[Note: BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent; BUMMER Platforms = Facebook, Google, etc.]

Of course there were assholes in the world before BUMMER, but it wasn’t as hard to avoid being one. On BUMMER you have to fight gravity just to be decent.

The online asshole-supremacy problem could be solved rather easily simply by dumping the BUMMER model of business. One possibility is that people could earn money more often and more fairly from what they do online…

What we need is anything that’s real beyond social pretensions that people can focus on instead of becoming assholes. In the meantime, there is something you can do personally. If, when you participate in online platforms, you notice a nasty thing inside yourself, an insecurity, a sense of low self-esteem, a yearning to lash out, to swat someone down, then leave that platform. Simple.

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Writing in Foreign Affairs, the Princeton economist Alan Blinder considers the question of job security and falling wages for U.S. workers in light of global competition:

“Many people blithely assume that the critical labor-market distinction is, and will remain, between highly educated (or highly skilled) people and less-educated (or less-skilled) people–doctors versus call-center operators, for example. The supposed remedy for the rich countries, accordingly, is more education and a general “upskilling” of the work force. But this view may be mistaken. . . . The critical divide in the future may instead be between those types of work that are easily deliverable through a wire (or via wireless connections) with little or no diminution in quality and those that are not. And this unconventional divide dose not correspond well to traditional distinctions between jobs that require high levels of education and those that do not.”

Blinder suggests the crucial distinction in the labor market will be between what he calls “personal services” and “impersonal services.” The former either require face-to-face contact or are inherently tied to a specific site. Physicians who treat patients don’t need to worry that their jobs will be sent offshore, but radiologists who examine images have already seen this happen, just as accountants and computer programmers have. He goes on to point out that “you can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.”

The MIT economist Frank Levy makes a complementary argument. He puts the issue not in terms of whether a service can be delivered electronically or not, but rather whether the service is itself rules-based or not. Until recently, he writes, you could make a decent living doing a job that required you to carefully follow instructions, such as preparing tax returns. But such work is subject to attack on two fronts—some of it goes to offshore accountants and some of it is done by tax preparation software, such as TurboTax. The result is downward pressure on wages for jobs based on rules.

These economic developments command our attention. The intrusion of computers, and distant foreigners whose work is conceived in a computer-like, rule-bound way, into what was previously the domain of professionals may be alarming, but it also compels us to consider afresh the human dimension of work. In what circumstances does the human element remain indispensable, and why? Levy gestures toward an answer when he writes that “viewed from this rules-based perspective, creativity [sic] is knowing what to do when the rules run out or there are no rules in the first place. It is what a good auto mechanic does after his computerized test equipment says the car’s transmission is fine but the transmission continues to shift at the wrong engine speed.”

— Matthew Crawford, Shopclass as Soulcraft

I do know how to skate, honestly. It’s just that my legs, after years of inactivity, got a little overexcited to be confronted with so much slipperiness. As soon as I stepped onto the ice, they decided they wanted to visit every corner of Occum Pond at once, from lots of different directions. They went this way and that, scissoring and splaying, sometimes getting as much as twelve feet apart, but constantly gathering momentum, until at last they flew out from under me and I landed on my butt with such a wallop that my coccyx hit the roof of my mouth and I had to push my esophagus back in with my fingers.

“Wow!” said my startled butt as I clambered heavily back to my feet. “That ice is hard.”

“Hey, let ME see,” cried my head and instantly down I went again.

And so it went for the next thirty minutes, with various extremities of my body–shoulders, chin, nose, one or two of the more adventurous internal organs–hurling themselves at the ice in a spirit of investigation. From a distance I suppose I must have looked like someone being worked over by an invisible gladiator.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

We live in a world where God’s active presence is both invisible and inscrutable on the one and, on the other, almost unbearably close wherever we are and whatever is happening. The poet William Blake, who had a Vision of trees full of angels at Peckham Rye, is a safer guide than William Paley to a world that may not be secure but is pulsing with something unmanageable, terrible and wonderful just below its surface.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

When people are solitary wolves, then each individual has access to slightly different information about the world, and slightly different ways of thinking about that information. I’ve been talking about the relationship between the Solitary setting and personal character, but there are other reasons to keep the switch in the Solitary position. Consider a demonstration that is often enacted on the first day of business school. A professor shows a class a big jar of jelly beans and asks each person to estimate the number of beans. Averaging all the estimates usually results in a pretty accurate count. Each person brings different perspectives, cognitive styles, skills, and strategies to the mystery, and the average gets at the agreements between them. (This only works for single-number answers. If you ask a committee to design a product or write a novel, the result comes out like something made by a committee.)

Now suppose that the students could look at the jar only through photos in a social media feed. Different camps of people with different ideas about the number of beans would form and would ridicule each other. Russian intelligence services would add pictures of similar jars with different numbers of beans. Bean promoters would motivate trolls to argue that there aren’t enough beans and you must buy more. And so on. There would no longer be a way to guess the number of beans because the power of diversity will have been compromised. When that happens, markets can no longer offer utility to the world.

You can replace the jar with a political candidate, a product, or anything else.

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Of the Smith-Hughes Act’s two rationales for shop class, vocational and general ed, only the latter emphasized the learning of aesthetic, mathematical, and physical principles through the manipulation of material things. It is not surprising, then, that the act came four years after Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line. The nascent two-track educational scheme mirrored the assembly lines severing of the cognitive aspects of manual work from its physical execution. Such a partition of thinking from doing has bequeathed us the dichotomy of white collar versus blue collar, corresponding to mental versus manual.

These seem to be the categories that inform the educational landscape even now, and this entails two big errors. First, it assumes that all blue-collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white-collar work is still recognizably mental in character. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements. Paradoxically, educators who would steer students toward cognitively rich work might do this best by rehabilitating the manual trades, based on a firmer grasp of what such work is really like.

This would take courage. Any high school principal who doesn’t claim as his goal “one hundred percent college attendance” is likely to be accused of harboring “low expectations” and run out of town by indignant parents. This indignation is hard to stand against, since it carries all the moral weight of egalitarianism. Yet it is also snobbish, since it evidently regards the trades as something “low.” The best sort of democratic education is neither snobbish nor egalitarian. Rather, it accords a place of honor in our common life to whatever is best. At this weird moment of growing passivity and dependence, let us publicly recognize a yeoman aristocracy: those who gain real knowledge of real things, the sort we all depend on every day.

— Matthew Crawford, Shopclass as Soulcraft

My mother was not a great cook, you see.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. My mother is a wonderful person–kindly, saintly, ever cheerful–and when she dies she will go straight to heaven. But believe me, no one is ever going to say, “Oh, thank goodness you’re here, Mrs. Bryson. Can you fix us a little something to eat?”

To be perfectly fair to her, my mother had several strikes against her in the kitchen department. To begin with, she couldn’t have been a great cook even if she had wanted to. She had a career, you see-she worked for the local newspaper, which meant that she was always flying in the door two minutes before it was time to put dinner on the table.

On top of this, she was a trifle absentminded. Her particular specialty was to cook things while they were still in the packaging. I was almost full-grown before I realized that Saran Wrap wasn’t a sort of chewy glaze. A combination of haste, forgetfulness, and a charming incompetence where household appliances were concerned meant that most of her cooking experiences were punctuated with billows of smoke and occasional small explosions. In our house, as a rule of thumb, you knew it was time to eat when the firemen departed.

Strangely, all this suited my father, who had what might charitably be called rudimentary tastes in food. His palate really only responded to three flavors–salt, ketchup, and burnt. His idea of a truly outstanding meal was a plate that contained something brown and unidentifiable, something green and unidentifiable, and something charred. I am quite sure that if you slow-baked, say, an oven glove and covered it sufficiently with ketchup, he would have declared, after a ruminative moment’s chewing, “Hey, this is very tasty.” Good food, in short, was something that was wasted on him, and my mother labored diligently for years to see that he was never disappointed.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself