I was doing my errands yesterday, and thinking about the flat world. I went to the farmers’ market, where I talk to my friends, buy flowers from people I go to church with and snow peas from people who buy books from me, and admire all dogs and children and musicians. The pharmacist tells me about his adventures at the Art Walk the night before. The butcher knows how big my family is, and therefore how big a roast I need for my crockpot. At the fabric store, the ladies greet their regular customers by name.
All this Mr. Friedman calls “friction.” A flat transaction might be my stop at the the gas station, where I put a card in the machine and agreed to an automatic carwash. A computer or perhaps someone from Bangalore took it from there. I don’t know the people there — or maybe I go to church with them. How would I know?
To me, the “friction” is a good thing. I like seeing people literally stop and smell the flowers — or the artisanal bread, for that matter — at the market. I like my pharmacist, and enjoy talking with him. I like the fact that the meat market I go to is owned by a family, just as the store where I work is. Going to the gas station is not enjoyable, even if it is efficient.
It is some years since those of us who work in retail realized that people no longer need us to get stuff. You can buy stuff online in your pajamas if you want. People won’t actually come to your store unless it is more amusing than the other things they might do that day.
Friedman, in The World is Flat, talks about the kind of people who can expect to have jobs in a flat world. The cheapest, of course, but that isn’t an option for most of us in America or Europe. We have to be among the four kinds of people Friedman says can count on jobs. We can be special, specialized, “anchored” (doing a job that has to be done in situ, like cutting hair), or really adaptable.
I thought about my daughter, who will get back to the U.S. today and almost immediately have to begin job-hunting.
Since I am her mother, I can’t be trusted to judge whether she is just personally special enough to count as “special” in Friedman’s terms, but I have seen the kind of responses her performances get, so I am inclined to say that she is. Still, I am biased, so we’ll let that pass.
She does have specialized skills as a musician. Computers cannot sing. Even the software now used to improve vocal performances cannot actually take the place of musical ability. I heard it demonstrated on NPR once, and the end, the fellow demonstrating it said to the NPR anchor providing the singing, “It’s better, but it isn’t really good, is it?” People continue to need human musicians, and you can’t just go with the cheapest, either.
I can’t decide whether her work is anchored or not. That may be one of the things that is changing with technology. I know that working singers can often live wherever they please and travel to work. Still, it does seem as though live music continues to be desirable, as it has been for millennia.
Being really adaptable seems to me to be the most desirable of the four, and perhaps the most attainable for most people. On my first day of graduate school, I caught a ride with a prof, who told me, “It is good to be able to wear a lot of hats.” This has been the most useful piece of career advice I have ever received.
We will be picking up our kid at the airport in Kansas City tonight. This means a long drive, a lot of time on freeways trying to find the airport, and night driving. I wish I were not going. However, we do get to have our kid home for a week or so, so it will be worth it. Fortunately, I am not the one driving. Even though I now cope with my agoraphobia much better than I used to, I do not think that I could drive on city freeways in the dark. We would just have to stay at the airport till light.
It seems to me that I have spent most of this spring driving to and from Kansas City. Although I have spent the week suffering from insomnia and the day so far suffering from nausea (this is known as “anticipatory distress” and is actually the worst part), I think that it is somewhat easier now than it was at the beginning of the year. Whenever I think that, I remember Chanthaboune cheerfully shrieking “Immersion!” as she drove me around and over terrifying overpasses while we searched for the museum. I think “desensitization” is the word, not “immersion,” but that may be what I was supposed to do this spring. I will be glad when it is over.