Her and Them

Her and Them

Perhaps you’ve seen the move.  Her is about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system.  It’s a cautionary tale about what can happen when we become too reliant on or addicted to our gadgets.  And yet, there’s a larger story, one that provides an important insight for Career Activists.

For several years now, we’ve been warned about the approaching “singularity.”  That term was coined by the science fiction writer and academician Vernor Vinge to signify the point in time when machines would become smarter than the humans who created them.

While Vinge put that date a quarter century or more in the future, others argue that it’s already come and gone.  In Race Against the Machine, for example, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee provide example after example of human workers being replaced by their wire and transistor coworkers.

Lawyers, x-ray technicians, bank tellers, auto workers and a growing list of people in other fields are all now facing technological unemployment.  It is a real and proximate threat to just about every person’s career.  Unfortunately, however, it’s only half of the danger.

We Should Also Be Concerned About Them

Today, workers are just as threatened by their employers.  Not because they are malevolent, but because, like machines, they were created to perform a task, not care for those who are affected by their doing so.  Whether they’re small local employers or huge public corporations, their job is to generate a profit for their shareholders period, full stop.

But what about corporate citizenship?  Aren’t the best companies also good neighbors?  Of course they are … as long as playing that role doesn’t in any way diminish their bottom line.  They may provide free lunches and child care are on campus, they may donate to the local hospital and youth clubs, but if their profits are jeopardized, they won’t hesitate a second to lay off workers and cut salaries.

It’s not in their organizational DNA to be sympathetic or compassionate.  Those are human attributes, and Career Activists accept that companies no less than machines are unsympathetic and dispassionate.  Like the lead character in Her, we can love them all we want, but don’t expect that love to be returned.

Instead, think of companies as “Them.”  They are, as Mitt Romney pointed out in his presidential bid, composed of people, BUT those people are assigned jobs – jobs that are designed to ensure the company’s survival and prosperity, not its workers.

Taking that view of employers does two things for you.  First, it keeps you from being blindsided by naiveté.  It gives you the acuity to avoid that terrible moment when you walk in the office one Monday and – out of the blue and with no warning – find a pink slip on your desk.

Second, it forces you to acknowledge that you can’t rely on Them for career security, you have to create it for yourself.  You can’t depend on Them for loyalty or even support for your service over the years, you have to be loyal to and support yourself.  You have to be a Career Activist.

Thanks for reading,
Peter