May 2018

Some unpopular thoughts about automation

- by Alyson Shane

Earlier today Tony shared this image on his Facebook and asked: "am I really part of the problem?"

And I've been thinking about this image and comment and concept and here's what I think:

No, you aren't part of the problem. None of us are.

Here's why:

We live in a society guided by principles of capitalism, which means that our economic model rewards businesses who can keep costs low and profits high.

And you know what costs a lot? People.

The median salary for a bagging clerk in the US. is $7.25 - $10.00/hr, which means the average bagging clerk makes $15,080.00 annually to start.

A self-checkout machine, on the other hand, costs an average of $125,000, which means that a grocery store can make a one-time purchase equivalent to the annual salary of 8.28 bagging clerks.

These bagging clerks, mind you, need to be paid their hourly wage regardless of how productive they are. Most will take time away from work at some point (sick time, family leave, vacation time, etc.) They may also need health benefits. Depending on where you live (I'm not great with U.S. business policy so forgive me) employers also need to pay federal taxes towards unemployment benefits for each employee.

Even if a self-checkout machine sits unused for an entire business day, it doesn't matter because the company has already made a one-time investment in the machine, meaning they don't have to pay it for doing nothing. Sure, the machine may break down from time to time but the cost of repairs is still significantly lower than supporting 8.28 people's salaries and additional costs.

Long story short: a one-time investment in a self-serve checkout machine eliminates the ongoing costs of having multiple bagging clerks. It's cheaper and more economical for companies to invest in machines and automation because our economic model rewards fast and cheap.

"Duh, Alyson!" I hear you saying "I know how capitalism works."

Which is all well and good, but when we start getting into the business of discussing how someone's livelihood is being automated away before our eyes, people start throwing around words like "unfair" and "irresponsible" and "cruel" which misses the point entirely.

Here's why: low-skilled jobs are going away whether we want to face it or not.

In fact, automation is expected to eat away at 1/3 of low skill jobs by 2022.

That's only 4 years away, folks, and automation hardware and software is becoming cheaper every day, which means companies that have a business incentive to keep costs low (like we discussed earlier) are going to keep replacing bagging clerks and other low-skill jobs until - guess what - they're basically gone from first-world countries.

It's not "cruel" to look at the facts pragmatically and say "this job is going to be automated away."

It's not "unfair" for low-skilled workers to be replaced by cheaper and more efficient methods because that's how technology, progress, and capitalism all operate.

It's not "irresponsible" to accept that fact and choose to advocate for social support systems like a basic guaranteed income, worker re-training programs, and other services instead.

You know what IS irresponsible?

Pretending like a future that is basically at our doorstep isn't coming and blaming "evil corporations" for replacing low-skilled human workers with automated machines that yield a higher ROI, and acting like choosing a bagging clerk over a self-checkout machine makes even the tiniest bit of difference in the long-term.

It doesn't, and it isn't going to.

So how can we handle this transition responsibly?

Having frank discussions about what automation means for people who can't compete in the labour market because they can't learn high-skilled job functions like the elderly or people with disabilities.

Having honest conversations about how our society treats people who aren't able to work because their jobs are being automated away, and how we can implement a social safety net that allows them to lead rich, safe, and fulfilling lives.

Having real dialogues about the damage that the perception of "job = worth" has on how we react to a changing job market that - sorry to say - is never going back to the way it was.

Because a lot of people are going to be out of work really soon, and more people will lose their jobs to automation in the coming years and find themselves permanently unemployed because they don't have the skills, training, or education necessary to fit into a job market that's becoming increasingly specialized. No amount of "choosing cashiers over machines" is going to change that.

So we can keep pointing the finger pointing at "evil" corporations and placing blame, or we can have some grown-up discussions about what life is going to look like for all those people who don't have the skills to compete in the job market.

Does that sting to hear? Sure.

Is it harsh? Absolutely.

But you know what's also generally pretty harsh?

The truth.

And we're not doing anyone any favours by ignoring it.


 

Seven years ago I changed my life

- by Alyson Shane

(me, a few days after changing my life)

which is a weird thing to say, when you think about it. There aren't a ton of opportunities for us to point back at and say "that was a thing I did that fundamentally changed my life forever," but I'm lucky enough to have accumulated a few by this point.

One of those times was seven years ago when I got my breast reduction.

Which means my breast reduction is old enough to be in the 1st grade.

That's weird.

You know what's also weird? Going for elective surgery, which was also free because I live in Canada and my huge boobs were causing me a lot of mental and physical strain

(I still have back problems and am very careful about my posture)

is super, duper weird.

Because we always think of going for surgery as this big, scary thing. Usually if we're going for surgery there's something wrong with us. We have cancer. We had a heart attack. We fell off our bike and our Fibula is sticking out of our leg.

Gross, awful, not-pleasant times.

But going for elective surgery is FUN. You get to have something done to yr body that's going to enhance your life experience, and you get to get loopy on some crazy drugs in a safe, controlled environment. It's actually a pretty sweet deal assuming everything goes according to plan, which in my case it did and I'm forever thankful for it.

After it was over and I was finally able to walk to and from the bathroom and pee by myself (which the metric they use to determine if you're okay to go home, I guess) I went home, and the guy I was seeing at the time (bless his heart) got me a bunch of Double Cheeseburgers from McDonalds and I lay on the couch in our living room in a Fentanyl-induced haze slowly mowing down DCB after DCB.

It was so gross and glorious at the same time.

And then just like that my life changed.

Over the years I'd become accustomed to just being a pair of tits because that's how most people treated me. Strangers would comment on the size of my chest. Other women would ask probing questions like

"omg, what cup size do you wear?"

(38HH most of the time, but nothing really fit properly)

"you must get SO much attention from guys!"

(Yes, I did. A lot. It sucked. Being objectified is even worse when it's about a part of your body that you don't like.)

"don't those things make your back hurt?"

(Yes, they did. I still have back and neck problems, and am very careful about my posture because I used to slouch my shoulders pretty badly because of the weight.)

Calling them "those things" always felt appropriate though, since I guess that's actually how I felt about them. Like they were these things attached to the rest of me that I didn't identify with, or want. They didn't make me feel the way women are told our breasts are supposed to make us feel: empowered, beautiful, and feminine.

And to be honest for a long time I still didn't think that way.

I don't think I've really become comfortable with myself and my body until the last few years or so, so it's not like I can point at my breast reduction and say

omg my breast reduction completely changed my life!

because that wouldn't be entirely true. But I can say:

I'm glad I did it because it gave me a sense of control over my body, and that it encouraged me to make more choices that made me feel empowered in the years to come.

It was one step of many

but dang if it wasn't a big step.

R.I.P. old boobs. You won't be missed.

Tags: Life Thoughts

 

This post went in a weird direction

- by Alyson Shane

On Saturday we went to Mega Flora, the annual fundraiser for Art City

which if you aren't from Winnipeg is a really very cool nonprofit that makes a very positive and important impact on our community in a big way

(it's also the coolest-looking building for miles so check it out)

it was in The Exchange District in this old warehouse decorated to the nines with flowers and leaves and grass and so much crepe paper. There were food trucks outside and craft beer and cocktails inside. There was a photo booth. There were amazing bands and Begonia wore a giant flower on her head. There was a huge craft table to keep all the drunk people busy. Everyone dressed up in their most flowery outfits and it was just fucking magical

and like a lot of events happening in my city lately I was blown away at how much my city

turned.
it.
out.

which is still a weird feeling tbh.

Because longtime readers of this blog will remember that back in my late teens and early 20's I was pretty insufferable about wanting to move the hell out of Winnipeg

to Toronto, preferably

and would recite the same tired old refrain that I'd been hearing from basically every adult around me my entire life:

"Winnipeg is a dump and the best thing you can do is move away and never come back."

Seriously. People say that about the place they live

and where they continue to live, which is just that more confusing because why would you live somewhere you hate

especially if you're a Gen X or a Boomer and you say stuff like that. Seriously. Why do you still live here, then? Go away already and let us "lazy" Millennials re-open Portage and Main, revamp our public transit, and install some goddamn protected bike lanes on Portage Avenue

and keep starting small businesses and volunteering for nonprofits and throwing omg so much time and money into a fundraiser for a nonprofit that most of us have probably never used just because we see the value that nonprofits like Art City bring to our communities.

Because clearly we're not stopping anytime soon.

... omg guys I think I just figured out what's making Winnipeg a hip place to be:

Millennials.

Most of our coolest local shops and startups are owned by: Millennials.

The majority of the innovation in our tech sector is being built by: Millennials.

Most of the hottest events and fundraisers are hosted by: Millennials.

The coolest local festivals are being started by: Millennials.

You get my point. Winnipeg is becoming sosososo great, and it's largely because of the Millennials who live here.

I mean, of course all the work isn't 100% Millennial-driven. I know lots of Gen X and Boomer-types who do a great job of helping our city become something amazing, and props to them.

But it's kinda crazy to live in a city that seems to be undergoing some sort of cultural renaissance and to be a part of the generation that's driving that positive change in a really meaningful way.

It's almost as if a generation of us grew up being told that the place we lived sucked, and by extension if we chose to stay there instead of moving away we also sucked, and instead we decided "fuck that" and decided to make the place we live not-suck instead.

Thinking emoji.

Now if only some of us young social democrats would run for political office and fix our damn provincial health care.

Not me, of course. As much as I love politics I also don't have that kind of chutzpah

but maybe you could?


 

I suck at giving myself credit

- by Alyson Shane


which makes getting positive feedback all that much more overwhelming because inside my head my inner monologue is going:

"These people just don't see you for the real you. If they knew the real you they'd know how much you actually suck as a human being."

Which is kinda true because I have lots of lumps and bumps and character flaws which keep me from controlling my temper 24/7

or from not getting annoyed when something is taking too long, or I'm bored

or from putting other people's needs above my own as often as I'd like.

But last week I ran into a lady from an organization I've been volunteering with and she had a lot of nice things to say about me and what I do and it felt good, and I just want to record it here for posterity because I, like most humans, do a great job of remembering something mean someone said to us in the 8th grade but forgetting the nice things someone said about us two days ago.

And believe me, I have a lot of that negative BS built up from years ago. I have lots to draw from when I want to feel shitty about myself or think dumb things about myself that I know aren't true.

So let's do a fun exercise together, shall we?

Think about a nice thing you did recently.

Maybe you held a door open for a mom with a giant stroller who was struggling with her kid, bag, purse, and life in general and who probably really appreciated that small kindness.

Maybe you called up a friend or sent them a message and asked them how they were doing because you saw that their Facebook posts haven't been super positive recently and you want to make sure they're doing okay.

Maybe you helped a coworker out with meeting a big deadline because they've been feeling overwhelmed with their workload and it's been stressing them out.

Maybe you reminded someone that you love them.

Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the back for doing it. I'm serious.

It's s easy to get wrapped up in yr own shit and stop putting in the time and effort to pay it forward and do a little good where we can.

I know those feels. Life's busy.

But it's nice to be reminded of the small ways we can make a difference from time to time.


 

Four years in

- by Alyson Shane

The weird and scary thing about relationships is that they're really just based on a few things:

hope
trust
honesty
communication
luck

like when you start dating someone you're essentially taking a gamble with yr heart and hoping that one of a million things doesn't happen to mess it up, and if you start messing these up or slacking in these areas then you can basically kiss yr relationship goodbye.

(No pressure or anything.)

When John and I started dating four years ago I sucked at all of the things on that list.

I was in a super duper dark place emotionally and felt very trapped and afraid of my life and future.

I had unaddressed and unresolved trust issues which caused me to keep my thoughts and feelings from my partners and friends.

A lack of trust meant that I was never really honest with anyone.

And even though I could bare my soul here on the internet I wasn't taught the emotional language to express how I felt to my partner in healthy ways. So I didn't.

(I feel bad for my past boyfriends. But maybe that's normal.)

The last part is luck and I don't just mean "omg we're so lucky we found each other"

I mean:

For some weird reason the universe sent me a human whose personality, values, motivations, and communication style are all compatible with my own. For whatever reason, even though we grew up in different places with very different influences, we somehow became people who work well together and can work together towards our shared goals.

That's what I mean by luck. This shit's rare.

(Believe me, I've been looking for a while.)

Of course our relationship has challenges.

We both work a lot and sometimes our businesses are the main priority.
John can be too severe when he's upset and is so, so stubborn.
I still struggle not to stonewall and be snarky when I feel overwhelmed or attacked.
We miscommunicate and misinterpret each other's intentions.

It happens.

But those conflicts become fewer and farther-between the longer we've been together, and it's because we don't let each other sweep stuff under the rug, or avoid talking about how we feel.

In fact the few times we have conflicts these days is usually because one of us had some negative feelings building that we didn't address (or recognize) until we were already mid-conflict.

Like I said: we're working on it and I'm okay with that because day-to-day life is pretty swell.

It's nice to be in a relationship with a fellow business owner who understands the crazy roller coaster that is entrepreneurship, closing deals, hiring and firing, and everything in-between.

It's nice to be in a relationship with someone who can make me laugh until my face and sides hurt and my eyes start tearing up.

It's nice to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't take my shit and keeps me accountable (even when I wish he wouldn't.)

It's nice to be in a relationship with my best friend.

At the start of this post I talked about how luck plays a big role in successful relationships, but I kinda think the idea that luck is a thing that happens to you is kinda is B.S.

Life presents you with opportunities, and "lucky people" are just the ones who are ready / brave / stupid / enough to go for it.

Which is what we did.

And here we are, four years strong.

I couldn't be more happy about it.

(Miss you, Bear.)


 

Nice weekend

- by Alyson Shane


Friday I went to Cousin's with Katrina and Carlene and laughed my face off. Carlene had soup and Katrina had a BLT and I had two beers and a spinach and feta knish with sour cream and it was

divine.

Cousin's is one of my favourite places to hang out even though they often don't have the food I want and they close the kitchen at 11PM which sucks when you want a midnight food run

(though we've discovered the Bella Vista which makes a killer pizza when you're in the mood for late-night carbs)

but it's got this run-down charm that's super hard to beat and I have lots of great memories with some of my favourite people there.

After Katrina came over and we had some wine and talked in the sunroom until late into the night and it was really nice to have the chance to connect with my friend. We get so busy in our day-to-day lives and group events that it's nice to get some one-on-one face time with the folks that matter.

So I went to sleep with a smile on my face on Friday.

Saturday we spent in the park soaking up as much sun as possible and it was

glorious!

I learned that I'm bad at bocce ball in the same way that I'm bad at curling:

I throw too dang hard

and Carlene and I lost spectacularly to Kevin and Alex, the latter of which got super duper low-key competitive which was and still is hilarious to me. We ate snacks and coffee and it was weird to be there without John because I definitely packed enough supplies for both of us without realizing it.

Which made me feel happy and sad at the same time.

(I miss him a lot.)

I had people over and stayed up too late and let me tell you I am generally very spoiled on the weekends because today I got up and nobody was here to make me coffee or breakfast, so I ate a slice of leftover pizza, didn't make coffee

(I've been chipping away at our stash of club soda instead)

and ordered in dinner because today felt like a nice day to be a potato person and lie around with my laptop in the sunroom working on TEDxWinnipeg stuff and painting and watching movies.

I was feeling pretty lazy (read: mildly hungover) earlier because getting old is hard and wasn't planning to do anything productive but then I watched Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts and realized that I should probably get my act together and get some stuff done.

Because damn, if Erin Brockovich raised three kids and took down a major utility provider without a formal law degree and was also sexy and sassy and amazing about it, then yr girl can surely pop a Tylenol and make the most of this lovely Sunday, don't you think?

(There's a 'lil something you can use for your #MondayMotivation.)


 

Drove up a curb today

- by Alyson Shane

Whoops.

Followers of this blog will know that recently I started learning to drive for real and it's been an interesting experience to say the least. Not bad per-se, but driving definitely isn't my favourite activity as I've mentioned earlier.

It's also a weird experience to learn to do something that almost everyone else around you already knows how to do, and has been doing for years and even decades at this point. It's hard not to judge yrself because omg I really don't know how to parallel park and definitely need to practice taking tighter turns, but it's also been a good exercise in trying to be more 'zen' about things.

Which is hard for an anxious, excitable Scorpio with heaps of emotional baggage like yours truly.

But somehow I've been managing and it's been pretty cool, but I guess that when life is generally going in a good direction it's easy to feel zen a lot of the time.

The business is good.

Love life is good.

Relationships are good.

Physical and mental health is good.

Things generally seem to be moving in a really positive direction and it's partly amazing and wonderful and also partly terrifying because we all know good things don't last forever, amirite?

Kinda like how the smell of campfire smoke only smells charming a few days after camping before it starts to stink, good things only last so long and it can either be a source of stress or be a reason to learn to try and let go a little bit.

Maybe like The Oatmeal says, we shouldn't expect to feel "happy" all the time.

Maybe that's not the point.

Maybe the point is to learn to enjoy the quiet moments of stillness in yr life when everything's coming up Milhouse and just be cool with how things are at the moment.

Not worry so damn much about what could happen tomorrow or next Tuesday or a month from now.

For right now, I'm just enjoying things as they are and doing my best to be chill about things while things are chill. I'm totally going to let myself off the hook for getting a little overwhelmed at trying to learn a new life skill today because until now I've been doing great.

Next week I'll show that curb whose boss and not hit it.

And if not, try, try again.

(See? Zen af.)

(At least, I'm kinda getting there.)

Tags: Life

 

Some hot takes for you

- by Alyson Shane


Want to know the worst thing about 2018? Political correctness.

Just like video killed the radio star, political correctness is systematically killing so many forms of self expression and creativity, especially for writers and other creatives like yours truly.

Here is a short list of things I've started to blog about but have abandoned because I don't want to deal with the blowback, or potential perception of an assault on someone else's feelings through me sharing my thoughts on my world experience:

- Struggling with still wanting to enjoy Kevin Spacey's creative work despite all the allegations against him.

- Concerns about how the "body positivity" movement is causing our society to normalize unhealthy weight gain to the point that it will be detrimental not only to people's lives, but to our society as a whole because unhealthy people place a greater burden on our medical system.

- Issues with the lack of nuance and journalistic integrity surrounding how Babe.com reported on Aziz Ansari.

- Posts exploring how the rejection of Margaret Atwood - a woman who has literally spent her professional career and decades of her life as an author and advocate for equality and feminism - can be so easily dismissed as "out of touch" by a new generation of feminists who dismiss her criticism of the #metoo movement because they've had the luxury of not having to spend decades advocating for what they have.

- Thoughts on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal and how if the general populace put half as much effort to monitoring how and where they shared their data as they do on being mad at Facebook for the repercussions of a security issue they resolved four or five years ago then we may not have been in this mess in the first place.

- Further posts on how, as a marketer and someone who relies on data from Facebook to do my job (which is creating content and ads that grow businesses, present problems to solutions our clients' customers have, and provide services that provide the revenue to keep people employed), tactics like logging the places you visit on non-Facebopk websites provides heaps of valuable data to help us better understand human behaviour in aggregate, and that it's not actually as sinister as people make it out to be.

- Further posts on how companies like Google, Reddit, YouTube, and others track every move you make online and how, in aggregate, basically nothing we say or do is really that "safe" or "private" and the best solution is either to a) nope out entirely or b) accept that the drawback of being able to use Google Maps on your phone and receive updates based on your location is that maybe you need to be a little more mindful with what you do online. Or get okay with being watched because that's the age we live in, because your government is just as invested in your data as Facebook is.

But I don't because I'm a wimp. Or because I worry that these views, just stated out loud, will affect my business. Or because I just don't want the damn fight.

I'm tired of being fired up all the time.

Is anyone else tired of the "call out" culture we live in?

Is anyone else just looking for like, a nice, chill opportunity to explore some issues you think are important and worth discussing without someone jumping down your throat about it

(and potentially sending you death threats and crazy stuff like that about it)

because I am. I'm so tired of worrying about hurting other people's feelings by simply expressing an opposing viewpoint. I'm a smart and well-read and thoughtful person, but I often feel smothered by the political correctness of the age we live in

and I'm not even a dang conservative. I almost feel bad for them!

Almost.

Tags: Hot Takes