These amazing times and their cost

I fought my way through Friday night traffic to see my friend Shiva’s daughter perform in their Christmas play, “A Play in a Manger.”  I expected Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds.  What I saw was an hour-long rock-and-roll production built around a plot line of “bigger is not better.”  Mary and Joseph were supplanted by a production manager and a worried production crew and cast, some 20 kids in all.

Everybody got a speaking part, reaching up to the standing microphones like little gold fish getting their supper.).  Shaylee, whose family is from Iran, added what I learned later was an improvised dance number for her part.  The epilogue was this:  “Christmas is not about Walmart or Saks. ipads or iphones.”  That is, it’s not about stuff, because stuff costs a lot of money.

I thought about this when I stopped into my local Wal-Mart for socks and was astounded to find all of the cashiers were gone, erased.  In their place were scanners, waiting for a credit (or debit) card. When I asked the attendant where those workers — mostly women, mostly African-American, mostly over 40 — I got a shrug.

According Fortune, citing a McKinsey Global Institute report released in November, “between 400 million and 800 million workers around the world could be displaced by automation by 2030.”  By comparison, the 2016 population of Texas was 27.36 million.  Think about that — that’s 15 Texas’.

Most affected will be jobs that involve collecting and processing data – everything from accounting to fast food.  The report predicts the pace of displacement will be unprecedented, concluding  “There are few precedents in which societies have successfully retrained such large numbers of people.”

In a recent column, David Brooks had some suggestions for lawmakers to consider, a list that targets practical but oftentimes insurmountable barriers like making it easier for people to:

  • Get to work
  • Get a license
  • Enter fast-growing professions like health care
  • As ex-offenders, navigate the application process

It’s painful to experience the season as one of “haves” and “have nots,”  and easy to turn away we dash through the holiday fully armed.  But here’s hoping each of us has an opportunity to pause and reflect, not just on how very lucky we are, but how we can help those who are less so, navigate these times.

Values and downsizing

I’m downsizing from a 2200 square foot house to a 640 square foot apartment. I always thought I’d be a little old lady in a rambling house with tomatoes and cats, but that may not be the case.  I have to admit:  it’s painful. I pack a box, then unpack it and add stuff to my Craigslist and Recycled Reads piles.

Do I need this clock?
Do I need this clock?

My mom’s books and Bibles; my dad’s medals and fishing gear.  My piano and couches the dog (not me) sits on.  Reckoning time:  how much can I afford to store?  Will I ever again (honestly)  have the space to have these things with me?

My eureka moment came when I was staring at  an anniversary clock my dad bought when he was stationed in Germany in the 1950’s.  There’s no doubt my dad considered the clock valuable. He built a wooden packing box and encased it in straw like a nativity set. He bought extra globes in case of breakage.  He shipped it back to the States, then to Turkey and back.

But the clock doesn’t fit anymore.  It’s too delicate, and I’m not going to have space to display it.  It’s going on Craigslist.

What I want to keep are the character traits the clock represents, the ones my dad drilled in — responsibility, tenacity, honesty, loyalty, hard work, a sense of fairness and punctuality (alas, that one is touch and go).

Luckily (some solace) It’s not just me.  We live in a world with more people and fewer resources.  Organizations have to be more agile, more collaborative and less tied to the shards of their pasts.  A box full of memorabilia from my days at IBM: a hardbound commemorative issue of that grand benchmark of corporate publications, Think, resource binders doled out through continuing education programs and lots of award plaques.  I only vaguely remember the projects.  But the values I keep:  respect for the individual, friendship, collaborative teamwork and innovation.  

I’m hoping someone will see the clock on Craigslist and value it for something it represents to them. The past is precious, but there’s a lot more to think about, and I need to move faster to get where I want to go.