Socio-Politico-Economic Technology

Anywhere, Anytime

I don’t have any hard numbers to prove it, but it is my observation that the future of work (if you can call still it “the future”) is for knowledge workers to be able to work anywhere, anytime. While it was absolutely possible before I think that the COVID pandemic really served to shatter the matrix and accelerate the trend. While some loathe the passing of the office and being “always connected”, I for one embrace what it has to offer.

On a micro scale working asynchronously and remotely means that I can decouple where and how I live from where and how I work, which ironically leads to a more natural integration of the two. Is the most important work you can do only available in the city, but you prefer the country? Now you don’t have to choose. Do you have important work you need to get done, but your doctor is only available in the morning? Now you can do both.

On a macro level async remote work is a huge win for society too. For one thing, it is a huge win for traffic and pollution. It decreases the need for people to crowd in already crowded spaces, and the people in those crowded spaces will benefit from less traffic due to less miles being driven on average per person. Less average miles per person also means less pollution per person. Additionally, the flexibility frees up resources. People working and enjoying leisure at staggered hours instead of all at once means that resources that suffer peak usage periods will suffer them less as the usage is spread out (think highways, potable water systems, electricity, grocery lines, gas stations, etc.).

While there is some concern of always being on, I think if that truly becomes a problem it is worth evaluating if you have an unhealthy relationship with your work and if that relationship is being driven from within or from without. It is sad what happened to accelerate this trend, but I for one am excited to explore the limits of the era of anywhere, anytime.


Polluting The Unnatural Environment

This is an actual recruiter email I received (names redacted). I receive similar emails at least once a week.

As much as I despise mass marketing because it pushes the costs of your marketing onto your prospective customers, the industry, and society at large, I get why it is a thing that is not going away soon. But this is just lazy and wasting everyone’s time. Now their domain is going to get marked as spam, no developer will get a paid gig, more developers are going to stop looking at such emails altogether, their company won’t get a commission, and their client won’t get the programming expert they need.

Just because you can’t (or won’t) quantify the cost of your activity does not mean that it is free, and even if it somehow free to you doesn’t mean that you aren’t stealing those resources from someone else. The natural world is not the only environment that can get polluted.

The previous is a small (and admittedly petty) example of a problem I see at companies I have worked for and in the world at large. Everyday we are inundated with ads for <<insert_product>> made just for <<insert_name>>; it is bad for us as a society, and bad for industry. We pour ever more resources into stealing attention without creating more value not because it is somehow efficient, but because our current system is bad at addressing tragedy of the commons problems. I hope whatever arises as for society that it includes the proper infrastructure to solve such issues.


The Politics Of Consent

Consent seems like a simple concept, but when you really dig into it how you define it is one of the major rifts in the politics of our time. Consent, and what it means to have given consent, is at the center of all democratic ideologies. Where all men are said to be equal the definition of equality is of significant importance. The typical definition of consent will speak of permission or agreement on what should happen, but says very little of the conditions under which that agreement is made. I wish to explore that side of consent and show how differing definitions of consent are at the heart of our differing political parties.

What do I mean when I speak of “the conditions under which that agreement is made”? Well, before any contract can be agreed upon there must first be a negotiation, and rarely do negotiators meet on an even playing field. The outcome of a negotiation, the agreement, the final contract, are heavily influenced by the power dynamics between the negotiators.

As an extreme example of the role of power dynamics let’s imagine this scenario; one man is the owner of a lush oasis, surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert on each side, and a thirsty survivor wanders in from the sands. How they might interact will depend heavily on the power dynamics between them. The owner of the oasis, having been there first and having laid claim to all of it’s resources, may offer to allow the survivor to stay and eat the food and drink the water so long as the survivor agrees to do all the work to gather food and water for the both of them, as well as build the shelter and perform all the other maintenance necessary. Having no other option, the survivor may agree to this contract and give his consent.

On the other hand, perhaps the survivor arrived with a deadly weapon. Now having the upper hand, the same contract is struck but in the reverse, with the original owner of the oasis now becoming the workhorse of the survivor, having no other option and thus giving his consent.

Alternatively, in either of the above scenarios the two may instead decide to prioritize the collective best interest above their own and agree that they should both partake in the labor and enjoy the benefits of the oasis. While this scenario is possible, it is also unstable as long as one of the participants has more power than the other (for instance, if the survivor keeps the weapon despite having reached such an agreement), since the one with the power may always decide to change their mind, and it will always be in both of their minds when future agreements are made.

From this example I hope that you will see that while in one way each person has given consent, in another way they very much have not. These differing understandings of giving consent are at the heart of each political party.

One political philosophy views the mere act of reaching an agreement as a proof of consent; power dynamics either don’t exist or are natural, and questioning them is not important. Since no one would enter a contract that makes them worse off, all contracts make the parties to the contract better off, and are therefor good. In this view of the world it is ok that the powerful take advantage of their power and strike agreements that are primarily for their benefit, because a side affect of them pursuing their own interests is that they also create benefit for everyone else.

Another political philosophy acknowledges that power dynamics exist and that they can produce negative outcomes. They are aware that while paying minorities and women less is better than not hiring them at all, it is still a much worse outcome than hiring them and paying them as though there was not such a large gap in their negotiating power. They’ve determined that a subset of the working class is privileged because there is less of a gap between their negotiating power and that of the owner/employer class. If only they could erase the historical power differences between these two subsets of the working class then they could reach equally consensual agreements.

However, a new ideology that I see gaining momentum takes this a step further. Yes, a lower class basically being held at gunpoint in an employment negotiation can hardly be called consensual and produces negative outcomes, but also to some degree almost all employment negotiations are heavily lopsided in the employer’s advantage. This is due to a variety of factors, but one of the largest is that employers can typically afford to lose an employee without it hardly making a difference, whereas an employee who loses their job also loses their sole source of income and often a large part of their identity. To correct this difference in power dynamics or even shift if in the other direction they call for a larger reform to ensure that workers of all demographics are not dependent on owners and employers. There are many competing ideas for how this can be accomplished, from relatively minor amendments to the existing structure of society such as universal healthcare and base income, to much larger overhauls such as combining workers and owners into a single unified class.

For both moral and efficiency purposes consent for me is not just an agreement, but an agreement reached under relatively equal power dynamics. When negotiators are playing on the same field they can each trade concessions that have little value to them and high value to the other negotiator and maximize the outcome of the negotiation. When one negotiator overpowers the other they may demand concessions that have little value to them but high value to the other, since the other will be forced to agree anyways. For this reason my thoughts tend towards the new ideology taking shape. When we level the playing field we create a better and more bountiful world.

More than agreeing with me or arguing ideologically my hope is that you will see that not all consent is created equally. How loosely you are willing to define it and the conditions under which it can be acquired has a huge impact on what you view as morally imperative or reprehensible.



What is leadership? You lead, people follow, right?

To me it is a little more complex. Given the right title and enough force anyone can compel others to their will, but true leadership is something different. If people follow you only because you might hurt them or they might lose their job you’re not so much a leader as a you are a manager of human resources; and I mean that in the most derogatory way possible. To me leadership is creating a character and a narrative so compelling that others choose to follow without the threat of force.

True leadership is rare; when a man or woman embodies the shared story of those who would choose to follow. It is not the selfish act of building an empire for oneself, even if as a side affect it accidentally benefits others, but that of building prosperity for the tribe with intention. The true leader does not fear true democracy. They are not concerned that their followers may choose to follow another.

So yes, a leader leads and followers follow, but there is so much more to it than that.


The Authoritarian

The parent that says “I will listen to what you have to say but I will make all the important decisions.”

The friend that says “I will listen to what you have to say but I will make all the important decisions.”

The spouse that says “I will listen to what you have to say but I will make all the important decisions.”

The politician that says “I will listen to what you have to say but I will make all the important decisions.”

The CEO that says “I will listen to what you have to say but I will make all the important decisions.”

Socio-Politico-Economic Technology

Technology Is Only A Tool

Technology is often sold to the public as a kind of fix-all; the duct tape for all of society’s issues, and the engine that inevitable drives progress forward. As someone who is deeply vested in technology I used to buy into this narrative myself, but it seems much more appropriate to look at technology as a tool that can be used equally for good or for evil.

The best example I can come up with is the invention of nuclear energy. In the right hands, in a just society, nuclear energy can be harnessed safely and effectively to increase the power we have to increase productivity and decrease the need for manual labor. Dramatic increases in our ability to produce energy have been closely correlated with dramatic increases in our material well-being.

On the flip side, the same energy and the same automation can be used to make a large number of humans obsolete; to create a society that has abundance, but gives to few. Eventually we will reach a post-scarcity society where automation begets more automation with little human intervention, and what then? Even now there is a general consensus that supply-side, trickle-down economics is a deficient model to explain the modern economy.

And, more terrifying still is the existential threat that has come with harnessing nuclear energy as a weapon. While societies across the globe have never been great at just getting along, they’ve also never had the ability to completely obliterate each other and ruin the planet for everyone else in the process. More than once such a tragedy has been narrowly avoided by the decisions of only a few individuals.

Technology is a powerful tool, but in order to achieve progress we need to focus on our social systems with even more zeal. Left in the hands of the few technology will be used to benefit the few at great expense to the rest of society. We must be vigilant in ensuring that decisions about how we use technology are democratized; everyone, from the CEO of the largest tech company to the guy at home “liking” a post must have an equal say in the role we want technology to play in our society. We need experts to handle the details, but the masses should be the ones setting the course.


Worth And Worthiness

If you have aptitudes that are valuable today, it does not imply that they were valuable 100 years ago or that they will be valuable in 100 years. Further, just because they are valuable where you live does not mean that they are valuable elsewhere. You exist at the serendipitous intersection of geography, time, and talent. Though you may have worked hard to further develop certain talents, where you are now is largely a happy accident for which you should be gracious, but not proud. Have some empathy for those who are not so lucky.


The Purpose Of Education

I attended a public high school and state college, and during that time I had spent a lot of energy antagonizing over the question of what the purpose of education is. Back then I had an intuition that a lot of the stuff I was learning didn’t seem very important or relevant. Now that I am a few years older as a mid-career millennial I still feel mostly the same way, but I have a better understanding of why. When discussing what the purpose of education is I think it is helpful to separate what it is now versus what it ought to be.


To figure out the purpose of education as it currently stands I think it is helpful to look at the two predominate theories of what purpose it serves and then analyze what materials are covered or seem to be missing from the standard curriculum to determine which of the theories is most plausible.

The first theory for the purpose of education is that it is for the benefit of the educated and the citizenry at large. The idea is that education is meant to form well rounded citizens who are capable of managing their own affairs and interacting with the rest of society in a way which brings about positive outcomes. In this view of education pupils are meant to learn not just the bare basics of life, but also critical reasoning skills meant to provide them the means to elevate their condition and participate in society. While educating the masses might have some positive benefits for everyone who interacts with them, first and foremost it is meant to benefit the educated and the society they form between them.

In the second theory for the purpose of education, education is primarily a means of preparing the educated to become useful tools for employers. I chose the word “tools” not to be disparaging, but to make an important distinction between the two theories. While in the first theory the educated are expected to become more productive, it is primarily for their own benefit. By being more productive they can contribute more to society and also demand more for themselves. What distinguishes the education for the advancement of employers theory is that while the educated are taught useful occupational skills in both, in the latter they are also taught to be low power and obedient. While they are taught to increase their productivity they are also taught to ask for nothing in return. In this arrangement the educational system primarily benefits the employer, making higher education a requirement to maintain the same wages rather than a means to increase one’s salary proportional to the increase in their output.

What Is The Purpose Of Education?

At first glance, both of these theories seem plausible, so lets take a look at the evidence. Keep in mind that this is my perspective as a white, male, middle class, college educated millennial who graded fairly well while attending public institutions. *Your mileage may vary*

For The Educated

First, some arguments for education as a means of self enrichment. It would seem strange if the purpose of education was to create productive obedient employees to offer so much in the way of extra curricular classes and activities. For some extra curricular activities there is an apparent connection, such as shop class, but what benefit is it to an employer to have an employee who learned pottery or who was on the varsity swim team? These seem superfluous the the goals of employers.

Another argument in favor of education being to form good citizens is that at least to some degree it does. In surveys conducted year after year those with more education consistently scored higher on knowledge of what is happening around the world than do their less educated peers. While they still often vote from the heart, they tend to have a better understanding of what policies each politician is actually in favor of and what the affect of those policies might be. While knowledge is not itself sufficient to produce good citizens, an informed citizenry is important to making better decisions as a society.

For The Employer

Now, let’s take a look at why some might believe that the primary focus of education is to support the desires of employers. The first reason, and the one that was most obvious to me while I was in the system, was the lack of obvious life skills classes. It was incredibly off putting to me that in a nation where so much is purchased with debt that there was to personal finance or an everyday, every-man contract law class. Or, that while there was a class to teach you the proper way to dress and act in an interview, no attention was given to game theory or the art of negotiating. So much attention was placed on pushing you into that first corporate job, with no effort put into making sure you were compensated fairly for it, or that you would know how to manage the money you did earn. In addition, while sex is likely to play an important role in almost every person’s life, there is no nationwide standard for sex education like there is for subjects that are more relevant to the workplace. These, among many other obvious classes that have been omitted, make it seem apparent that the curriculum is not meant to cover things that would actually benefit the student in their everyday life. To further drive home the point, many institutions actually conduct surveys of employers to ask them what skills they feel recent graduates are lacking; to my knowledge no similar survey is conducted of recent graduates to ask the same.

A less obvious on the surface but possibly an even stronger argument that education is for the benefit of the employer is the way that courses are taught. Students are taught that for every problem they are presented there is one right answer, that the answer is known, and that there is only one acceptable way to achieve the correct answer. I distinctly recall being frustrated in math class because I would fail to memorize the gobbledygook formula to solve a problem and instead logically work my way to the correct answer another way. For this I was rewarded half credit; I had the correct answer, but I didn’t arrive at it the correct way. I also recall an incident in a physics classroom where the instructor asked the class “assuming the price per ounce was the same, in which city would you get paid more for a gold ring?”. I answered the question correctly, but was told I was wrong because that was not what was in the book (yes, I did look it up and double check afterwards). The professor was not interested in finding the right answer; he had the answer, and it was the students’ job to memorize that answer. This idea of “follow our process” and “don’t question our answers” is not a terribly useful skill when navigating the realities of life, but it does serve a useful purpose if you are an employer looking for a complacent, docile workforce.

The final argument I will present for education primarily supporting the goals of employers is what we have done with educational institutions during the pandemic of 2020. Despite the danger to the student body, the school staff, and ultimately the families of the students, there has been a huge push to open schools for in-person classes, even though many classes can be done virtually. While there is some credence to the notion that in person classes are more effective than remote classes it would be hard to argue that it is worth the risk of killing grandpa. Instead, it seems that the main draw to force schools to reopen for in-person classes is to use them as daycare centers so that the parents can go back to work. As far as I can tell the arguments presented about the quality of the education or students “falling behind” have been presented in bad faith, and are merely acceptable justifications to give for what are otherwise unjustifiable actions.

My Opinion

All of this said, I may have revealed my hand a bit when it comes to what I believe the purpose of education is. Honestly, it seems to me that it serves both as a means of enriching the individual and advancing the objectives of employers, but it also seems to skew heavily towards the latter. I think we want to believe that education is to benefit the individual and society, or that it is to benefit the employer and that is somehow not at odds with benefiting society. But, there are too many glaring omissions for it to primarily be for the benefit of the educated, and it is too easy to see where the interests of the educated and the employer are not aligned. Learning to follow a process but not think critically is not in my interest or the interest of society. Learning how to convince an employer to allow me work for them but not to convince them to pay me decently is not in my interest.

There are a lot of individuals working in education that I believe have the best intentions in mind, probably even the vast majority of the front line workers; teachers, counselors, etc. However, as an institution it would appear to have other motives.

What Ought To Be The Purpose Of Education?

So now we get to what the purpose of education ought to be. While learning the skills necessary to be productive in your occupation is no doubt important, to focus primarily on that alone is a mistake for two reasons. The first is that other than developing well-rounded individuals there is little you can do to prepare students today for a job market that probably doesn’t even exist yet. What skills are needed is changing so quickly and many of them are best learned through first-hand real life experience. I don’t think we can know what the jobs of the next decade will look like, and even if we did we could not prepare students in a way that is even the equivalent of a year of experience actually doing the job. I learned so much more the first year of working in technology than I had the previous 4+ years being educated for it. The second reason that focusing on jobs skills alone is a mistake is that there is so much more to life than working. Both from a lofty perspective of art, music, romance, travel, and family, and from the perspective of the mundane, like deciding if you should pay off your credit card or invest in your 401k. A graduate who is capable to putting his nose to the grindstone for his boss, but incapable of finding joy in life and of managing his own affairs is not an adult, but is instead a depressed child in a business suit.

When our systems are laid bare and we do not like what we see we have a duty to change them. While I have no intentions at this time to return to the formal “educational” system, I hope for others and our future as a society that the coming generations will pull away from what is and push towards what ought to be.


Insuring Against Everything

If you insure against everything you will soon find yourself somewhat safe and totally broke. Running a business is risky business; Life is risky business; But the greatest risk is that of the fear of taking a risk at all.

Take steps to insure only when…

  1. …the insurance costs less than the cost of repairing the damage times the likelihood. This is rarely the case unless you have an exceptional situation for which the insurer did not adequately predict.
  2. …you cannot recover from the catastrophic event if it were to occur. For instance, most of us do not have the bankroll to pay out of pocket for heart surgery.

It is generally wise then to accept responsibility for everything else.


Married To Material

As much as we own our material things, we are owned by our material things. Every time you purchase a new product you have, in some ways, become married to that purchase. Now, you are obligated to interact with it; You are obligated to maintain it; You are obligated to care about it’s whereabouts and whether or not it has been stolen. Having things is a sign of success, but can often lead to a life of burden. A house must be painted; A car must be washed; Your dog must be fed. Like any marriage, make sure you love what you are asking to possess, because possession is always a two way street.


What Do YOU Want?

One of the keys to happiness is to not assume that you want what everyone else wants; To not assume you want what commercials say you should want; And especially not to assume that you want what others tell you that you want. You are your own person, you have your own desires, and living someone else’s dream will never make you truly fulfilled.


Consistent vs Adaptive

Being a good leader means constantly toeing the line between being consistent and being adaptive. If you fail to be consistent, no one will ever believe in you or believe that your vision is honest. At the same time, you must acknowledge when things are not working and when the world had changed around you and be willing to change with it. It is a fine balancing act that must be performed if you want to succeed in the long run.

Consistency builds authenticity, but staying ahead of and leading change is where true leadership happens.