Archive for the ‘Society’ Category
One of the things that’s struck me as interesting with all these town hall meetings where people get *extremely* upset about the “socialization of healthcare” are the people that are complaining.
It’s a known fact that America has one of the unhealthiest populations in the world, with a population that is 33% overweight and 34% obese (yes, nearly 70% of the population is overweight), and that this is the one of the many causes of why healthcare is so expensive in this country. Therefore, assuming everyone paid the same taxes for national healthcare, you would think that unhealthy people would be glad to let the healthy take on the burden of paying for healthcare that they don’t really use, while the unhealthy would pay less than they pay now. Yet the states complaining the most about national healthcare are the ones that have the least healthy citizens.
I guess they could argue on principle that they do not believe in national healthcare, which I could at least understand from an objective point of view, but they definitely have no right to present the argument that it will cost them more money.
However, the real problem I have with the entire situation is that no one is presenting facts anymore. Rachel Maddow sums it up great with this piece:
Why can’t people just *talk* anymore? I would love to see a spirited debate on the topic with people from both sides that have actually done their homework. But I have yet to actually *see* that. Perhaps if the people with different perspectives presented their points in a logical and rational way, I would be more apt to side with them.
In fact, there has only been one article that I’ve seen so far that’s done that. John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times last week that decried Obama’s healthcare plan as socialism that will bankrupt the country. While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, I think several of the reforms that he outlines would be great things to enact, as it will reduce healthcare costs for everyone, regardless of whether the individual or the government is fitting the bill.
Really, when it comes down to it, reducing the cost of healthcare for the average American is a common goal that both parties can agree on. Now they just have to agree on how to actually *do* that.
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.
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.
I was driving around the other day and started thinking about politics for some reason. I think it was perhaps because of all the talk of presidential candidates recently in the news and possibly because I bought both of Barack Obama’s books to read. My mind tends to wander a lot when I drive and that’s when the best ideas and theories come to me.
Anyway, I realized that the most liberal states in the union are also the richest states, while the most conservative states tend to be the poorest states. However, the stereotype of rich people is that they’re very conservative. How is it possible that the rich states are liberal?
Perhaps it’s not people with lots of money that make California the 5th biggest economy in the world, but the sheer population of it? However, if that was the case then Texas would be liberal since it has the 2nd largest population of the states and it’s known as one of the most conservative states.
Population doesn’t directly correlate to wealth either. If that was the case then India would be the second richest country in the world, but that’s not the case. It does have the 12th biggest GDP in the world, but ranks 132nd in terms of GDP per capita. Compare that to the United States, which has the biggest GDP in the world and ranks 4th in GDP per capita. Our wealth is definitely more spread out among the people than in India due to our large middle class, but that still doesn’t seem to answer my question.
Perhaps maybe it is population density that leads to a more liberal state of mind? Here are the population densities of some of the most liberal cities in America:
- New York City: 27,083/sq mi
- San Francisco: 15,834/sq mi
- Chicago: 12,470/sq mi
- Boston: 12,327/sq mi
- Berkeley: 9,823.3/sq mi
- Seattle: 6,901/sq mi
Major areas that are more conservative like San Diego and Orange County fall way under this mark with population densities of 3,871.5/sq mi and 3,606/sq mi, respectively. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule as there are lots of hippie communes in the middle of Oregon, but for the most part I think that a higher population density leads to more liberal thinking.
I’d love to hear other thoughts or ideas on this matter.
I just read an article about Apple spending $720,000 on lobbying the US government for patent reform and technology education. While I completely agree with the causes Apple is lobbying for, I really dislike the fact that the only way to get anything done in our government is with large sums of money. Isn’t the government supposed to serve the people and not the money?
I understand that it obviously isn’t possible to hear every single voice in the country, as there are only 100 members of the Senate and 435 members of the House of Representatives that collectively represent the interests of 300 million people. However, we have the technology that could make it possible for this to happen.
Think about this: Google serves up answers for 91 million queries per day. Imagine some sort of human-powered oracle that answered any question you had in any language in less than a second. Just thinking about a human-powered version of that boggles the mind, yet Google does it effortlessly every single day for the world. This is the kind of solution we need to embrace for telling our governments what we want and helping to make political decisions.
We already have the right to vote on politicians and select propositions, but lobbying is how those propositions make it to the ballot. Why do only the people with money get to decide what appears on those ballots? It’s like we have this false sense of participation in our government because we get to vote on things, yet we didn’t get a say in what issues were worth voting on.
I understand that the United States is a republic and not a direct democracy, and that is why these things are the way they are. It even makes sense that it is a republic because when the country was founded in the 18th century it was completely absurd to think that everyone’s voice could be a part of the process. But now that we have the means to aggregate the collective opinions of the populace, should that system perhaps change?
Note that I’m not advocating ochlocracy or anything where the people just make all the decisions and self-govern. I think James Madison had it right in Federalist Paper No. 10 when he said that government should protect its citizens from factions and that a direct democracy would value the opinions of the majority and sacrifice individual liberties. What I’m proposing is just a solution that can aggregate the thoughts and opinions of the populace and make those opinions known to the politicians so that they can make more informed decisions. What I want is to see headlines like “720,000 people support patent reform” as opposed to “$720,000 supports patent reform.” Something like the Facebook Causes application but on a more global and accessible level.
I’ve worked at a variety of companies ranging from large 20,000 employee behemoths to small 15 person startups. One of the things that’s always come across my mind is the direct correlation between company size and bureaucracy. It really bothers me that as a company grows, its bureaucracy increases and a subsequent lack of productivity follows. This inevitably leads to the company being overtaken by a smaller, faster competitor.
Everyone says that the increase in bureaucracy isn’t a choice, but rather a byproduct of a growing organization. But why is this the case? Is it because of conflicting personalities, too many cooks in the kitchen or just laziness? At my first engineering job, my boss used to say “in a given 8 hour day, you only really work for 4 hours.” I thought it was just him that thought that way, but I’ve seen the same thing occur at every place I’ve worked at since then. I actually think that it’s a function of company size. In fact, I made up this graph to illustrate the phenomenon using completely made up data.
Google is the first company I’ve seen that’s really tried defying this, as they realize that once they become big and slow that someone else will beat them at their own game. They’ve done this by keeping teams small and isolated on their own projects. It also helps that it feels like a nerd version of Disneyland when you walk around the campus, but the small teams is the real reason.
One such example is the team of a Google product that I use every day, Google Reader. It’s composed of 9 people. That’s a pretty small team for a product like that, but it’s a great product and they get things done.
In the same vein, I’ve been working on my own for a couple months now, and the amount that I’ve been able to get done in that time is leaps and bounds more than I’ve been able to get done at any company, even the smaller outfits. With the absence of meetings, conference calls and commuting, I’ve been able to work half as many hours with twice the productivity and the freedom to travel all over the world. It even improves the quality of my work because I can work when I want and where I want, which does wonders for an engineer’s mind.
All of this makes me wonder why organizations hire so many more people than they need. However, if companies only hired as many people as they needed to function, we’d probably have insanely high unemployment rates. In all honesty, I think the real solution would be to find some sort of new management paradigm that allows for growth without loss of productivity. You’d think that with all this grand new technology that facilitates better, more open communication that we could reduce some of the headaches and optimize things, right? Perhaps it’s the people that are the problem.
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?
A trend that I’ve noticed with the rise of “Web 2.0″ and open source software is something that I call Digital Communism. The concept is similar to regular Communism in the sense that everyone pitches in for the good of the populace, but doesn’t relate to economic systems as much as it does our digital lifestyles and software. Here I will present the different classes of users that power Digital Communism so that I can better illustrate what it all means.
There are many ways that people contribute to the Digital Collective. People write articles in Wikipedia, upload videos to YouTube and submit news articles to Digg. None of the people doing this get any sort of financial gain, but rather do it because they want to share their knowledge and media with others. In reality, a lot of it is probably powered by the narcissism of the current generation wanting to be noticed in an increasingly anonymous society, but it’s a different type of currency than money; it’s social currency.
In the realm of open-source software, these are the people that submit their code to the world for scrutiny and improvement. They are people like Linus Torvalds, who started a small software project as a hobby that eventually turned into Linux, which is the operating system that powers the Web 2.0 revolution.
Contributors make up about 1% of a particular community’s user base.
There are also many users that don’t necessarily contribute to the Digital Collective, but they actively participate by leaving opinions, correcting mistakes or tagging items. Rather than create uniquely new content, they edit, critique and help organize the contributions of others. In some communities, this has the great benefit of improving the work and offering alternative perspectives. In others, it is not so valuable.
Participants in the open-source community are extremely valuable as they find and report bugs, help fix bugs or even assist with documentation. Some might say that the participants are even more valuable than the contributors as they help improve the quality of the raw contribution.
Participants make up about 10% of a particular community’s user base.
The major critique of Communism is that not everyone does their fair share and that holds true in Digital Communism. The passive users of the Digital Collective are the ones that absorb the information but do not interact with it. They read, they watch and they listen but they do not want to be heard. However, that does not mean they are without value. Without consumers, production would be for naught.
Users in the open-source community give a particular product a base of users, which increases its clout as a product. Firefox claims to have almost 400 million downloads, which gives it a lot more exposure than if it was only used by some guy in his basement.
Also, over time users tend to become participants, who then in turn become contributors. One example of this is Facebook, which used memcached to make its site faster, but then needed to make it better so they fixed some bugs and now they’re the biggest contributor of code to the project.
Passive users make up about 89% of a particular community’s user base.
As you can see, the different types of users reflect the different statuses of the users. In fact, the distribution of users sort of resembles the distribution of the medieval caste system. Back then, you had one ruler with a small group of advisors and aristocrats, and a huge lower class of peasants working in the fields.
The industrial revolution then brought many of the lower class up into the middle class. The real question is if the same will happen with Digital Communism. If a large majority of the users start participating with the media, what would happen? It could either trigger the Golden Age of Information or perhaps go the complete other way and degrade the quality of information by saturation. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.
I just got back from a week in Michigan for a wedding, so that’s why I haven’t been able to post in awhile. That said, I learned a lot from that trip as I hadn’t been to the midwest before. I’ll summarize it all in a list:
- The travel industry needs some major reform. It’s such a ridiculously complex system for something that really isn’t that complex. Fare codes, price changes, etc. I nominate Apple to create iLine, the new lickable, streamlined airline that doesn’t cause major headaches and makes you actually want to travel.
- Michigan is actually pretty cool. I met some great people there, saw some beautiful scenery and ate some great tasting, horribly unhealthy food. Which brings me to point #3.
- America has a huge health problem. As much as I’d love to have national healthcare here, I really think that the culture has to change first for it to be economically viable. The “all-you-can-eat” mentality needs to be destroyed and our sense of value needs to be represented by quality instead of quantity. However, a mindset change is much harder to do than just throwing money at a problem. I’m not really sure how to approach this as western culture has a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, but our personal health and healthcare systems are both broken but no one realizes it.
- People in rural areas get married much younger than in metropolitan ones. I knew this before, but I didn’t see a single girl in her 20’s in Traverse City that didn’t have a wedding ring. I started thinking about it and I think there’s two things that contribute to this. The first is basic economics. Since there’s only a few girls in the city, the demand for them is much higher because of the fundamental lack of supply. In big cities, there’s a virtually unlimited supply of new people to meet, so the pressure isn’t really there. The second thing is that the local culture that enforces what the economics dictate. People get married just because other people are. I know I personally never even think about marriage until I realize that a bunch of my friends are getting married. I think, “uh oh, I better get on this before I’m Weird Uncle Curtis to all their kids!”
- Almost everyone in Michigan drives an American car, which is inversely proportional to California. Similarly, a lot of people in California have Apple computers, but that’s not really the case in the midwest as they see them as “those hippie computers.” I just find it interesting how products have such strong geographical influences.
That’s pretty much all I learned. I had a great time at Emily’s graduation party and at Shayna’s wedding. I’ll upload the pictures to my Flickr account soon. I’ll be back to posting more regularly now as I have several topics ready to talk about.
Is capitalism really a sustainable economic system in an age of environmentally friendly practices and declining growth rates of populations? This question came up in my mind after reading about San Francisco’s ban of both plastic grocery bags and plastic water bottles. The move by the city makes for less waste and forces people to reuse materials as opposed to just throwing away single use containers. However, the companies that produce these plastic bottles and bags are crying foul about the whole thing because it will cut into their profit margins. Hence my question about the viability of our current system, because capitalism promotes consuming more and more, while environmental practices promote consuming less and less.
The other factor against capitalism is declining growth in population. There have been many people closely studying the growth of the world population and the most common consensus is that we’re seeing a phenomenon very similar to the shape of an arc tangent.
Now while population is still growing, the concern comes when it starts growing at much slower rates. Wall Street doesn’t reward growth, it rewards growth beyond what is expected. So according to the above graph, we’re rapidly approaching the cusp of the exponential growth we’ve been experiencing for the last 100-200 years, which coincidentally is about how long capitalism has been around.
So what’s next? What economic system can support a slowly declining populous that reduces, reuses and recycles? And once we determine a system that can support that, when will the revolution come and how violently will it be opposed by those with money?