|Foregoing Vacation to Post|
Here's my entry.
When I was a young lad (must have been in high school, so 16 maybe?), someone asked me "What are the three things that define who you are?"
That question really resonated with me for some reason, so I spent a good bit of time trying to come up with an answer. I did come up with one, and that answer has been a solid foundation for my life ever since. My "three things" were:
1) I'm ambitious
2) I'm honest
3) I genuinely care about other people
Have I always lived up to those principles? Nope, not even. But I can't even count up the what must be thousands of times when I weighed a decision against them, and tried to act on them.
This thread has me thinking of the old United Technologies' ads in the Wall Street Journal years ago...They were typeset with beauty, not obvious ads, and you could write to the company for free reprints on high quality paper (I still have some! Including "Decisions, Decisions")
This blog has a table of contents to each..all words of wisdom..
This is a great quote. Sometimes the past may color our present, but there's frequently no need to revisit it.
Has Achieved Nirvana
When I first got to the New-Fangled Flying Machine Co., my boss had a glass apple on his desk. The apple initially held 365 folded pieces of paper sort of the size of fortune cookie fortunes, each with some inspirational or meditative quote. The whole thing was branded "An Apple a Day". Each day, he pulled out a slip at random and tucked it under his nameplate outside the door to his office.
My first project as an NFFMCo employee was to develop a database and application for performing one of the most onerous and joyless tasks in the organization. At the time, there were about eight people who engaged in the onerous and joyless task, half of them manually laying out schedules and the other half typing, copying, and distributing them. I was getting some pushback from some of these people as they figured out that my program was going to put at least half of them out of work (the goal was to actually get it down to two people).
After interviewing them and watching them to understand what they did, I kept finding out there were little parts of the task they hadn't told me about. I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they weren't trying to sabotage the effort. I actually stopped work on the program for a week and just sat down with the schedulers and did their job.
Also, there was an official IT group that was trying to develop a similar program, They were making little progress, but they were going through the channels of management to try to kill mine. So, a month into this, I was already kinda beat down.
Then one day, I passed my boss's office and the "Apple a Day" was a terse question that uncovered volumes about the human psyche: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" The attribution was a name that meant nothing to me: Dr. Robert Schuller.
(Decades later, hearing a story on npr, I learned that Robert Schuller was one of the first televangelists and wrote the "Power of Positive Thinking" books. Had I known this at the time, I would have pooh-poohed the quote as trite baloney and kept walking.)
But that little rhetorical question lit a fire under me. In that moment, I realized why so many projects and ambitions fail... we practically will them to fail. I don't want to enumerate how many things I never tried to do because I assumed that ultimately they would fail. Or more precisely, that I would fail. Or at least, I might fail. It wasn't the biggest epiphany I've ever had, but it certainly was the clearest, sharpest, most sudden.
I asked my boss if I could have the little bit of paper at the end of the day. He told me to just take it then and there. I did.
I went back to my desk and taped it to my monitor. And I got to work in earnest. Within a couple weeks, I was calling the schedulers in one-by-one and giving them a demo of the program.
One young woman looked at the schedule coming off my dot-matrix printer and said, "so then I go type this in WordPerfect, right?"
I said, "no, actually, it will come off the laser printer and it's done."
The color drained from her face. She said, "but I type schedules. That's all I know how to do."
I suggested that she could learn to operate the new program and she would instead have a better job and maybe get a bigger paycheck. She wasn't having any of it. Before I could enlighten her with the inspirational words of the host (unbeknownst to me) of The Hour of Power! she had walked off eventually to join another typing pool.
I was mildly crushed because all through college in the 80s we were told that "computers don't put people out of work -- they create new and better jobs". I had certainly gotten a new and better job, but I wasn't doing a good job of selling that idea. I just put six people out of work with one program.
Still, I had completely quashed my "this will never work" mindset, and built an application that did in two minutes what a human scheduler took over two hours, sometimes four, to do, and eliminated the typing part.
Over the next couple years, each time I got a new computer I either kept my monitor or I very carefully peeled off the little strip of paper.
I developed a few more database applications, one of which became a significant factor in certifying a new Flying Machine.
Eventually, my cynical curmudgeonly self slowly re-emerged and the magic sort of wore off. At least the tingle did. I still remind myself periodically that fear of failing is the biggest roadblock I can conjure up. It's just more academic than emotional now.
I guess the biggest part is that I realized the question isn't really rhetorical.
Nice point and well written, pj. Thanks!
Hadn't been aware of that "80's mindset" you cited (of course not as that wasn't my field.)
I'd say that in fact computers have done both, though - created new and better jobs AND put people out of work, though admittedly more of the latter than the former.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, though, anyone who depends on a single skill, has really been "asking for it."
After all, recorders and typists themselves replaced stenographers and most functions of private secretaries. Certainly, all have bade farewell to handwritten documents and the ancient scribes.
Hopefully, adaptability (supposedly the primary promoter of human survival) will be applied to the workforce so that people focus on learning skills that can't be adequately replaced by machines. (By "adequately" I mean that voice mail, least of all bots, do NOT replace a human being answering the phone, - all the less so, those responding in a language in which live responders are not native speakers!)
(This FWIW has been seeming to be getting worse and worse IMO, by which I mean that live but second language speakers are being hired with ever less fluency and less intelligible accents. Wait times are longer too for that matter, all of which probably only reflects the forced tolerance we hoi polloi consumers of "customer service" are judged willing to tolerate. I.e., are most services REALLY "experiencing higher call volumes than usual"??)
The heads up for the larger work worce, would seem to mean that students should be directed to fields that are most irreplaceable, such as care-giving from the least skilled to the highest (medical, surgical). And again, I would NOT agree that AI programs purported to replicate human therapists or child/elder companions are sufficient.
Live teachers are in an intermediate category I'd say, as much progress has been made in online learning/teaching. OTOH though the human interaction IRL is irreplaceable both in picking up cues and giving reinforcement/care to students. Lawyers? Hard to picture duelling lawyer bots in Court! I also doubt anyone would agree that pastor bots could EVER replace the real thing, if only as an intermediary with and interpreter of the Divine, if one thinks in such terms. (last rites administered by a consecrated priest bot? No. Confessional bots - well, maybe...)
And apart from sex dolls, however sophisticated they become, I doubt there can ever be a replacement for human companionship. (I'm still waiting for a computer screen capable of transmitting a hug, artificial reality and holograms notwithstanding). And I'm debating about whether anything programmed can be truly imaginative (though even as I write it, I'm sure someone is thinking of some program deemed capable of poetry or innovation...).
Meanwhile, at the other end of the judgment spectrum, what about the vocations - plumbers, appliance repairpersons*, electricians, and so on? There's so much on-site judgment involved (fearing nonetheless a future in which all such repair interactions would be preceded by lengthy online questionaires to identify our presenting problem...Ugh! SO sick of surveys!)
Any other candidates for truly irreplaceable professions/from the rest of you?
*Perhaps appliance repair WILL be the first to be automated, by plugging in a computer much like those in cars to ID problems if not to actually fix them. That is, for those of us not already capable of following a You-Tube video!
Thank you all for sharing your quotes and stories. I very much appreciate learning from them and learning more about you through them.
It's December and the DOCM train has to keep moving, so, as arbitrary and subjective as it is ...
In my great and unmatched wisdom, I anoint pianojuggler the winner of this DOCM contest.
piano juggler please PM Matt your new DOCM picture and color scheme suggestion (if any), and also organize the contest for the next DOCM.
Has Achieved Nirvana
I am humbled.
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