workzine

Dr. Johnny Wow, 10/10/2011

Current Occupation: retired, now a full-time artist
Former Occupation: printer for 31 years, machine operator/laborer in aluminum plant, sawmill, machine shops, restaurants, warehouses. He was also a TA while working on an MFA, a cook on towboats, and a substitute school teacher.
Contact Information: Dr. JohnnyWow! earned his BA and MFA in Art during the 1960s. He holds Doctorate in Metaphysics and is a Certified Holistic Practitioner and Para-Psychological Counselor. He has self-published multiple booklets, available upon request. Dr. JohnnyWow! dedicates the remainder of his life to improving contemporary society by joyously exploiting gullibility and expanding the realm of hypocrisy. The Good Doctor augments the monthly display of his paintings and drawings with a wide range of his Transformational Personal Enhancement products and services. These franchise opportunities are created for those individuals seeking a more perfect response to the joys of life. The programs are intended to enable participants to create and experience a state of normally perfect bliss, no matter how fleeting.

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An Honorarium

There is a huge outpouring of honorifics for the recently dead Steve Jobs. There is no doubt that he and other geniuses have transformed the world. I use Apple products, and I was one of the very early adopters. When I saw the Mac demonstrated it was obvious that the hotshot young sales reps had no idea what they had, and not a glimmering of how this would transform ‘my’ industry. I managed the Print Shop at a university. I couldn’t know the havoc and despair adopting Mac products would create, but I could see immediate application for the device and within days had swindled a purchase order for one.

The Print Shop was over $70,000 in debt due to an advanced Compugraphic digital typesetter, which could produce very high quality output if equipped with a sophisticated operator. Within 3 years of the introduction of Macs we were lucky to find a vendor willing to take the ‘Comp’ off our hands in a services trade. The Compugraphic was an amazing device and rendered absolutely worthless.

The operator went from highly respected and well-paid specialist who was swamped with work to unemployed and unemployable. People running Macs were a dime a dozen and, whether they were any good or not, the wages were and are just above the minimum. Hardly a soul is employed as a typographer or typesetter any longer. The Mac operators, many of them self-employed, refer to themselves as Graphic Designers and their work is in a wide variety of formats for the Web or Internet applications.

I doubt there is any way to arrive at a number of the individuals whose jobs disappeared or were shredded through downgrading thanks to Steve Jobs and the digital revolution. There may be an industry somewhere that was unaffected.

No one is singing the song of the wholesale outsourcing of manufacturing jobs made possible and ultimately necessary. Steve Jobs and Apple are as guilty as any for the creation of high tech sweatshops in poor and exploitable countries. No one dreamed that the hi-tech industries would create millions of low-skill, low-wage jobs with long hours, no benefits, and no community social structures. Within the past couple decades I have watched the notion of worldwide equitable labor, environmental standards, and rising expectations be evaporated.

We, the people, living a life of ease and comfort in the advanced countries, have the benefit of all these digital toys that are soaked with the blood of the poor and oppressed … should we care to even briefly think about it. All the while, millions of dollars are made for the wealthy by extracting labor from the unfortunate, and there is little-to-no discussion about the decline and trivialization of our own jobs and productive capacity.

During medicinally calmed moments, rare moments when I can bear to think about the jobs on which I wasted my life, I realize that the best of the jobs no longer exist. I worked in machine shops. Almost all of that form of skilled labor is now overseas. I spent thirty plus years in the printing trade. Printing has been eviscerated by digital techniques. The last place I worked sold the equipment for pennies a pound – shipped to Mexico. The freight and re-installation costs were greater than the price of the used equipment, but the wages were so low in Mexico that business could plan for profit. The Print Shop was lucky to find an actual cash buyer. Most similar equipment was simply recycled.

The aluminum plant I labored in for some years in my younger days was dismantled and shipped to the Philippines a couple years after I quit. It was a union job with relatively good pay and benefits that came in handy for managing my growing family. The Philippines offered cheap electricity, a custom made port, zero environmental regulations, and an endless supply of eager non-union low-pay labor.

The only job I had during my lifetime that still exists much as it was is restaurant help, such as busboy, and it is still minimum wage.

These days, I’m retired. I make art and frequent a gym, among other things. A gym acquaintance was a restaurant franchisee manager: he was a manager, not an owner. He is retired now, thanks to his ability to create a small group of rentals. The retirement program for him as a manger is trivial, as is the IRA accumulation of his wife (a clerk in a mall outlet). He has complained of the caliber of people available to perform restaurant work – busboys, et al. No one wants jobs that pay poorly and are usually part time (6 daily hours or less), and often frantic. How is a human to take interest in such menial labor that lacks any meaningful advancement? My gym buddy, of course, doesn’t see it that way, and complains about the sense of privilege these ‘spoiled kids’ demonstrate. “Give them a couple college courses,” he says, “and they are just too damned good to do any real work.”

In the 1960s and ‘70s a downturn in one area of the country would create an exodus of workers launching off to some other city rumored to have opportunities. When Boeing went through the boom and bust cycles in Seattle, thousands of families would head to Phoenix or Topeka or Detroit or some other promised land. And often they would in fact find work there. In the current work environment there is no work anywhere, and despite being foreclosed and evicted, many workers just hunker down and stay put.

While Jobs is lauded, what’s not being discussed in mainstream media is the chronic and unsolvable unemployment that has occurred. Our unemployment stats don’t track those who have fallen off benefits. Many people are simply never going to find anything resembling meaningful employment, particularly older workers in their 40s or 50s or, god forbid, 60s that have become unemployable. The dreary office work and managerial positions have been proven to be unnecessary; computer programs have been developed to eliminate the judgment calls they were paid to make. Inventories are now digitally maintained and re-orders are automatic. “Just-in-Time’ materials processing eliminates warehouse and supply maintenance workers. Soon, therapists and counselors will be replaced with AI.

Another acquaintance from the gym had a career as mid-level manager in a now collapsed bank. He and his wife lost everything quickly and early in the economic collapse. The last I heard they were living in the back of a used U-Haul truck, camping in one park after another, and finally settling in a “Squat City” in the South West. It is a co-op group. They share a van that takes them out to freeway entrances to stand all day with cardboard signs. A couple years ago he sent an email asking for money, assuring me that he would never ask again. I sent him $100, and so far he hasn’t asked again. Good to his word, but what on earth can he or will he ever be able to do for a job. He went from pin stripe suits and a mowed lawn to begging on street corners.

One Artist I know is working nights on a janitorial crew. He says it is easy because the huge office buildings are half vacant – the businesses gone broke. Another Artist is part of a yard work crew, working dawn to dusk mowing and trimming yards. He says the only benefit is that he has mastered a vocabulary of Guatemalan Spanish. Another Artist is part of a crew that does repairs in foreclosed houses that were trashed by the evicted. He reports that the repairs are crap because the contract holders only want the properties minimally presentable for the foreign cartels that are buying the units for cash.

These Artists come from middle class families and each of them has at least one degree. They are all in a desperate struggle to make the payments on their student loans, which amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Falling behind on student loans is a potential disaster as interest and penalties accrue rapidly.

The American Dream has lead many into the Arts, and the illusion has been disastrous for the creative within the liberal arts. The Art market is tied directly to the Affluent, and the collapse of the economy has led the Affluent to dramatically reduce participation in Arts support. The past few decades have reduced the meritocracy aspect of the Arts and replaced it with a fortune cookie system. Luck and being in the right place at the right time equal survival. The Affluent view the Arts as diversion and entertainment and thus consistency and coherence inherent in a meritocracy became irrelevant. The notion of developing a long-term career in the creative arts has vanished. It is now a youth-oriented novelty based culture.

The imploding Arts market is only a minor symptom of the trivialization through distraction that has polluted the entire contemporary world. The mere mortals of the planet are so distracted with digital effects, themes, and toys that the lack of serious discussion that could lead to the amelioration of major problems is unnoticed. In the USA alone, there is a need to find some role for the 20 million or more of unemployed but available ‘workers’. Many of these individuals will never be employed again in productive jobs. They have been rendered surplus. The number of computer-interface-drone employees is declining and those information-processing tasks will be automated or outsourced faster than old fashioned manufacturing production.

As an ambulatory ‘old fart’ I am a slice of a walking history that no one wants to hear. But the inevitable collapse of capitalism through over-production and the exploitative extraction of money from the workers to the moneyed interests was endlessly discussed in the tiny crummy coffee shops by the Beats in the 1950s. Back then, we dreamed and schemed, but it was inconceivable that an uber-manager like Steve Jobs, among others, could transform the world through the creation of a billion toys. It was beyond our imagining.

Steve Jobs is given enormous credit for the accomplishments of others. He was a highly skilled manager of a herd of innovative young men. This team of wise-guys and smarty pants concocted this unforeseen and unplanned social transformation with one hand down their pants. All the triumphs are sperm-laden issues of a fantasy world that is turning out to be a very destructive pornographic manipulation with no concern for the consequences and the lives destroyed.

Instead of the slaughter of surplus population under Stalin or Pol Pot, we have seduction through trivial distraction via ‘bright boy’ digital sperm-induction. No new ideas can be generated because minds are held captive.

There is no room in the program for recognition of such matters as the secondary role of women in the economy, vast income disparity, ceaseless colorblindness and disregard for communities of color, millions of suddenly irrelevant individuals, death by factory pollution, or the corruption of the political system. The squirming digital electrons unleashed on the world silence us.

Jobs are gone, whether or not it’s Jobs fault or the fault of all of us who bought the idea that technology would give us paychecks without labor, resulting in longer, if forced, vacations. In a way, we got what was promised to us: time off. On the other hand, we have less time than ever. We carry Mary Poppins’ machines in our pockets. We twiddle with games and photos and posts. We keep practically stranger friends up-to-date on our every doing of no significance. Money we once spent on tangibles is now spent on what? We don’t own any of it. Most of us didn’t have anything to do with creating it. There’s a line about how you can’t solve an equation by chewing bubblegum. Will anyone solve anything truly important ever again?

It remains to be seen if the Meritocracy is truly dead. Steve? He’s dead. But Steve Jobs will follow us, his phantom residue under our fingernails. The golden skeletons of the serfs who made all these Mac toys for us will contaminate our souls. Worms will spiral out of these apples. Our zombie apocalypse is here.

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back to WORK

Protest Photos by T. Luke Strahota. All other images in the public domain.

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  1. […] the passing of Steve Jobs we have more to fear than fear itself … Dr. Johnny Wow! explains. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. ▶ No Responses /* 0) { […]

  2. Ah, yes, the jobs we waste our lives on.

    There’s an infinity of work waiting to be done, but nobody wants to pay for labour. And vast array of industries we need to create, but …

    • An infinity of work but we cannot as individuals or society afford to do any of it. A recent article discussed an estimate that approximately 20% of all measurable value created since the Pharaohs has been destroyed in the economic collapse. Each of us in our individual consumption decisions minimize expense and thus we profit from the low wages of the workers producing our products. In the Arts there is more free entertainment (labor) than ever before thanks to the Internet and digital devices and this has greatly reduced the incentives to actually pay Artistic practitioners.

  3. Ah, the promise of technology: to make our lives easier. But these devices (of Steve Jobs’ and others’ creation) have simply given us different problems.

    Still, to blame outsourcing, unemployment and underemployment on Steve Jobs or even the technology industry is a bit unfair. Sure, Apple and its brethren created and sold us the products. But we bought them.

    Of course, it’s not just shiny, efficient technology that turned into nobody wanting to pay for labor. It’s also our food, our clothing, our homes–everything. We need to be willing to stand up–not just against corporations, government and sweatshops–but for something: our neighbors’ businesses and jobs. And we need to be willing to pay for it. Otherwise, that vast array of industries and the jobs that go with it will be created by and paid to someone else.

    • No one seems to be willing to pay their neighbor a living wage. The other day a gent was discussing the infrastructure expenses problem of the nation. And his solution was to establish work camps and import Chinese ‘coolies’ to do the work, just like we did in the 1800’s to build the intercontinental railroad system. The same gent has been upset that we can’t force prisoners to pick crops now that Alabama and Arizona have draconian immigration policies. The true price of devices such as iPhones etc would be thousands of dollars if the environmental damages of mining, material processing, waste of human potential, and recycling of the materials were included. These costs are rendered invisible in low wage foreign countries.

  4. Early in my work with computers a software engineer explained that computers would never make our jobs easier, merely raise expectations.

    However, when I was advising my school’s yearbook for twelve year, every fall as I taught new students the basics of desktop publishing, I explained that there was nothing we could do with PageMaker that could not be done with considerably more time and trouble entirely by hand. We designed our own templates from the page up and after high school my kids walked into jobs in printshops and other businesses because I taught them marketable skills.

    As a graphic designer who once placed each letter—one—at—a—time on penned work, I have to admit, that some of it is easier. While I can’t disagree with a word about where our jobs in America are going, a friend who recently visited relative in Europe was amazed (lifelong Republican she) at the devotion locals had to purchasing higher quality and more expensive European-made goods. She held up her shoe, the most comfortable she said she ever owned, as an example.

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