Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Essential Employees

--I didn't know how many government workers I know--until the U.S. government decided to shut down and have non-essential employees stay home.

--Who is essential?  Ah, the existential, eternal question.  If your work is funded by grants, you may find out that you get to be essential, at least until the grant money runs out.  If you're in charge of lab animals, you may be considered essential.  If you're in charge of budgets, your essentialness is less clear. 

--I'm  intrigued by all the NPR stories I'm hearing about how science in all its varieties may be affected.  If you're in charge of lab animals, you may be considered essential, but if you're in charge of Antarctic sea ice studies, you may be out of luck.

--It's been a very quiet few days in the office, which is nice, after last week's hectic pace.  But it makes me feel rather inessential myself.  So, against my better judgment, I'm working on future projects, like calculating assessment data into percentages and creating the Winter schedule.

--Why is it against my better judgment?  Because I've noticed that when I work ahead of time, the project has a tendency to change, and I just have to do it over again.  So, I've tried to choose projects that will need to be completed, and thus, even if I have to change parts (look for different percentages or reduce sections or change rooms), I'll still be a bit ahead.

--I've been reading Tyler Cowen's book, Average Is Over--talk about feeling inessential!  He points out that those of us doing work that could be done by a computer or robot will be losing our jobs soon, if we haven't already.  Those of us who can harness those tools (computer or robot) to make our work better/smarter/faster may fare better.

--One of the more interesting points of the book:  people might be willing to tolerate having less public services or a less beautiful place to live if it means that they have cash in their pockets.  For example, he points to one of the fastest growth areas in the U.S.:  Texas.  Land is cheap, and you can get a lot more house there, a house with lots of upgrades sitting on lots of land, than you could in a place that has more culture swirling about, like, say, Brooklyn.

--Someone told me about the cleaning crew claiming that one of our buildings is haunted.  They say that if you are in the halls after midnight, you can hear ghosts rattling keys.

--I had to laugh.  When I leave the building at what I consider to be late at night (9:30 or so), there aren't that many employees left on site.  Do we have mystery crews who arrive at 10:30 or 11?  Perhaps, but I'm still doubtful.  If our cleaning crews stayed on into the wee, small hours of the morning, surely our buildings would be cleaner.  And why would a ghost haunt our building?  There are much better ghostly gathering sites.

--A custodian is an essential employee, to be sure:  probably not paid like one, but essential nonetheless.  We could use more of them where I work.

--We could use more of everybody where I work.  We've been doing more with less, and we're quickly reaching a point where we're doing less with less.

--I should not admit that, lest I be seen as not a team player and sent away, with those left behind being told that I was not essential.

--I know that many of us have been looking at jobs and thinking about how to make our work seem essential, less able to be outsourced to countries where workers will demand less pay.  But even if we can do that, we still may find our bosses may realize that several part-time workers will be cheaper than one full-time employee.

--I wish I had a snappy way to end this post, a series of solutions or some consolations for the losses we're all enduring.

--Tyler Cowen would probably tell us that we'll discover all sorts of joys as we're letting go of our middle class expectations.  We'll get better kitchens in our big houses in Texas.  We won't have much in the way of public parks or arts festivals, but maybe that will inspire us to create our own gathering spaces and events to have in said spaces.  Or maybe we'll just invite people into our cavernous living rooms in our huge houses on our vast tracts of land in Texas.

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