The future is here…and there will be fewer workers

I went to McDonalds on a trip to SW Missouri to watch my eldest performance on a school team event.  I had the choice of going to the regular checkout line and give my order to a worker, or go to a kiosk and order my meal electronically.

I decided this was an opportunity to see the “Brave New World” first hand.  We are going to see fewer “entry level jobs” in the food industry folks.  While it’s probably been coming no matter what, I believe it’s being hastened by the “Fight for Fifteen” movement.  Many noses are being cut off to spite faces…

I first wrote about this in an early post on this blog which you can find here.  It was quick, understandable, and easy to understand.  You can do more specialization with this method.  McDonalds should take advantage of that.  Can you imagine what In ‘n Out will do?

I don’t think it will be long before the pace of automation at restaurants quicken.  People spend time on their smartphones, I suspect it will be part of ordering before you arrive and more over the next few years.

So, how was it?  About 60 secs after I sat down with my little buzzer (think Panera bread-type hockey puck) I had my #1 meal.

Specialization boys…go for the specialization.

What to do about mobile tech?

Ok, I will start up front by pleading guilty on this.  I was driving down the street the other day.  The sun was out, the breeze was gentle, it was warm for an early December day in the Midwest.  It was truly an early winter climate “gift” for a nice pleasant walk down the sidewalks of suburban America.

What caught my eye was that almost every person, even those walking dogs, were busy scrolling their smartphones rather than taking in the beauty of the day.  Again, I plead guilty.  My family is happiest when I put away my phone to connect and enjoy our time together.  I’m a news junkie, and the last few months have been tough to resist the fascination of new events that a constant refresh brings to one’s thirst for the latest information.

There is no question that this is a huge problem.  And it’s been going on a while and is a broad and international issue.  When my brother and I took the girls to China in the late summer of 2013, I was amazed when I saw this scene ——>

buddhist monk scrolling his smartphone at X'ian temple
buddhist monk scrolling his smartphone at X’ian temple

This is a neophyte buddhist monk at a buddhist temple in X’ian…scrolling through his Xiomai smartphone.  Recently, during the presidential election, I saw this picture on one of the wire services of a visit Secretary Hillary Clinton made at an airport rally.  No one is looking directly at her!  SELFIE!!—->

img_1340I know my wife and family have taken all kinds of “interventions” with me, and I do see the problem. I understand the insular nature of living in your own bubble that comes with “smartphone” addiction.  We talk like we treasure connection with others, and certainly the internet has enabled many of us to connect with people or even maintain connections that defeat the distances between friends and family.

It brings me back to my history roots.  When Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from Washington DC to Baltimore he tapped, “What hath God wrought?”  Should we be asking, “what hath Jobs wrought?”   Am I overreacting? As usual, I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments section…


“Arrival” and it’s deeper questions

I was excited to see this film for several reasons.  I have heard great things about Denis Villeneuve (his films have not, to date, made my “must see” list) and I have long had an interest in “alien visitors.”  In a note of disclosure, I have been active, in the past, in the Mutual UFO Network, and my interest in UFOs goes back to the mid-1960s as a child when I first read Frank Edwards’ “Flying Saucers-Serious Business.”  I have had the privilege of talking to the son of the USAF officer who first reported the crash at Roswell in 1947 (he says his dad let him hold some of the recovered material.  I may have to cover this issue in a future blog post), so I always love me a good “little green men” movie.

This film covers ground of a much more serious and deep thinking level than something as charitable as ET or menacing as “Independence Day.”  While the attempts to communicate and determine the intentions of the visitors in “Arrival” make up much of the film’s narrative, screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s interpretation of Ted Chiang’s short story, “The Story of your LIfe,” there is much more at stake than the usual “are they a threat or here to help” story.  That is the concern of governments and nations, but not of our team of professionals brought in to divine the “threat level” of the twelve ships who have placed themselves around the globe.

Villeneuve allows the viewer to ponder the daunting task before the scientists, mathematicians, etc.  But the focus of the film is chiefly on the contributions of the linguist on the team.  From the film’s first moments, we jump into her life very personally.  As a former teacher, I saw how she was using her work in her classroom to staunch the pain of personal loss that we see in the opening minutes of the film.  At the risk of muddying the narrative, the filmmakers draw us into the story with the feeling that we know more about the main character, played with subtlety and depth by Amy Adams, than anyone else on the planet. 

I’m going to be careful that I don’t tell too much of the story, it’s that good, because film enthusiasts will be talking about this one for a long time to come.  There are refreshing new twists in the world of the “heptopods” (7 legs) that add a unique dynamic to the “arrival” of the visitors.  The interior of the ship is a rough-hewn hollow corridor that provides gravity on all sides.  This sounds like a fun twist…until you look down and feel you should be falling.  Gravity helps us see which was is “up”; but what if ALL ways are “up?”  It’s quite disorienting to the investigation. 

Adams’ character ends up driving much of the progress the team makes in discerning the intentions of the visitors because without language you can’t have a “meeting of the minds.”  It’s the last 30 minutes of the film that make it all begin to come together, although some will walk out confused they way I did exiting “2001” in 1969 and wondering what the last 30 minutes of the light show and orbiting fetus was all about.

Arrival doesn’t hit you over the head with a “message” other than ask you to question some assumptions we make about reality as humans.  Besides challenging “up,” gravity, and “intelligence,” the most important questions to be answered relate to TIME.  Again, I don’t want to throw around spoilers, but we often speak in generalizations about our concepts of time in a post-Einsteinian world, but put those assumptions in the context of a personal journey and you get a story like the one told in “Arrival.”

Go see this film with someone you love to have deep conversations with and give yourself time after the movie to go somewhere quiet where you and your fellow traveler can bounce ideas off each other pressing the assumptions of the movie in different possible directions.  You shouldn’t be looking for a right answer, but you should be contemplating important concepts.  As you discuss time, be sure to include the language Adams’ Dr. Banks decodes, and how the “figures” tell us something of how the visitors perceive time.

The idea of time as humans conceive it has been of great interest to me throughout my life, but particularly since reading recent accounts of Near-Death Experiences by authors like Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander and Hong Kong businesswoman Anita Moorjani.  Moorjani’s work in particular addresses how time is very different when experienced on a spiritual basis as opposed to the narrative way that humans are comfortable.  Both books are quick reads with big questions.  Take the time to read them soon.  “Arrival” takes advantage of the option of being a narrative, with flashbacks, and a very unusual wrap-up to finish the film. 

Experience it on the big screen…and be ready for deep conversations for days afterwards.  Cheers.

Tech – What hath SEIU wrought?

Over the last few year, there has been a movement to dramatically increase the minimum wage in the USA.  In particular, the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, has been a driving force behind this campaign.  The goal has been a $15 an hour minimum wage and there have been several communities where the campaign has succeeded on a municipal level in driving the cost of entry-level labor.  The most well-known success has been in the Seattle area where the restaurant industry has already seen businesses shut down, some anticipating that they would not be able to compete in that environment.  The SEIU has seen a shrinkage in it’s membership in some of those areas as the natural economic consequence of such business contraction has been to reduce the employment of minimum wage workers.  Some labor unions have responded by seeking an exemption from the mandatory increase for their unions.  HUH?

In the end, businesses, like people, will act in their own self-interest in order to survive.  The fast food industry is the most likely battlefield for this conflict, and a big salvo was fired Thursday when McDonald’s decided to take a 200 store technology experiment into all 14, 000 of it’s US stores.  Click on this link to view a short video on how the concept will operate.

Customers will venture into their local land of the Golden Arches and seek out several large touch-screen kiosks to order their food, pay electronically, and sit down to wait for their food to be brought to them.  For families with small children, a key demographic, this frees them up to supervise their munchkins in the play area or get them seated and prepared for food without having to wait at the counter for the meal.  You may say, “well, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a McDonald’s anyway.”  The point is that the fast-advancing technological revolution is going to lead to a huge revolution in labor intensive industries like restaurants.  You won’t see wait staff eliminated, just greatly reduced.  The demands for $15 a hour just sped up the process and eliminated a lot of the jobs for entry-level employees;  a kick in the head to those who were supposed to “benefit” from the forced increase.

McDonalds has pleased the investment community by being able to demonstrate that this system has produced an increase in both foot traffic and a significant increase in the dollar amount per order.  The fast food giant has also found that they can cut their most important cost – labor.  Today, labor cost increases are critical for competitive industries like restaurants because of the increased requirements for benefits like health care.

The laws of economics have not been repealed:  make something artificially more expensive and it will lead to the natural consequence of seeing less of the commodity, in this case, labor.