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On the State of “Careers”

Is digital journalism a viable career? Financial journalist and media pundit Felix Salmon says no.

His lengthy and dismal assessment of the future of journalism as a career path — ie, a job where your salary increases over time and you make enough money to support a family — was, shall we say, widely panned by other journalists who think he’s being a negative nancy and discouraging young people from entering the field. Personally, I think things are even worse than Salmon says.

Now, Salmon and I are in pretty good posiitons. Him more so than I, but neither of us is cranking out Examiner.com articles for $0 a pop just to build a portfolio in hopes of landing a staff writer job at a community newspaper that pays less than an entry level job at Home Depot. Neither of us is cranking out 10+ “stories” a day for a clickbait site just to make rent. Neither one of us just got laid off from a major urban daily after 20 years. We’re part of the lucky few that get paid a living wage, or better, to produce journalism.

But it’s not just journalism. The entire economy is now geared towards turning humans into fungible commodities. And it’s hard to build a career in an environment where there’s no point in asking for a raise because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who would do your job for even less than you do.

This is nothing new to billions of manual laborers who are used to being treated like cogs in a machine. But once upon a time unions were able to help workers actually band together to demand things like predictable hours and livable working conditions. That has changed. but the do what you love mantra managed to turn those few jobs that robots can’t yet do into sub-minimum wage gigs that require graduate degrees.

You might think you can escape this fate by becoming a programmer. But code bootcamps are cranking out hundreds of people who can crank out CRUD apps all day. And when you start to go grey, the tech industry will toss you out like an 8-track tape.

I don’t mean to imply that all precariat — from the middle class white guy with a PhD to Rwandan woman who came to the U.S. with nothing — are equally affected by this mechanization of humanity. But we are all affected.

The answer isn’t in picking the right career for the machine age. It’s changing the system.

Unemployment Is Killing 45,000 People Each Year

Vice reports:

The number of suicides related to unemployment remains stubbornly high despite the improving economy, according to a study published this week.

Researchers had previously registered a spike in suicides during the global economic crisis that began in 2008, suggesting that financial stress and hardship had contributed to the rise. But an analysis published on Tuesday in The Lancet Psychiatry by doctors at the University of Zurich in Switzerland estimates that about 5,000 suicides were associated with the crisis, while roughly nine times as many self-inflicted deaths are linked to unemployment each year.

Full Story: Vice: Unemployment Is Killing 45,000 People Each Year

Automation by Capitalists Vs. Automation by Workers

From Kurukshetra:

The difference between “bad outsourcing” (“bad” from the labor/leftist perspective) and this case of outsourcing should be obvious. “Bad outsourcing” is done on the company’s terms–that is, in a situation where the worker has no say in the matter, and where the company boss outsources a job and pockets the difference between cheap foreign labor and American labor. Outsourcing by the workers, on the other hand, is just that: outsourcing done on terms dictated by the worker, where the worker outsources her own job and pockets the difference.

Now, extend this observation to automation. As it stands, there is a whole lot of concern (particularly, it seems, from economists) that the increasing rate of automation, roboticization, and cybernation is creating a secular decline in employment, leaving an increasing number of millions structurally unemployed, and severely limited in their ability to access the theoretical benefits of mass automation. But just as with outsourcing, the underlying reason why workers are losing out is because they hold little to no power in the process of implementing automation. Labor does not control the means of (automated) production; capital does.

Full Story: Kurukshetra: Automation by Capitalists Vs. Automation by Workers

Kurukshetra tables the discussion about whether someone making six figures a year is still part of the working class, which is understanable under the circumstance. But they also bypass the question of whether outsouring your job to someone else makes you into a capitalist, but in the case of automation, this no longer matters.

Why “Do What You Love” Is Terrible Advice for Creative People

Food for thought going into the weekend, from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang:

The problem with the “do what you love” mantra is in how we follow it, which is with a single-mindedness that carries unnecessary risk. We interpret “do what you love” to mean “Do only what you love and nothing else,” and the implication of that is that if you don’t practice this kind of creative monogamy, you’re being untrue to yourself. A corollary encourages, “Don’t worry about the details and practicalities.” The universe will reward your passion and belief in yourself. It also means assuming all the financial risk of a risky career move. The reality is that creative work is terribly funded, and the odds of making a steady living from it are very very small. Being fully exposed to that kind of instability can make you less creative, not more so.

Full Story: Medium: Are you creative? Then “Do What You Love” is terrible advice

See also: Quit Your Passion and Take a Boring Job

And: Our interview with Pang on Mindful Cyborgs part 1 and part 2.

The Case Against “Sharing”

Sharing Economy

Full Story: Susie Cagle: The Case Against Sharing

I’ve been calling the “sharing economy” the Urchin Economy, as in street urchin, named for the street kids that are always hanging around in fiction set during the Victorian period, ready to accept a schilling or two to do some chore for a protagonist. They have no job security, no safety net, they’re treated as if they’re utterly disposable. Of course today, there’s always some high-tech middleman looking to take a cut of these transactions.

See also:

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed

The Sharing Economy Isn’t

I also tried to explore some of these ideas in my short story “The Faraday Bag“:

A bunch of my friends found work through this app where young guys–and it was always guys––could have people come over and clean their dishes, do their laundry, that sort of thing. I did that a couple times. Then a guy complained that he wanted “an American” to do his chores for him. I told him I was born in the U.S. and that my family had lived here for two generations. He gave me a one-star review, and I haven’t been able to find work through the app since.

Thomas Frank Interviews David Graeber

Salon is running a great new interview with David Graeber by Thomas Frank. Here are some highlights (Graeber’s words):

Well, radical elements in the labor movement began embracing such visions from quite early on. After the successful campaigns for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, people immediately started thinking, can we move this to seven, six, or less. Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, and author of “The Right to Be Lazy,” was already calling for something along those lines in 1883. I have a Wobbly T-shirt with a turn-of-the-century style design that says “join the IWW for a new dawn,” it has a sun rising over the rooftops, and on the sun is written, “four-day week, four-hour day.” […]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the great divisions between anarcho-syndicalist unions, and socialist unions, was that the latter were always asking for higher wages, and the anarchists were asking for less hours. That’s why the anarchists were so entangled in struggles for the eight-hour day. It’s as if the socialists were essentially buying into the notion that work is a virtue, and consumerism is good, but it should all be managed democratically, while the anarchists were saying, no, the whole deal—that we work more and more for more and more stuff—is rotten from the get-go. […]

Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t.

Full Story: Salon: David Graeber explains why the more your job helps others, the less you get paid

See also:

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

An Army of Altruists

The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back

Sarah Kendzior writes:

Jenina dropped out of nursing school after her mother lost her job, because she needed the tuition money to pay bills. Her income from McDonald’s, where she started working as a high school senior, helps support her mother and younger sister. Patrick’s Chipotle income helps support his mother, a makeup artist who has struggled to find steady work since the recession. Krystal’s Taco Bell income helps support her son; her sister, who lives with her and works at Jack in the Box; and now, her newborn daughter.

Every worker I interview is supporting someone: an unemployed parent, a child, a sibling, a friend. Most of their friends and family members work in fast food or other service industries. Everyone is in their twenties or older. All but one is African-American.

They dream of different jobs. The women want to be nurses, the men want to work in the automotive or culinary industries. But no one can pay for training when they cannot save for day to day, much less for the future.

As a result, fast food workers are turning to activism: not out of ideological motives, but because overturning the economic system seems more feasible than purchasing the credentials for a new career.

Full Story: Medium: The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back

Previously:

New York City Fast Food Workers Go On Strike, Demand $15 An Hour

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Kevin Drum writes:

The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.

Full Story: Mother Jones: Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?

Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.

Two thoughts on this:

1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”

2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.

65% of Advertised Robotics Jobs Are in Health Care

Vice Mother Board reports on a report robotics job ads by Wanted Analytics:

So even if it seems more intuitive that robots should be taking over brick masonry, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that robotics would also be in demand for health care. The first job of the robots is maintaining people, poetically enough. Still, the fact that Wanted found that 65 percent of robotics jobs were going toward health care is pretty surprising.

The robotics specialists are up to interesting things though. Physicians offices are looking for people to “design, develop, and analyze devices for the expansion of the image guided robotics program for minimally invasive procedures and surgery,” and assist in the use of those programs.

Full Story: Vice Mother Board: Where the Robots Are Creating Jobs

How to Become a User Experience Designer

Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.

From the summary:

When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.

Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.

The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.

Summary: Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Career Advice.

Or: Download the full report.

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