Monday, November 23, 2009

Adding Value, Reducing Cost

I was listening to This Week in Google (Ep. 17), and I once again heard Jeff Jarvis say (quite correctly) that internet efficiencies "add value and reduce cost". Jarvis is famous for saying about the Internet-connected economy, "middlemen are doomed". Again, he's right.
Most importantly, he said that "Google kills waste". The question I have is "how much of the U.S. economy is based on waste management?"
I've gone on at length about this topic before, but I'm going to try and boil it down. If you want the long-winded version, start here.
In the Industrial economy of the 20th century, people who weren't getting paid extracting raw materials or pounding them into something useful, were being paid for coping with the inefficiencies inherent to acquiring the materials for, producing, promoting, or delivering, material goods. (Sure, some were being paid for handling Intellectual Property and not material goods, but I think we all know where that's heading).
The Internet is drastically reducing these inefficiencies. They are no longer inherent.
We've watched the U.S. economy move from a production-based economy to a service-based economy. Now, the Internet is making us an increasingly self-service based economy. This is the value that Jarvis is crediting the Internet for--the public is adding value for the public (for nearly free, free, or less-than-free), on top of internet platforms. We are promoting and distributing music. We are acting as our own travel agents and realtors. We are making gourmet meals in their own homes and sharing cooking tips and recipes online. We are doing our holiday shopping on the internet, away from brick-and-mortar stores and their sales staff. We are reporting the news on twitter. We are filming it on Youtube. We are providing analysis on blogs.
Inside of corporations, information technology is streamlining management and flattening the org charts, reducing the "middlemen" inside every industry. It's not just affecting the industries that act as "middlemen". It's affecting the middlemen of every industry.
So... What percentage of U.S. consumers make their livelihood as "middlemen" (in this broadened sense)? How many U.S. jobs are the "cost" that's being reduced?
Once upon a time, we were afraid that technology (in the form of automation) was going to undercut the blue-collar labor market (turns out, Southeast Asia's cheap labor beat the robots to the punch.). But in the 21st century, it's white-collar jobs that have to be aware of their tenuous position, as technology (in the form of I.T.) eliminates or reduces the need for their jobs. I say this as a warning to prepare for it, not as a call to fight in vain against it.
In the next century, we're going to find out that there's a lot of stuff we don't have to pay for that we are used to paying for. At the same time we'll find out that a lot of us are getting paid for things that don't need doing anymore (at least *as a profession*). We should work towards making this transition as smoothly as possible.
If you have a young child today, my suggestion is that you send them into medicine, engineering, education, or teach them how to drive a UPS truck. Almost any other job I can think of is one that we'll do for ourselves or for each other for free, thanks to the efficiencies the Internet is bringing us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Education, Attention, and Maker Time

Watching Meet the Press this morning, I was really struck by the honest assessment of the state of the U.S. educational system by Sharpton, Duncan, and Gingrich. President Obama has tasked these three with assessing and identifying the elements of successful K-12 education in the U.S., and empowering it.


{Brief aside - Thank you MSNBC for this fantastic editing tool, where I can highlight the text in a transcript, and embed just the video for the highlighted portion. So easy, so powerful, so useful. I can search and edit in text, and publish and embed in video}

This led me to think of what Matt Dugener said in his TEDxDetroit talk about Michigan, and the culture we have in this state towards entrepreneurs and enterprising individuals. The whole thing is worth your time, but I want to focus on the idea that, in Michigan, we train our children to be excellent employees, but poor entrepreneurs.



Have you ever considered how we teach our children? The modern classroom is largely an artifact of the Industrial Revolution. Only for the past 150 years or so has the education of children been so formalized, largely devoid of "play", and structured. (Stefana Broadbent makes some other interesting observations about the rituals of the modern education system in her TED talk). Certainly, advanced subjects require rigorous study, but are we going about that rigorous study in the best way? Students are given sixty minutes of a subject, and then 10 minutes to switch gears into a different subject and provide their undivided attention once again.

In effect, we're conditioning our children to what Paul Graham calls the Manager's Schedule: days divided into blocks of a single hour. Graham contrasts this to the Maker's Schedule (blocks of at least half a day) where creative types get settled into a problem. If you've ever experienced what it means to be "in the zone" with a project, then you know how important the maker's schedule can be to creativity or complex problem-solving. The manager's schedule works great for mid-level management, who largely serve to role of information funnel to management above them--a function that's critically important to large, vertically-oriented organizations. However, today's fastest growing organizations aren't vertically oriented monoliths like they were in the 20th century. They're nimble, creative, innovative, and decentralized. They depend on products of the maker's schedule, not the manager's schedule.

Conditioning children to live on the manager's schedule not only robs them of the time to settle into and play with important ideas, but it conditions them for employment in vertically-integrated, highly structured organizations--exactly the kinds of organizations that are going to have the hardest time surviving in the 20th century. This kind of education makes sense for industrial society, but it runs counter to the kind of education today's students are going to need in a creative, innovative, post-industrial economy. When children have difficulty conforming to this unnatural form of learning-without-playing, we label them with learning disabilities when what we really have is a teaching disability. Worst of all, we're conditioning our children for a work environment that won't exist in a post-industrial America: an environment where work life and home life bleed into each other, the 8-hour day is a thing of the past, and complex problems aren't easily broken into simple repetitive tasks to be managed towards efficiency like an assembly-line.

We're beginning to shift from a society that values time-management skills to one that values attention-management skills. At the same time, we're training our children to neglect deeply engaging their attention with a single subject, and instead, teaching them simply how to juggle their time.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Michel Bauwens, and the Crisis of Value Theory

Once upone a time, Jeff Jarvis wrote the words "bits, not atoms", and sent me down a rabbit hole that I have yet to climb out of.

I've got a statement for you to chew on with me, written by Michel Bauwens:
1) The creation of non-monetary value is exponential
2) The monetization of such value is linear
Bauwens cited one of my posts over at the P2P Foundation's blog, and tripped off the usual technological alarms that send me scrambling for any mention of my name or writings. I'm rattled by how big this man thinks, and that he'd bother to cite my writings on what I had been calling "innovation deflation."

Bauwens' post sent me off to his "Recapitulating the Crisis of Value Theory" article, where I found the statements at the top of this entry. It is a profoundly formal definition of the ideas that I was toying with when talking about innovation, efficiency, and deflation.

I don't have a great deal to say in this post (yet), but I've only begun to wrestle with Bauwens' theory, and I thought it deserved more than a Tweet. I just know that I'm going to have to come back to it, and I needed to give it a permanent home on this blog to anchor my thoughts.

Give him a read. Share your thoughts.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

This *is* the Droid You're Looking For: Verizon Droid

[Updated 11-12-2009]

I don't normally do tech reviews, but after playing with my new Droid from Verizon (Motorola, Google), I had to share some of the love. I've got about 15 friends waiting for me to do the recon work before they dive in, so I thought I'd collect my thoughts here. It also will provide a sounding board for friends who've joined the Church of Jobs, and want to yell at me for deviating from the One True Faith.

I support a great many iPhones at work, and I love the device, but the Droid makes the iPhone look a little tired. It's not necessarily a huge leap beyond the iPhone (except for the display, which really is profoundly better, with twice the iPhone's screen resolution), it's just all around more solid.

I won't review the features here, there's plenty of that data all over the web already. I will say that the actual phone is just spectacular (you know... that one app that all smartphones are still trying to do right?) . The sound is crystal clear, and I get reception in locations my last three phones didn't. This alone makes it substantially better than the iPhone for me. (Not to mention that Verizon's network beats the stuffing out of AT&T).

If you're a heavy Google user (Apps/Voice/Gmail) then you're really going to love this phone: seamless integration with your existing Gmail contacts (not to mention facebook--half my contacts in the Droid are displaying their facebook profile picture now).

Advice: Buy the dashboard mount and car charger. The turn-by-turn GPS navigation on this thing is better than most TomToms. After you get used to asking your phone to navigate you to a destination with voice commands, or to make some calls for you, you'll find that you keep talking to it, just to see what it can do. I'm going to have to give it a name if I keep this up.

Most likely, if you're new to the Droid today, you're also new to the Android OS from Google. Navigating the sea of apps for the Droid can be a bit daunting. Here's my out-of-the-box suggestions for mandatory free Apps, in no particular order:

1) Facebook: It probably came pre-installed. Mine did. Use it to sync your contacts with. It will grab your friends phone numbers from their profiles, and load you up.

2) Pandora: If you use Pandora already, sign into this app, and your radio stations are at your fingertips. Again, combined with the car dock and charger, you should get a lot of mileage out of this app.

3) NewsRob: Use Google Reader as your RSS reader? NewsRob syncs up to Google Reader, and has all the features that Reader does (Share, Star, etc).

4) Shazam: Can place the name of the song your listening to? Let Shazam identify it for you, as well as tag it in a list for your hunt down on Amazon MP3 later.

5) Google Sky Map: Augmented Reality for the night sky. This is one of those apps that dances on the border of magic and technology. Wow your friends with this one on a clear night.

6) Color Flashlight: Silly little app, but terribly handy. Gives you a bright white screen to use as a flashlight, as well as other colors/effects. Turn on the strobe. Combine with Pandora for portable Raves.

7) ShopSavvy: Another Wow-Factor app. Scan a barcode, check prices on the internet, and a store locations near you via GPS.

8) Google Calendar widget: Use Google Calendar? drop the widget onto one of your three desktops for constant schedule-at-a-glance. If you're syncing with Exchange at work, put the Corporate Calendar widget up right next to it and try and keep your work from bleeding into your play.

9) Twidroid (app) or Twidgit Lite (widget) : Twidroid is generally regarded as the best Twitter client app for the Android, but Twidgit is a widget, not an app, which I much prefer. Take your pick.

10) Google Voice: OK, this one is a big leap for people, but I was a Google Voice user before I got this phone. If you use Google Voice, this phone is heaven. Seamless integration with Google Voice mail, as well as allowing you to dial out from your Google Voice number instead of the real number of your phone. If you're not yet a Google Voice user, now may be the time to jump in. If you want visual voicemail from Verizon, you'll have to from $3/month for the privilege, and it doesn't transcribe voicemails to text like Google Voice does. Otherwise, you'll be connecting to your voicemail box like you always have, spending 45 seconds navigating phone trees to hear your friend leave you a 2 sec message saying "call me".

[Updates and Additions]

Since writing this, I've snagged a few more essentials:

Mother TED: Are you a TED addict? Get your fix directly through an app. It supports tagging, searches, etc. AND IT DOWNLOADS TED VIDEOS RIGHT TO YOUR PHONE! Seriously, what more do you want short of jacking the phone right into your skull?

Weather Channel: A great weather forecast app, with support for widgets. Set a home location and it will appear in the notification bar at the top. So tasty.

Google Listen: Are you a podcast junkie? Look for your favorites on Google Labs' Listen app. No need for syncing your subscriptions with iTunes or Zune anymore, just get them delivered directly to your phone.

WiFiScanner: This is a great app, and has let my Droid replace my netbook and kismet as my WiFi site survey tool. Returns signal strength in dbm, and has an autoscan mode forconstant data updates. Maybe this one is a bit specific to Network Engineers and WarDrivers.

RPN Calculator: Again, over on the geeky side, if you need an RPN stack to use a calculator correctly, this is it. If you don't know what Reverse Polish Notation is, then nevermind, you'll think the app is broken. :-)

gTasks: I'm still on the lookout for a better app to sync my task list from Google (preferably one with widget support). Until then, this clean little app will do the trick.

Did I miss anything? Please share your favorite apps in the comments. Or tell me all the ways that the iPhone is better, and where I can shove my Droid.