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After scanning a recent copy of entrepreneur I found myself thinking long and hard about a feel-good preview of Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
I find myself most concerned with the apparent glee with which he awaits the new economy. I can only speculate that this joy flies free from his position of reasonable comfort and, dare I say, privilege. Godin seems dead set on his conjecture that the new economy will be of one of almost pure expression. Godin leverages alliteration: "painters and poets and potters" in such a way that handily ignores the car sitting in his garage.
No the new economy, acknowledged in passing by Godin, paints a starkly divided economy bordering on an institutionalized caste. The world Godin acknowledges is one of the privileged and the providers.
I will not dwell on this point, but I think that many techno-humanists ignore finer points of reality when they discuss the magic of the internet. Namely that the magic involved in "making things happen" between two coordinating over the internet often involves a lot of unacknowledged labor.
The Emerging Castes
The more and more it goes, "the future," as I am living involves a distinction between the privilege and the the providers. In essence the "painters, poets, and potters" are people who have the financial means to take the risks required. The full quote is
It isn't just painters and potters and poets. Entrepreneurs, marketers, crazy people who dance on street corners and anyone else who isn't afraid to express themselves has the opportunity to find an audience.
These are those sorts of people who have some standing in the economy as it exists now. They can "afford it." And without an organization to provide decent paying jobs those of us out of work can't find hopes of monetary living based on pure expression. If only Godin was right I might thorough some magic find a way to support myself based upon my own blogging!
The reality, at least for me, points to something much bleaker. Those of use who aren't fortunate enough to be a Godin or a Doctorow find ourselves over-trained and under employed. All that magical and expressive education we get from the internet does us no good as we have no job to apply it towards!
The bleakness of the future economy seemingly revolves around the fact that we are all people of amazon.com now.
Amazon sells the expressions of those who are privileged enough to earn a respectable wage for those expressions. The rest of us have no other choice but to support this transaction. We become the providers, using labor to facilitate the image of a decentralized company with a central control room.
The break out is simple as it is stark
Godin's Expressive - "Painters, Poets, Potters" - Privileged
The Labor - Mechanics, Millwrights, Masons - Providers
The Clueless vs The Labor
Venkatesh Rao over at ribbonfarm has extensive thoughts on the type of people that make up this privileged cast of white collar salary-men. He refers to these sorts of individuals as clueless as they have basically sold out to the company and stand no chance of further promotion.
I have never inherently disagreed with the reading; however, I felt that, based on my experience in the labor sector that such a break down ignores the simple fact that no matter the effort of an accountant he cannot physically increase production numbers. Expecting such office drones to DO more is clueless itself. This is what irks me most about the Gervais Principle. It pretends that an office is capable of standing-alone from other business.
A laborer, millwright or mechanic, on the other hand, acts as a direct agent producing, or facilitating production of the product numbers. This direct agency gives such workers a greater position to bargain with the company. Now when the economy is good things might be seen better from the white collar position; yet, during a down economy there is little other alternative to turn to.
So the white collar jobs go away and don't come back, and even as the industrial sector changes with technology the jobs may reduce but on some level they serve as a foundation for those to build their own futures. People always have physical needs; from food, to cars, to exercise equipment and if nothing else a tradesman can at least provide something real at the time it is needed.
Laborers are often called tradesmen, and for good reason, they trade their skill for compensation. And as often as those in the humanities detest and scoff at the "rough" or "common" living of a tradesman the economy as it stands demonstrates the continued need for their skills.
Tradesman at the top of their game with their depth of their process knowledge can demand a great deal of compensation and will often charge based upon the time taken while using those skills. In a sense it is like a lawyer bills - with the exception that the tradesman produces something tangible, realistic, and not open to interpretation.
So Venkatesh Rao or Peter Drucker might see depth of focus on process knowledge as a hindrance, yet the one who actually does the work knows that their work is sound work. This is of course often at odds with the clueless managers, be they Drukers Raos or no.
Where to now?
I think at this time in this economy the last thing we can do is take the voices of the old economy too seriously. Godin is just the most ready example, such voices, so invested in the "future," are clueless of the plight of many at the present. And I can only emphatically request, as one living "institution-less," that such high powered voices like Godin take off their rose colored glasses and take a trip around America and meet with those everyday folk trying to get by.