Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Library as as Center of Learning

Recent research from McKinsey & Company, the consultancy, estimates that in the next twenty years, fully half of currently existing jobs will no longer exist because of automation. 

The cloud and Artificial Intelligence and robots and Virtual reality can and will come to take those jobs away, they say. Anything that can be automated will be, and this applies across the spectrum. It will have an effect not just on the fast food worker, but the accountants and lawyers.

This is scary, but it has always been so. As the calendar turned from 1899 to 1900, almost half of the jobs in America were in agriculture. Now it’s two percent. If we were to go back in time and tell the thinkers of that time that in over a hundred years 96% of all farming jobs would be lost what would happen? There would be panic because it would represent a massive dislocation in the work force.

Was there reason to panic? In hindsight, of course not. The reasons were two-fold. First, entrepreneurs made huge technological changes that helped redirect the workforce from the farm to the factory. Innovators from Samuel Colt to Henry Ford made it so that the goods people wanted could be made at a scale people could afford the price tag. And it created jobs. On the other side, society started to invest in the people more – with compulsory schooling arising and the spread of accessible libraries in towns across the nation. Literacy became much more common place. American know-how combined with civic investment were the tools that created the twentieth century, the American Century.

We stand at a similar crossroads. The rise of technology makes some thinkers hopeful. With silicon and metal doing all the hard work, humans will be able to flourish in a way never imagined as creators and consumers of art. Other thinkers are deeply pessimistic, thinking that all the gains will accrue to those at the top while the losses are spread amongst the masses. If I were a betting man, and in a way, I am since I must live in this world, I would suppose that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There will be winners and losers but the key is flexibility and lifetime learning.  Our community should make the investment for the next century that allows for this flexibility and lifetime learning.

It is as easy to say “No,” as it is to say “Yes.” The harder thing to explain is why you say either one.  In conversations, I have had with voters, the primary concern about passing the referendum was about the cost. I understand the concern. Every dollar out of our pockets is a dollar that is not paying for something else that we need right now. I know what it is like to slide your card for payment, thinking and hoping that you have enough money to pay for that purchase and not sure how you were going to pay for tomorrow. But investing in the community isn’t just about paying for tomorrow. It’s about paying for all the tomorrows. It’s about thinking for the long run and creating the flexibility and providing for lifetime learning today and in the future. Our current infrastructure in Brookfield isn’t up to the task, and the longer we kick the can down the road the more we tie our hands on needed investment. We need to make sure that when we look at the twenty-first century, we did our best to help it become the second American Century.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Not Looking Back on 2016, Looking to 2017

Like sand through the hourglass

I have this theory, that people in the south have the potential to be thinner in relation to the north. And it’s not just the heat. In fact, my theory runs counter to the idea that the south is flawed since the heat makes people slow. What is important is the light - when it is light out after work I want to do so many things. I go for walks or just sit in the yard with my feet in the grass while I read a book with my feet in the grass. But once that sun starts staying away longer and longer, the less and less I want to do. It gets dark and then cold and all I want to do is sit on the couch and eat chocolate.

This is my way of saying that this is a holiday letter. It’s just that the holiday may well be epiphany or MLK day before you get this. Sitting on the couch with a pile of cards that I will make nice individual notes to everyone, just not now, maybe this weekend.  So this part is impersonal.

In many ways, this year has been a blessing. I was able to visit family more this year than most years. I saw both my parents and siblings and my in-laws more than once. Mom and Dad came in for my graduation, cumulating several years of work and we threw our first big party at the house after three years as homeowners. The biggest blessing, of course, was being asked to perform the ceremony at Mandi and Matt’s wedding. Thinking of her face as I stood on that hill gives me great joy.

The year has been a time of loss as well. In the fall we lost my Grandma Mimi. I was lucky enough to be able to get to see her in her last weeks before her passing. But that small frail woman I said goodbye to was not how I’ll remember her. To me Mimi will always be a giant, me looking up to her from waist high as I stand in the kitchen, getting in her way while I try to help cook.

Other losses too. There was that election. That one, but I also volunteered this summer into fall trying to pass a referendum to get a bond passed to raise funds to build a new library. I went door to door advocating for the cause. It lost, but it was a new opportunity for me. I’m running for the library board in the spring. Here’s hoping that this election goes a bit differently.

So it has been a time for growth. I’ve been learning new things and meeting new people; taking on more challenges at work. I graduated school, and as much as I want to go back I’m holding off for now. Anita is the one that gets to back. She’s building human capital and gaining signaling value by going back to school for a certificate to bolster her job experience as a trainer. She’s still playing the guitar and banjo and learning new songs. She remains simply amazing and becomes only more so.

I’m not sure what 2017 will bring, but I look forward to more growth and meeting more new people. We’re planning on taking a trip to Canada to see the Northern Lights and some polar bears (fingers crossed I can get a passport). But I also can’t wait to see all my old friends again.