Thinking Out Loud

May 30, 2019

A World of Social Credits

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:57 am

Yesterday Uber Technologies announced changes to its ride-share system insofar as it is affected by ratings that passengers give its drivers, and the drivers give the passengers.

It prompted the announcer on the talk radio station that’s on when I drive home to be reminded of an episode of Black Mirror in which every single interaction is tied to a rating system, including such trivial things as paying for your fuel at the self-serve station or picking up milk at the convenience store. People are constantly identified and the rating is quickly punched in at the conclusion of each transaction. Things like being a blood donor are obviously weighted higher for consideration of a person’s social credit score.

Early on in the episode, a woman goes to rent a car only to be told something like, “We only rent to sevens or higher.” She must then try to find away around the system, and my wife, who has seen the episode, says at that point the story gets darker.

I have always liked — and often used — the Max Headroom phrase “20 minutes into the future.” From my perspective, many of the things science fiction dreams of happening in a very distant future are often, relatively speaking, just minutes away from being reality.

Anything transactional in a goods-and-services sense always reminds people of the words of Revelation 13:

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

When BankAmericard and MasterCharge (today’s VISA and MasterCard) were first introduced in the U.S. some Evangelicals claimed this was the forerunner of the mark of the beast. (The same, but to a lesser degree, in the UK with the introduction of Barclaycard.) It was a similar reaction when UPC barcodes were introduced — somewhere I have a prototype print of the circular type of barcode that was never used — and then the same discussion once again when microchips for dogs and cats were first made available.

But each of these discussions focuses on the how of the technology, but not so much on the what.

What if your ability to conduct transactions isn’t determined so much by how much is in your account or the limit of your available credit, but instead by other factors, such as the social credits? What if, like the woman in the TV show, you can’t rent the vehicle for reasons other than financial? Uber stated that below a certain point customers may stop having access to the Uber app. People were calling in with opening lines such as, “Hi, my name is Dan and I’m a 4.87.”

The talk radio hosts spring-boarded to a discussion of Uber and Lyft drivers refusing to take people to certain destinations. What if your car breaks down and your conservative fundamentalist Uber driver refuses to take you to Joel Osteen’s church? Or what if the atheist driver refuses to pick you up at Saddleback to give you a ride home? (And why are they working on Sunday?) What if the fish on the back of your car caused you to be down-rated by people you weren’t even dealing with at arm’s length?

I would argue that the potential for market disruption — not to mention blatant discrimination — here is huge, and the insidiousness of it makes the issue of bakers refusing to bake wedding cakes for certain customers look tame by comparison. 


Update: There’s a reader comment below that bears highlighting. The link is to a New York Post story from May 18th which begins:

Imagine calling a friend. Only instead of hearing a ring tone you hear a police siren, and then a voice intoning, “Be careful in your dealings with this person.”

Would that put a damper on your relationship? It’s supposed to.

Welcome to life in China’s “Social Credit System,” where a low score can ruin your life in more ways than one…

 

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September 14, 2017

Practical Advice for the Aspiring Actor, Poet, Playwright, Singer, Songwriter

Good news for the aspiring artist: You don’t have to starve. Furthermore, Jeff Goins believe there are four financial paths an artist can follow, with poverty and starvation being simply one option!

Real Artists Don’t Starve isn’t the usual type of book we cover here. Because I review books for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, it’s offered through their distribution system. I asked for a copy so I could read it for my son — an aspiring actor and writer — and then pass the copy on to him.

Author Jeff Goins is someone I ran into years ago in the Christian blog world, and he himself got some early mentoring from Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson. Some of you will recognize his name from the cover of the 2015 NIV Bible for Men, hence the inclusion here, but for the most part, he’s followed the trail to writing business and marketing titles, albeit from a Christian perspective. His catalog includes The In Between (Moody Press, 2013), The Art of Work (Thomas Nelson, 2015) and now Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Surviving in the New Creative Age.

The book is divided into three sections, (a) developing the right mind-set, (b) approaching and understanding the market, and (c) the thorny issue of money; getting paid. In each are four chapters and overall the book is well-crafted reading.

Goins relies heavily on both anecdotal accounts from artists alive and well and historical biographies of artists from past centuries, the latter mostly from the visual arts. (I would have liked more composers in the mix, but that’s my only criticism.) Some of this was accomplished through regular research, but he also was able to obtain a number of face-to-face interviews to give this project much original content.

So what’s his advice?

Some of it flies in the face of what the non-artist might conclude. Be original? Goins says it’s okay to steal, though he does qualify that. Be good at one thing? Goins says you need a diversified portfolio. Be generous just to get your art out there? Goins tells artists never to give their art away for free. Find a Patron? (Or Patreon, but he doesn’t say that!) Goins suggests it’s a great way to go, but you might have to be your own patron, at least at the start, earning income through regular work that supports you and your art.

In other words, this is realistic. But he also says that there are steps you can take so you don’t starve.

Unable to wait to send my son the book, I sent him a few excerpts:

Starving Artists wait for their Big Breaks.
Thriving Artists become apprentices in their crafts. (p.40)

[on Zach Prichard]  But let’s not misinterpret what happened here: talent did not do this; tenacity did. If you want to see your work succeed, you must be stubborn. You must be willing to keep going, even in the face of adversity. On the surface, stubbornness may look like a liability, but in creative work, it can be an asset.  (p. 65)

Once we have mastered our mind-sets, we must tackle the market. Here, we cross the threshold from being creative to doing creative work. This is the place where we become professionals and learn how this works in the real world. This is where we network and advertise our talents to the masses. And if we do this well, people will not just pay attention, they will also pay us. (p. 69)

All creative works need influencers who will vouch for them to an audience who doesn’t know them yet. But it is not enough to meet a patron; you must cultivate one… If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate — a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. (p. 75)

We hold in our minds a certain picture of a professional artist as a lone creator, some solitary genius who executes a vision all by himself, slaving away at the work with only his thoughts and brilliance to keep him company. But this is a gross misunderstanding of how real artists get their work done. As creativity researcher Keith Sawyer says, “You can’t be creative alone. Isolated individuals are not creative. That’s not how creativity happens.” (p. 110)

Those are all from the first half. I don’t want to give too much away here. But the book is full of many, many nuggets of wisdom like this. And yes, I did finish the book, all 232 pages, even re-reading some sections at the beginning after turning the last page. (Sidebar: The way the bibliography was set up — almost conversationally — was absolutely brilliant.)

To be clear to regular readers here, this isn’t “Devotions for Artists.” Jeff Goins is a Christian writer, but the book is published under the Nelson Books imprint. Again, it doesn’t conform to my usual reading habits, but it was interesting and edgy enough to keep me turning pages. Reading it through my son’s eyes made a lot of difference as well.

 

November 24, 2016

Giftware Can Inspire but Uses Scarce Resources to Manufacture

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:38 am

christian-kitschA few days ago Zach Hunt posted a picture to Twitter which reminded me of one of my constant rants, namely the amount of scarce and costly resources that are used to manufacture items in the broadly defined category of giftware.

While some items are truly inspirational, and there is a scriptural precedent for adorning your house with such things (see Deut 6:9, Duet 11:3,) many items are simply wasteful, especially when you zoom out from Bible-themed gifts to the broad gift industry. (We regularly visit a liquidation warehouse for such things and always see a skid piled high with resin tabletop items made to look as though shaped with human excrement. Guess that one didn’t sell.)

barcodeSo here’s the rant: I would argue that in order to obtain a bar-code (a UPC) you would have to appear before a tribunal and argue why the manufacture of your product is necessary. In other words, before you start fabricating anything (other than a sample) you would need to prove to a governing body (operating in regional centers) why scarce resources should be sacrificed for the making of that item.

Since it’s basically impossible to get anything into the distribution and retail system unless it bears a bar-code, you would be told whether or not what you’ve come up with contributes to society.

I recognize that from an American perspective this is very anti-business or anti-capitalist; but I would think from a European perspective you might see acceptance of this type of screening filter.

 

 

June 2, 2009

General Motors: Not in Deepest Sympathy

General_MotorsWe were an hour from home in Toronto picking up a large order from a Christian book distributor when the car simply failed to do anything at all when the ignition key was inserted.    After consulting a local dealer by phone, we were told that the ignition system had ‘locked up,’ but to keep trying, which we did, eventually producing success.   We drove the car to that dealer where they told us — for free — what needed to happen at our local dealership when we got home so that we wouldn’t be stuck again.

We booked the car in the next day to the closest General Motors franchise.   They were less than pleased that the Toronto dealership had “diagnosed” the problem.   There is a fee for that now, which is usually a minimum of a half-hour at normal shop rates.   Because the Toronto people had already “diagnosed” the problem, they had to fix it locally without being able to render the extra charge.

An hour later, the car was returned to me, but as soon as I started it, something was wrong.   The CD/radio was not displaying anything.   No FM station frequencies, no CD track numbers, and most importantly, no time of day, a feature I have come to depend on in a car.

Their argument?   How do we know it was working when you brought the car in?    A nice Catch-22 style stalemate.    However, I was not to be trifled with on this.   So they agreed that they would put the car back into a service bay and then determine if they could fix the radio.

But none of their service guys would open the hood.   In order for them to be paid, there has to be chargeable work being done on the car, which then goes on their timecard.    This type of goodwill investigation was not part of the shop service schedule.    Again, I was not about to be messed around, so some kinder, gentler mechanic pulled the radio and did some checking.

In the end, they couldn’t fix it.   An independent, local mechanic found a compatible CD/Radio at a wrecker, and $250 worth of parts and labour later, I had a working clock and music system.    The local representative for General Motors of Canada said they didn’t break it, they weren’t going to fix it, and they weren’t going to pay for it.

That was many, many years ago.   I have never set foot in a GM dealership since, and I currently have no intention of ever owning another GM vehicle.

…At this point, you may be wondering where this fits into the Christian theme of this blog, or the idea of grace in general.   “I’ve always enjoyed this blog;” you’re saying, “But today you seem pretty angry.”

It doesn’t fit.   Being a Christ follower means that I probably restrained myself from other forms of protest.  It also means that while I harbour nothing against the the individual service manager and his mechanics,  I can disagree violently with the ‘system’ that they represent on the basis of the Biblical concept of justice.    (I would extend the argument and suggest that I’m not sure that any Christian can carry on employment in a workplace that has unfair trade policies.)   It means that, in terms of that car, I am “forgetting what lies behind.”

gm_10bil_moreSo how do I process the news of this week concerning General Motors?  I know a number of people who are GM employees, who have enjoyed a unique, special, privileged opportunity to work with wages and benefits others can’t begin to imagine.   It bothers me to think those same employees possibly wouldn’t pick up a tool to check a vehicle that arrived in a service bay working and is now not working, but in fact, we’re dealing essentially with the same company.   The parent company establishes the rules. I know these people socially, but in their workplace, they would have had to tow the company line.  The end of that unique opportunity for those employees is a consequence of the company’s overall attitude.

I don’t want to see people unemployed, but those employees had a great ride, and are now dealing with the impossibility of the economics they enjoyed.   There were a number of flaws in the GM model, not just as I experienced in the service bay, but in sales, marketing, product development and of course compensation paid to its staff.

No matter how iconic a company is, if the model isn’t working, eventually, the chickens will come home to roost.  Do you bail out Coca Cola or Kelloggs or — perish the thought — WalMart because they are American icons?  At a certain point you have to let the company die, or else nobody has learned anything.   You end up with — and this is where traces of morality enter — economics without consequences.     Companies can take all kinds of risks even if the model won’t hold together in a tough economy because, when the dam breaks, the government will be there with a rescue and bailout.

Sorry.  If you offer that to GM, you have to offer it to everyone.   On Monday, June 1st, 2009, the governments of the United States and Canada should have simply let General Motors die and then let market forces rebuild an new auto industry from scratch.

No, there’s not a lot of grace in that.   But there is a lot of justice, even though it would have hurt.    As of now the taxpayers of both nations own ‘stock’ in a monster-sized company which may or may not succeed long term.   This had better be the greatest comeback story on record, but I fear history will record it differently than that.

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