high school days.  I hear from really only one of my friends from my high school days on a regular basis anymore.  One of my best friends from junior high I haven’t talked to in over ten years.  Some of my classmates I haven’t seen since graduation.  But I did enjoy college much more than high school, even if it was a religious school and I was beginning to question the teachings and dogmas of the religion grew up with even back then.  The majority of my friends from college are still in the same denomination I grew up in, but they seem to be understanding on why I don’t attend church anymore.  I haven’t been a regular in church in almost ten years.  It just seems ineffective and pointless.  People have been praying for cures for illnesses and deliverance from  danger for centuries.  Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they don’t with no rhyme or reason behind it.  I guarantee the early Christians being fed to lions in Roman coliseums were praying like mad, just like the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, or the people killed in every other crisis.  I gave up on organized religion once I came to realize that if there is a God (and let’s be honest, no one knows for exactly sure), than God was hap hazard in spreading the blessings and curses around.  If my friends and family want to continue going to church and believing what they do, I refuse to stand in the way.  I just won’t partake.

Once I left religion and made up my mind I would never marry, I had to find other outlets for socializing.  I joined writers’ groups, I took part in mental illness support groups, I volunteered at a museum for a summer, I started writing seriously, I worked on a blog with an old high school friend of mine, I wrote the rough outline for what would be this blog, I wrote rough drafts for two novels, I wrote hundreds of poems and even got a few of them published, I self published my mental illness writings and poems and sold a few dozen copies of those through local bookstores, I made friends with fellow artists and writers, I made friends with a few smart and eccentric people even in Section 8 housing.

Sadly several of my old friends in my apartment complex died in the last couple years.  I left my job at the county courthouse once I found out I could live on my disability pension and could get serious about writing.  Several months after I left my job at the courthouse I started this blog.  As the months went on I started getting a bit of an audience.  I found out I have a talent for putting ideas and words into written form.  At first I did this blog only every two weeks.  I was getting a few readers that way.  After a year I decided to post once a week.  I started getting more readers and some feedback.  Found out I was fulfilling a niche in the writing market that many people don’t know exists.

Mental illness is a problem that isn’t going to be swept under the rug anymore.  With more people feeling stressed about possibly losing their jobs to automation and globalization, people my age bracket and younger realizing that in spite their best efforts they won’t have as nice of a house or the job security of their parents and grandparents, and people just being depressed and stressed about the changes and crisises going on that we hear all about because of mass communications, mental health issues are going to be affecting more people.  And I’m writing about life with mental health issues, not having traditional employment, and having to make meaning and purpose in my life inspite all that has happened in the last twenty years.  And I will continue to post these blogs.  I don’t care if I make a dime off my writing anymore.  Most writers don’t make anything off their writings anyway.  I just want these writings to stick around for a long time and maybe make a positive difference for those affliceted with mental illness and their loved ones.