The Blog of Curtis Chambers

Archive for the ‘Future’ Category

The New Age of Work

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It’s 4pm, and so far today I’ve worked from 3 different locations.  And while at this 3rd location, a coffeeshop a block away from where I live, it suddenly hit me that we’re starting to enter a new age of work.  I’m not exactly sure when the movement started, but there’s an overwhelming number of people that are working remotely or for themselves nowadays.  And just like the industrial revolution gave children more free time, I think the Internet revolution is giving everyone more free time.

Let’s take a step back and examine how this all came about. In the pre-industrial revolution era, the majority of the population started working in the fields when they were children and pretty much did the same thing for the rest of their lives.  Then science came in and gave us all these great inventions that reduced the amount of physical work we had to do for the same amount of output, if not more output.  Once these processes were refined and cheap immigrant labor was introduced from new forms of transportation, the children were no longer necessary in the fields and the birth of the “teenager with nothing to do” was born.  But machines that do our work for us is only the beginning of the story.Telegraph Operator

There has also been the rapid development of new methods of communication, and each new method allows us to reach farther and farther away with less and less time.  There have been traditional messengers for centuries, but the revolution really started with the introduction of the telegraph, which transmitted letters across wires at very slow speeds by today’s standards, but very fast for back then.  Then came the telephone, which allowed near instantaneous transmission of voice, albeit at a lower quality than being in the presence of someone.  Fast forward to the technology of today where we have live videoconferencing to anyone in the world, crystal-clear voice transmissions and instant delivery of digital text.  We now live in an on-demand world where you can see, hear and write to anyone in the world pretty much instantly.  What does this mean?

It means that we are no longer bound by geographical constraints. I can brainstorm on a virtual whiteboard while seeing 3 other people at the same time in iChat.  I can play a game with all of my friends from my living room while they play from their living rooms in various other parts of the world.  Right now, one of my coworkers is working from Australia and videoconferences in for the whole day.  His face just appears on a monitor and we can talk to him as if he was sitting next to us.

This begs the question, “What is the future of the office?”  I think that they still serve a practical purpose in many ways because it provides a common gathering place for brainstorming and great ideas.  But really a good coffeeshop or trip to a foreign country can provide that.  And as a necessity to get the actual work done, the office is becoming obsolete now that we have portable computers, phones and the Internet.  The office is really more of a social tool than a work tool.  This can be seen by the proliferation of coworking facilities across the country, which provide the social aspect of an office, minus the coworkers.

So what does the future hold?  A recession for office space and a boom for coffee shops, mobile devices and the travel industry?  A return to traditional stay-at-home parents that can still work while staying at home with the kids?  The death of the dreaded cubicle?  Or perhaps a more dystopian scenario where everyone works alone in their apartments and has no true social interaction with others?  There are so many possibilities.

Written by Curtis Chambers

December 18, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Culture, Future, Society

The Downfall of Higher Education

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Ever since Russia launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, America has been obsessed with the bachelor’s degree.  The combination of World War II and the Cold War produced an innate fear of being second place in the new emerging world of science.  My father once told me that right around when he was in high school was when the big push for everyone to go to college started, as he didn’t really know anyone older that had a degree from a university.  However, I argue that the American university will not hold the value that it once did in the coming future.  The value of a bachelor’s degree is becoming less valuable every day.

Of course, I must preface all of this by stating that I myself do not have a bachelor’s degree.  I dropped out of college with 5 classes left in order to start a company back in 2003.  I came back and finished 3 more classes in 2007.  Part of me wants to finish the remaining classes, but I have this passion to create things and help progress society, and finishing school doesn’t really help me accomplish these goals; it only slows me down.

So back to my point.  The reason I see the bachelor’s degree becoming less valuable is because I feel that it’s starting to reach its saturation point.  Before the 20th century, the masses were not allowed to attend universities.  The major push for everyone to have a bachelor’s degree has destroyed the scarcity that once gave the degree its value.

Note that I don’t believe that education lacks value, just the piece of paper that comes along with it.  Despite my lack of a degree, I spend a majority of my day reading as many articles, papers, blogs and books as I can get my hands on, thus increasing my intellectual value.  Yet I lack this piece of paper that supposedly defines my intelligence, which everyone claims is the only rite of passage into a career.  This notion strikes me as odd because I’ve been working in my industry for 8 years now without one…

My lack of faith in the bachelor’s degree wouldn’t be so stated if I hadn’t actually been to college and seen what it has really become.  A degree used to mean something when only the truly intellectually curious pursued them.  I feel that undergraduate majors do a great job of preparing the student for graduate school in the subject they study.  Yet a great majority of the students have no plans at all to attend graduate school and only went to school in the first place because they were told they wouldn’t get a job otherwise.  Let me tell you, almost no jobs actually utilize the skills you acquired as an undergraduate.   I’d even argue that a year or two of intensive training in a particular subject (similar to a trade school) would prepare you better for a job, so why does the bachelor’s degree exist?

The bachelor’s degree exists for the same reason the SAT exists.  With increasing numbers of people coming in and out of the massive education system, big business (which includes universities themselves) need some sort of indicator of whether a person is capable.  However, standardized measures are never accurate measures and I’m not sure why no one has come up with a way to rid society of these inaccurate forms of self-evaluation.  With all the technology we have today, we shouldn’t have to endure broad generalizations anymore. I’m apparently not the only one that feels this way about the state of higher education. The wikipedia page on the university contains the following gems:

In his study of the American university since World War II, The Knowledge Factory, Stanley Aronowitz argues that the American university has been besieged by growing unemployment issues, the pressures of big business on the land grant university, as well as the political passivity and ivory tower naivete of American academics.

In a somewhat more theoretical vein, the late Bill Readings contends in his 1995 study, The University in Ruins, that the university around the world has been hopelessly commodified by globalization and the bureaucratic non-value of “excellence.”  His view is that the university will continue to linger on as an increasingly consumerist, ruined institution until or unless we are able to conceive of advanced education in transnational ways that can move beyond both the national subject and the corporate enterprise.

The ironic thing about these two studies is that they were done by professors!  If the professors at these universities have such a bleak outlook on the system that they’ve devoted their entire lives to, isn’t that a sign that there’s something wrong with the system?

Written by Curtis Chambers

August 21, 2007 at 12:06 am

The Future of TV and Movies

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I’ve been saying for awhile now that television as we know it today is on its way out.  With major networks putting their shows online for free and on iTunes for $1.99, the Internet is the future of video distribution.  The TV itself might not go away as we still need a screen to watch everything on, but I think traditional broadcasting and the big media moguls’ days are numbered.

There’s a few reasons why this will inevitably happen.  One reason is because of the insanely hectic schedules that people have now.  No one has the time to religiously watch shows during the standard time slots anymore.  TiVo and On-Demand were baby steps towards what is the grand Internet video paradigm of “anything I want to watch, whenever I feel like it, without having to remember to record it.”

Another reason for the shift is because the Internet knows no bounds.  Currently, there is 3 hours of primetime per night and only 5 major networks.  There’s a time limitation on the amount of premium content that can be shown, which makes it very hard to get into those few spots as an artist, but also makes it so networks can charge huge amounts of money to advertise during those shows.  As Terry Heaton said in a paper of his, “Why pay a $500 CPM for a television ad that estimates the thousand people when an online ad will honestly deliver those thousand people?  It makes no sense.”  A $500 CPM rate is unheard of in the online world (a $20 CPM rate is pretty good online), yet television shows garner huge dollars for untargeted audiences.  That money is headed directly for the Internet once the business world realizes the power of online advertising, and it will be spread among a much wider range of content providers while being targeted specifically to the viewer of the show.

Another major benefit of the Internet is exposure.  In the old model, even if you’re an amazing actor, director or cinematographer you still have to jump through hoops and might never be able to make something that people see.  With the ability to create and post all the video you want online, it’s up to you to make sure people can see your creations instead of some suit with no creative talent at all.  However, that begs the question of how does an aspiring artist market their work without millions of dollars behind it?

That is the real question, and it is currently being answered in a variety of ways.  Creative marketing techniques are coming out of the woodwork by the creative people behind the works themselves.  My favorite example of the new school of Internet marketing is a feature film put together by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice called Four Eyed Monsters.  They made the film by putting $100,000 on their credit cards and posted the entire film on YouTube for anyone to view.  However, they made a deal with Spout.com to receive $1 for every new user they created for Spout.  So far they’ve made $35,443 from that revenue source.  They also made it possible to download DRM-free, high quality versions of the film for $8, and you can also purchase extra materials as well.  I threw down $8 for it because the first 20 minutes of it I watched on YouTube looked great, and I’m sure several others have out of the 724,198 people that have watched the YouTube version.  Even if only 2% of those people purchased it, they’d make a profit just from that.

The technology is also driving the democratization of video.  Miro, formerly known as Democracy Player, came out in its first public preview today and it looks amazing.  It already has over 1,400 channels of video and all of it is free and created by independent filmmakers or organizations that support free video.  It utilizes BitTorrent for downloads so there isn’t server congestion for popular videos.  It even searches all the major video sharing services like YouTube and can save them to your computer.  All I have to say is…

This is the beginning of the revolution.

Written by Curtis Chambers

July 18, 2007 at 12:34 am

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