Comments on cellphones and stereotypes

Blog referenced:

Cellphone story, …. reminds me of the day in high school where 2 cars dragged down the main stretch of road at 3am in the morning. Drivers were drunk and the cars bumped each other and went careening off into the big massive oak trees lining the road. Heads were decapitated, brains splattered on the road, and bodies impaled. It was an utter mess. Popular kids. My reaction was of true Darwinian fashion…. If you’re that stupid….

As for stereotypes, it’s a fine line to tread. I think it depends on whether the characteristics are used “positively” or “negatively” and on the writer’s agenda. When engaged in historical, social analysis, people’s characteristics is important to understand. You do so from analyzing a variety of data, ranging from political institutions, other social institutions and practices, cultural texts, books, philosophy, wars, land, weather etc to get a picture of “what kind of people” were X? To some that’s an exercise in stereotyping carried to its furthest. That’s typical social and anthropological analysis in which I was trained. People do this all the time, very naturally and it’s not taken as a negative in many parts of the world. Even in great China, the Chinese are very different people and each have differing opinions of what “type” they are. All interesting and useful information when used as one of many data points.

People like Kristof in my view are more like anthropological-journalists. His work is important but I’ve not always agreed with his conclusions. Kristof should have expanded more on his view and perhaps he will in an essay, where-as an op-ed piece must be short. The whole outsourcing business is traumatic upheaval for many people and I am living in it. What will happen next is not clear. Now many of my colleagues and myself would bristle at his suggestion that we, the white collar professional class are not educated enough. We are highly educated, highly credentialed and extremely experienced in business and our industry. Yet, despite this, we are losing out to lower cost providers in India, China, Eastern Europe etc.

My belief is that it’s not the problem of the American workers, but rather the business environment (less government assistance, more capitalistic) and business mismanagement that’s the root of the problem. US human resources are not used optimally. The US work force is mostly highly educated and flexible as compared to many nations. Educationally, the gap is narrowingly and has always been and that’s no surprise and not enough to explain away this trend. With the advent of the Internet, the world literally has no walls or barriers. The only wall is language and that is being assailed everyday in every way possible.

Is it a matter of the US education improving K-12 to compete with the rest of the world? That’s hard to say, depends on what you’re educating for? If it’s educating as a training to be a productive workforce, it’s something that I don’t think the US should be doing. You see, it’s the US competitive advantage with its current educational system that breeds creativity which no country can match. If you want to understand why the US in merely 250 yrs of history is the world’s only superpower, you need to understand it’s characteristic of creativity and renewal, where old is improved, altered, changed to be better than what it was before. This is both good and bad, but what it does is continuously propels the US forward, not looking backward. (See Arnold Toynbee’s view of historical progress). Other countries and nations are held back by their historical roots that act as anchors.

Kristof suggests the Asian method is one which the US should aim for and I’m not sure about that. The Asian educational system does not allow for creativity because there is no room for dissent, discussion or difference. What you do get are people who take orders very well, extremely suitable for assembly line work. And, no mistake that today’s assembly line worker is the software developer, analagous to the factory worker of the early 20th century, that built steel, cars, and other large manufactured goods used to build the infrastructure of the world. The software developer is creating the infrastructure of the 21st century where all his work is used to help run the machines that make our daily lives go. In this case, then yes, other workers are probably more adept at that sort of work than the US worker who’s primary strength is not brute force repetitive work type but knowledge work type, creativity-based.

What is needed to be competitive for the US worker is a combination of discipline (Asian) and creativity (US). Without a doubt, Asian education is more difficult from K-12 than in the US, but the US graduate education system is still far superior than the world’s. The US secondary education does not help prepare students for the rigors of college as well as other nations. On the other hand, many of the education in other nations tend to be from the elite class leaving behind many many disenfranchised. At least in the US, where there is parity, no one will be left behind if they don’t want to be left behind.

I go back to efficient use of human resources and I fall back to Peter Drucker who decades ago, predicted the rise of the knowledge worker. He has the answers and the US businesses have done very little to heed his words. The American worker is paying for those sins. Who knows what is going to happen. If a person with 2 degrees and multiple certifications and licenses can’t make a honest living, then what is really required to succeed, let alone survive?


0 thoughts on “Comments on cellphones and stereotypes”

  1. Kristof is getting a little idiotic:

    He writes in his blog Kristof Responds : ” The Japanese bitterly resisted this process of “creative destruction” of jobs,” trying to hold on to old ways of life and old economic sectors. The upshot was that Japan kept rice farmers and futon makers in their businesses, but at the price of an economic slowdown and a lower standard of living. And ultimately, those rice farmers still had to give up, and so did the futon makers, but they had wasted a couple of decades trying to stick it out when the economics just didn’t make sense. It was just cheaper to grow rice in California or make futons in California, just as it is cheaper today for American companies to write computer code in India. Fighting the economics of that was a losing battle, and it hurt everybody involved.”

    1. Exaggeration of the difference between the American hi-tech industry and worksrs vis-a-vis non-US hi-tech industry and its workers.

    2. Hi-tech is not “old” vs “new” sectors. It’s still very relevant and “today” as it were.

    3. The economics that makes it cheaper to ship work to India or China is not necessarily true. In fact, there are studies and plus workers like myself who have dealt with these so-called “better workers” that the cost savings is not necessarily great. In fact in many cases, it’s even more. The cost that is not captured is the re-work required when quality specifications are not met. This is extremely expensive and not easily handled in a dispersed environment. There are some business functions where co-location or resources is economically smarter. Also, the added management layers to manage across geographic boundaries is not so easy to do, inspite of Internet technologies and tools. We have an abundance of tools to make our jobs and lives easier but we hardly use any of them to its fullest potential, leading to a lot of waste.

    It is not easily a matter of education and outsourcing. It’s all cost and it’s the American capitalist system that is driving companies to focus so much on cost reduction that they fail to analyze all the other factors involved with uprooting whole operations and business units. In the end, some things aren’t worth the cost savings involved due to the (a) poor quality, (b) re-work, (c) increased management costs – organizational bloat, (d) domestic backlash. The net result is higher cost.

    The US is importing poverty and exporting wealth at the moment. Labor costs are something that is out of the hands of the worker and something the government should do more for. The US worker can be extremely educated but the cost to achieve that level requires higher salaries (labor costs) so it’s a catch-22. Countries like India have federal level agencies who give rebates and other tax incentives to help promote and foster industrial growth and businesses. The US by letting the market take its course is really shooting itself in the foot, giving away all its long term competitive advantage for short term gains.


  2. Speaking of outsourcing and the whole cheap-but-educated labor, last night’s “Nightline” had a fascinating look at outsourcing/global employment in India – where the workforce appears educated and cheap, and poised to be ready for middle class life. They like their McDonald’s, Cokes, and so on – American brands – but with an Indian style. And, of course, there’s Bollywood and the music and the flavors and so on. Combining efficiency, discipline, and creativity? Hmm – I got the feeling from watching “Nightline” last night that maybe India might be on track for having combinations. There’s hope that India can rise from the poverty, the old nationalism and breaking barriers, the old “This isn’t my parents’ India = it’s the 21st century India.” For all our talk of praising or trashing “diversity,” is the U.S. missing out on having synergy or energy in its capitalism, because we could be raising barriers again? Hmm. (I better stop before I start sounding like Marge Simpson).

  3. What you’re describing is one of the results of exporting wealth. Whereas the previously poor areas become wealthy and live like it, the cost of labor also increases. So what happens is there will come a time where the cost of doing outsourcing business doesn’t make economic viable sense. When that point happens, it’s unclear because the US companies are like a bunch of lemmings racing to set up overseas shops. The upheaval is tremendous and without serious analysis of economic sense.


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