Work Longer, Not Smarter

…as Bob Pozen, a former president of Fidelity Management and the author of “Extreme Productivity,” a book on slashing work hours, told me, “Time becomes an easy metric to measure how productive someone is, even though it doesn’t have any necessary connection to what they achieve.”

There are people in every office that wear their long work hours as a badge of honor. I am sometimes suspicious and wonder why they’re not getting things done with the standard 40 hours a week.

Some people are truly swamped. Others I’m not so sure.

“Humans Trump Robots at the Grocery Store”

Nice to know we can beat the machines at something, however other things appear to be a draw.

What’s so cognitively demanding about supermarket checkout? I spoke to several former checkout people, and they all pointed to the same skill: Identifying fruits and vegetables. Some supermarket produce is tagged with small stickers carrying product-lookup codes, but a lot of stuff isn’t. It’s the human checker’s job to tell the difference between green leaf lettuce and green bell peppers, and then to remember the proper code.

There’s something sobering about telling somebody “that’s romaine lettuce.”

Breaking news: entry-level jobs suck

These photos of on an Amazon fulfillment center claims that it’s a soulless experience.

The main job in town used to be working in a coal mine.

Workers at Rugeley spend their days wandering the massive warehouse, either squirreling away incoming products, pulling orders down from shelves, or packing them up for shipment. In each of these activities, the workers’ motions are not driven by the engine of human judgment or expertise but rather by the massive engine of Amazon’s exquisitely complex fulfillment mechanism: a computer that both tracks and commands every worker’s movements throughout the day.

Oh my god – this sounds WONDERFUL! No tough decision-making and a robot tells you what to do? Sounds like a vacation.1

The jobs in the Rugeley fulfillment center are almost always temporary positions handed out by agencies on zero-hour contracts. Nothing is guaranteed, and a fulfillment associate’s job can completely disappear between one day and the next.

What do you expect? There’s no critical thinking required.

Read the comments. People chime in and offer a reality-check, like what it’s actually like to work in an Amazon center in Nevada and how it compares to working in other factory jobs.

I get the feeling that nobody involved in this article has ever worked an entry-level job. Washing dishes in a hot restaurant kitchen during the summer? Stuffing envelopes in an office? Two things that sound worse than what’s going on here and also offer little in upward mobility.

…Look at these photos – this place is CLEAAAAN.


  1. Or a robot apocalypse. 

The Internet destroyed the middle class

Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class – Salon.com:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

Efficiency and automation made America a knowledge-based economy. Nerds replaced low-skilled labor.

Others often make the point that new industries have emerged to replace the previous labor market, but there’s no acknowledgement of how those markets don’t employ as many people as the older industries did.

Why not? Because there’s no need to. Because computers.

And this is where things start getting weird. If you are in favor of automation and efficiency (and who isn’t) you are indirectly supporting the hollowing out of the low-skilled job market – and you begin to sound like a heartless Scrooge when the only thing you can think to improve the quality of life for low-skilled laborers is that they need to catch up, and fast.

Previously:

Third Industrial Revolution

“Do you suppose there’ll be a Third Industrial Revolution?” Paul paused in his office doorway.

“A third one? What would that be like?”

“I don’t know exactly. The first and second ones must have been sort of inconceivable at one time.”

“To the people who were going to be replaced by machines, maybe. A third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking. Some of the big computers like EPICAC do that all right, in specialized fields.”

“Uh-huh,” said Katharine thoughtfully. She rattled a pencil between her teeth.

“First the muscle work, then the routine work, then, maybe, the real brainwork.”

“I hope I’m not around long enough to see that final step…”

Kurt Vonnegut – Player Piano

The Automated Future

Kyle Baxter on where all the jobs went and how robots are now capable of doing repetitive, menial tasks that are performed by low-skilled workers.

Robots like Baxter are a work multiplier. Whereas before Vanguard required humans to do menial tasks, now they only need humans to train robots how to do something. But many more people are required to do the menial tasks than are required to train robots, so while no one may be losing their job now, they will need to find new productive tasks for them in the future—or eliminate their jobs. As robots like Baxter get better, too, manufactures will need even fewer employees to train them.

Like Charlie’s dad.

Remember in the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie when Charlie’s dad gets let go from his job because the factory had machines doing the work, but then at the end of the movie he becomes the guy who fixes the machines?

How did he go from a low-skilled job, a toothpaste-capper guy, to something high-skilled, the guy who fixes the toothpaste-capper robots, in such a short period of time? Did his wages go up for this level of work, or stay the same because he didn’t need to have high skills to fix toothpaste robots? And what about all the other people who used to cap the toothpaste tubes alongside him? Did they ever get new jobs? Surely the toothpaste factory didn’t hire them all back to fix machines. That’s Charlie’s dad’s job.

Baxter again:

The question to ask is, when many of the jobs people depend on our automated, what kind of jobs will they do instead?

This is the uncomfortable truth about the new job marketplace. If it is less expensive for a company to have a computer or a robot do your job then you are in danger of losing your job. There’s a reason that software development has been in such high-demand. Efficiency.

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