Friday, April 04, 2014

Hyperindividualism, and the biology of learning curves, may be exacerbating long-term unemployment

Annie Lowery has an article on the long term unemployed in the New York Times today, “Out of work, out of benefits, and running out of options”, link here

The news story concerns a man in Boston, 57, with Ivy League degrees and a long career in marketing, but not a full time job.  He’s making do with grunt work, including driving a cab, which might be more physically dangerous.
One reaction I had right off the bat was to the word “marketing”.  True, Internet businesses are driven by ads, but people don’t like to be contacted to buy things.  There was a time when sales was considered a profession, and people saw taking home sales calls as a courtesy.  That’s how my parents bought our piano and then our World Book Encyclopedias.  Now, nobody wants to take an unsolicited call or answer the door.  I still wonder when I see Comcast offering positions in new sales, and yet telecommunications companies don’t want to put broadband in harder-to-reach areas.

And I can remember a questionnaire as recently as 2005, for a life insurance agent position at New York Life, “would you buy anything from a salesman?”

Is this short term selfishness run amok?  Maybe partly.  Our desire for the appearance of self-sufficiency and efficiency is making some marketing desperate.  So guess why we get robocalls
In my case, I wonder why after 31 years as an “individual contributor”, I couldn’t get my old IT career going again after the “cardiac arrest” at the end of 2001?  I think part of it is that it is very difficult to learn new skills and develop agility as you get older.  Most people get really good at stuff in their teens and twenties, and then it gets harder.  Most chess grandmasters were prodigies as kids.  Think about it (especially the next time you lose a game to a 13 year old). 

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