Monday, November 14, 2011

Idea #10: Be A People Person!

So one thing that has happened is that now that I'm paying with cash all the time, I have to deal with people more often. To my surprise, this is a good thing.

I notice it most at the gas station.  Previously, fill-ups were a stop and go transaction between me and a largish-box with a credit card slot. Now I get to run inside, slide my Bill Reid statue (the Americans do have something on us with the nicknaming of currency, what with all those handsome Presidents) across the counter and actually say "Please" and "Thank you" to a real, live, human person.

This is nice, because hey, who doesn't like to have a quick, polite encounter with The Rest Of The World? God help them, they may be the only adult I speak to in a ten-hour span.

But it's also nice because choosing to interact with the person means choosing to vote for their job with my money.  I kind of like this math.

And now it has me noticing all the places where I can vote for people and their jobs:  tellers for banking; librarians for book checking-out; cashiers for groceries.  The one I noticed most recently that left me a bit flummoxed was parking:  the parking attendant at Lonsdale Quay has been replaced with a machine and there is no Choose-A-Person option nearby.  But generally, when I can, I'm choosing the person option and I think life is better for it.

I don't imagine it's altogether clear economically what is better though. If the parking guy has moved on to full employment manufacturing planet-friendly goods to be justly distributed across our land, then who am I to complain about walking to a machine to collect my free 2-hour parking ticket?  On the other hand, if that was his only or best option for work and now it has been eliminated for the long-term profitability of the parking corporation, then yuck.

What I mostly notice is that we are being asked to replace our interactions with low-level staff with interactions with machines for the profitability of owners and in turn (one imagines), higher wages for high- and mid-level management.  I guess those jobs are more desirable, but what happens when we have no work for the beginners? for the not-so-ambitious? for the Not-Management-Material-types?

When I vote with my money for those jobs, I also vote for those people and say that providing meaningful work (for surely there is some meaning in making sure I did in fact find everything I needed at the store today?) for everybody is worthwhile. 

So the next time you get to choose between (wo)man or machine, consider the message you're sending up the ladder with your choice:  the easiest way to redistribute wealth is through the employment of the many.

IDEA #10 Response: 
Where have you seen a change from people to machines? Where have you voted with your money for people over profit, even when it was less convenient?


  1. A recent example is how BC Hydro's smart meters will put 400 meter readers out of work. This feels like carriage driver country to me--a natural evolution where a better technology can save us time and energy.

    On the other hand, I do worry about the declining number of jobs for the least-skilled Canadians.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more on the loss of lower-level jobs. My first job was pumping gas and I can't tell you how much I learned doing that job; about people, business, money, society, cars, weather and more importantly..that I wanted more out of my life ( has to start somewhere).

    I take my hat off to you for paying cash at the gas station (I thought with the price of gas, using your credit card was allowed because of the "I want to vomit factor'' every time the pump clicks off at $100). The thought of paying cold hard cash to buy gas makes me want to take the bus!

  3. I really don't know what to think about this. All of my economics sense, tell me that efficiencies move people from non-productive to productive. I understand the worry about low level jobs, but that certainly hasn't helped out the Greeks. "Making jobs" that are not necessary doesn't seem to make sense to me.
    I don't know, this is just me thinking out loud. Very interesting.

  4. @Darren, the Hydro example is so good. The new technology is certainly helpful, but at a high cost to workers. What is the tipping point for where more people benefit than lose?

    @RPG, your post reminded me about the part where we do jobs that we'd rather pay for: does your work history make you a bit more appreciative of the people willing to do the work you realized you don't want to do? Either way, somehow smiling at the man (and it's only been men so far) taking my money has actually made it easier - I think I've convinced myself I'm giving to a good cause! My delusions know no end...

    @David, "efficiencies" and "productive" are code words for profit, right? In the end they're just kind ways of saying "getting more money to the top". What I wonder about is rethinking "making jobs", and maybe calling it "keeping people". I'm unclear about when and how it became uncool to employ people - that used to be something that owners were proud of, wasn't it? Anyway, I'll be glad to hear more about what you find yourself thinking about these things.