Today I have two things on the calendar: a party in the afternoon and singing at a Martin Luther King Day celebration in the evening.
I also have papers to grade for my online class, but I can’t get in to get them. This is not good, but it does shorten my to-do list. I asked one of my students, via Facebook, to post a message for the others in the discussion group so they won’t think I’m ignoring them.
And I have a request for an estimate on a large job. It would involve perhaps 25 hours of work, with a team in India, for a guy in Arizona with a company in Colorado. I’d like to have that job. At this point, I have a lot of jobs with that kind of geographic range. Having analyzed last year’s work and discovered that my local clients can easily involve eight hours of work with only three hours on the invoice, I have plunged wholeheartedly into the global marketplace.
We global marketplace denizens don’t care about physical location any more. We have transcended it. In some jobs, the company is in one country, the owner in another, I’m in a third, the webmaster is in a fourth. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t matter at all where information workers live. Workers in a cheap place have an advantage under those circumstance. This is rough on American developers and coders, but as long as English is the language of the global marketplace, we native speaking writers are sitting pretty. Especially those of us who can spell in British and Australian; we’re going to be a little off for our cousins across the ponds, perhaps, but closer than the Pakistanis. When and if that ceases to be true, we’ll have trouble.
In The World Is Flat, Friedman said that as this spreads from information workers to other types of workers, there will be three kinds of workers who still have jobs. First will be those whose work just has to be done in situ, like hairdressers. I teach a face-to-face class, which requires physical presence, but I’m doing the same class online, so that may be heading out. Painters and plumbers still have to be physically present to do their work, but cooks and farmers and bakers no longer have to even though local is better with those things. It’s hard to know which jobs really demand physical presence and which we’re just used to.
The second group of workers who’ll still have jobs, Friedman says, are those who are special. I think I have a bit of that, myself. Lots of people do the kind of work that I do, but many of them do it badly and few do it as fast as I do. Once this type of work starts being taught in colleges, that may change and I won’t be so special any more.
The third group of workers on Friedman’s list is the flexible workers. I think that nowadays we more often use the word “agile” — being able to see something coming and grab the opportunity, being able to change focus as the marketplace changes, being quick to adopt new technology and ideas. Those who are just flexible in the sense of being willing to do whatever’s asked get caught in the commodity trap and find that their value sinks, so they can still work but they get paid very little. My colleagues in the Phillipines are the fastest-growing group for outsourcing, but their wages are falling instead of rising. They’ve become known as the place to go for cheap workers who’ll do anything — flexible rather than agile.
A few years ago I was talking with The Empress, who has a degree in economics, about the turn of the century. It seemed to me at the time that we were on the verge of some amazing economic changes. I said that this time period would be in the economics books like Tulipomania or the South Sea Bubble. Who knew what those changes would be? I didn’t; it just seemed impossible that we could continue in the path that we were on at that time. I guess we still don’t know what’s going to happen, but I feel that I’m getting to join in with the changes rather than fearfully watching them, as many of my countrymen are.
I need to cook and clean and grocery shop, though I’d far rather sit around knitting and reading. I didn’t even get to do that last night, as I was talking with the guy in Arizona. If I do my domestic chores right now, in fact, I could then loll around for a couple of hours before setting out on my adventures.
Except for the estimate and the papers….