The AI Will Steal Our Jobs!

They say that starting a post with a bolt statement is a good idea, so here you go: Artificial Intelligence will destroy our current economic structure. How’s that?

While that statement may seem like a gross overreaction and sound a little nutty, it is quite possibly true. As we move forward, AI will take more and more of the tasks we currently do ourselves. Right now they are mostly in highly repetitive tasks, such as manufacturing. These robots have already displaced many workers, they are cheaper and more accurate. But the presence of those robots have also opened up new opportunities in research and development as well as in maintenance. Here’s the catch: displaced employees cannot afford the new education necessary to go into these fields.

In the past, new technology has largely been geared towards making human beings more efficient at their jobs. If one person makes more stuff, the price of the stuff goes down and makes it available to more people. This has been the driver of our economic growth and high standard of living. Thus far technological progress has been the facilitator of our modern world.

But we are at a moment when this status quo is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming better than we are at tasks we once considered exclusively the domain of human beings. This means that the jobs that were more nuanced and variable, are going the way of the dodo as those get replaced as well.

For awhile there will be new jobs created by this boom, but eventually those will be taken over as well. Eventually there will be very little, of anything, that human beings need to do.

So now it is not only the ‘unskilled’ laborers who will be out of jobs, but the more technical fields as well. The only people who will be able to make money will be those selling the products that the robots make, this will soon include such diverse things as health care and art to add to the products they manufacture today.

That won’t last long, if no one is earning, no one is spending.

So, now that I have completely depressed you; let me tell you why this could actually be awesome, and what we have to do to make sure that it is.

If you think about it, if robots are doing all the work and there is plenty of everything to go around, why should anyone ever have to go without? The only way this would happen is if we stay on our current economic course. If people need to trade their labor for money to trade for goods and services.

However, if we eliminate the need to pay for those goods and services, why do we panic over the loss of income? In other words, if we make those basic necessities available to all, it won’t matter if the robots do all the work.

Here we get a choice, how do we create an equitable system?

Option 1: Necessary goods and services are provided to all, and money is used to buy luxury goods.

This option is a good middle ground, and very likely to be the solution, but as I see it being implemented, it would be in a simple reactionary way. Like refugee camps, or homeless shelters. Necessities are covered, but living conditions are appalling with no visible path out of the situation.

If we plan ahead, we could create this as a positive way to keep everyone happy and healthy. But it would still leave the wealthy with power and influence over those who just get by on the basics with little upward mobility.

Option 2: Basic universal income.

The results of this option would be very similar to the plan ahead version of option 1. People would get some support, (although that income may not cover everything they need depending on health, implementation, and local economic variation.) but would still struggle to grow. Any growth would depend on the movement of currency to people from all walks of life. This would require that anyone attempting to improve their station from subsistence would have to advertise essentially, to gain the attention of those who do have money to burn. It would just be redistribution of the wealth between the wealthy.

Option 3: Preemptively create a non-monetary based system. No money means that all basic services would be available to all add needed. And anyone willing to grow would not need to convince someone else to part with their money, but only to show that they are providing some benefit to society. Without competition, the existing barriers of the economy would break down.

Everyone could be required to work a certain amount of time in service to community or society as we grow to reach the time of robots doing all of the work. As robots take on more of the workload, the required human workload would be readjusted and distributed equally. Less work for humans would not result in lost jobs creating starvation in a land of plenty.

As a bonus to this idea, if we got rid of money, there would be a huge number of ‘jobs’ that surround the redistribution of wealth that would disappear with it. This means that the starting workload for each person would be much less work than we currently do today. These jobs would include things like cashiers, loan specialists, stock traders, bankers, accountants, investors, and sales to name a few.

Even if we only eliminated that workload and required a lot less work to keep the status quo, I suspect that we would actually make progress toward a work-free future faster. Without all that time spent on the redistribution of wealth, the free time that people would gain would go towards hobbies.

Everyone has a few things they enjoy doing in their free time, and some of those have the potential to drive us to the future. Some people enjoy listening to music or watching movies. Some people enjoy creating neat things. Some people enjoy robotics and coding in their free time. Giving people more free time, and unlimited access to education (one of the most basic services provided) would spawn a massive outpouring of growth in many areas, including STEM. There are many people caught in the day to day grind of living paycheck to paycheck who could do so much for our world if we can unchain them from the money train.

This does require a whole new way of thinking. But in a world without scarcity, we do not need to create a system of artificial scarcity, which is how money works.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Work & Money

Why do we work? – To earn money.

Why do we need money? – To pay for things we need and want. It seems like a simple system. But this country produces enough food and has plenty of homes for everyone.

Why don’t we meet everyone’s basic needs? – Because it takes money to pay for them. People who work feel like if they need to work for these things it would be unfair to hand them out. And it would be.

What keeps people from working? – This is a very complicated question, with many answers.

  • No-one is hiring – There are more people available to work than there are jobs available.
  • Long-term unemployment – The longer you go without a job for any of these other reasons it becomes more and more difficult to get back into the job market.
  • Housing – It is difficult to get a job without a physical address, which means that once you are homeless, you have no way to get into the workforce.
  • Family – This can mean a lot of things;
  1. Childcare would take all of your income and so it is more efficient to not work.
  2. For some people having a stay at home parent is more important than having any extra income work would provide.
  3. Some people believe in the traditional family where women stay home.
  • Job hunting – Job hunting is the least rewarding job out there. Long hours, no pay and no guarantee of success.

If we take all of this together we can make some interesting discoveries. If every person able to work in the US did work, each person would only have to work 20 hours to get the same total amount of work accomplished.

(Using numbers from 2012 for continuity)

1789 work hours per year per worker (full and part time)

52 weeks per year

1789/52.1429=34.5

34.5 work hours per week per worker

145,355,800 workers

34.5*145355800=5,014,775,100

5,014,775,100 work hours per week

243,284,000 total population eligible to work

5014775100/243284000=20.5 work hours per week per eligible worker

What keeps us from working this little? – Employers would have to pay each employee enough to live on in order for this to work. This means paying more employees each the same amount as current employees, even though each employee does little more than half as much work. (Currently doubling the minimum wage would barely get employees to a living wage for working 40 hours, depending on where you live, so this would necessitate nearly quadrupling the minimum wage to allow living on a 20 hour work week.)

Is there another way to make this possible? – The easy answer is to have government supply all necessities; food, housing, healthcare etc. This would also necessitate higher taxes. Until the haves are willing to assist in supporting the have-nots, this will not be a self-supporting system without higher pay as well.

Money is a tool created by man to assist in transactions. Nothing more. Many societies have existed without money. Because money is what is getting in our way in our what ifs; What if we eliminated money? – There are a lot of consequences to this action. First and foremost problem would be creating an initiative for people to do the work that needs to be done. For this I see many solutions.

  • Get rid of boring jobs – Wait what?! All of these calculations are done based on the amount of work that needs to get done in order for society to function, right? Kind of. All of these calculations are done based on the amount of work that needs to get done in order for our CURRENT society to run. There are many jobs that could be eliminated by automation. In our current society that is frightening to many people, because the machines would take their job and deprive them of what they need to support their family. If the necessities are taken care of, the only thing that automation would do is cut down on that total amount of work needed. Suddenly automation is helpful.
  • Cut down on the required work hours – Already we have touched on this a bit, but there is more to be done! Without money, entire sections of the job industry become irrelevant. Banking, Accountants, Financial Advisors, Lenders, Wall Street, Investors, Marketing, the list goes on.
  • Cut down on the required labor – This may seem redundant, but stick with me. Our society today runs on ‘new’. But if we were able to shift the consciousness to ‘reusable’ we would cut down on a huge part of manufacturing. It is far easier to clean and sterilize a glass bottle than to create more, even from recycled materials. If the stigma surrounding buying used clothes and furnishings were not an issue, and products were designed to last, rather than to be discarded, another sector of manufacturing gets pruned down.
  • Let people work at what interests them – The remaining jobs after the first three on this list are mostly going to be based in agriculture, creative endeavors, and research. These are the types of things that some people think of as hobbies. And if they are required to only do 20 hours or less per week of it, that is very manageable.

While having an accountability structure would probably still be necessary, I will leave those ideas for another day.

 

Update – One City Fixed Homelessness

 

 

 

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Society For Creative Anachronism

Ok, so today I am gonna plug for the SCA.

I made the black dress from a pattern. I now know that the princess seams are not period, but I still wear the dress. This picture is not mine, but since I hate putting pictures of people up without their permission, and this is the only SCA picture I can find that doesn’t include a lot of other faces, this is what you get.

What is it? – The SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. So what does that mean? It means a group of people (Society) who creatively are out of time and place (Anachronism). Ok, still a little literal. It is a medieval recreation society. We do our best to live as people lived in medieval times. (Without the plague, religious persecution, and lack of sanitation.)

I say medieval, but really any period prior to the 17th century is fair game. Most people stick to European history, but some do delve into the Stepps and even into Asia.

Who are These People? – All the funny clothes, strange names, and crowns can be a little intimidating. It can feel like another world, and that is the point. We take care to make our outfits, accessories, and sometimes even speech, our escape from the mundanity of everyday life. In fact, we refer to life outside the SCA as ‘Mundane Life’, imagine that. Most people choose a name that goes with a persona. They create a person who would have lived in a particular time and place. Then they live in those shoes. SCAers tend to get confused when they find out that I do not do this. I don’t because I cannot choose just one period or place. People can have several personas, but I find even that too restrictive. I will often go every day of an event in a different era. When I joined there were a lot of people whose SCA names were variations of my name. I don’t really see a point. I feel more at home at events anyway.

The crowns are a little different. SCA has our own royalty. The crowns are worn by people who are permitted to. Just to confuse you, the bigger the crown does not mean the higher the rank. The crowns are designed according to the wearer’s preference.

So What Do People Do? – If someone did it during the time period, someone in the SCA probably does it. If it is more obscure, you may have a hard time finding them, especially in a small group. At large events though, GAME ON!

The Biggest Examples –

  • Fighting – Most people who know something about the SCA know about the Fighting, so I will start there. We have two main fight styles. What we call ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’. All of our martial activities have strict safety measures regarding the weapons, and the armor used. We rely on the honor system to count hits. In the SCA, unless specified in a particular event, if an arm is hit, you ‘lose’ that arm and must fight without it, the same goes for a leg. Fighters will kneel at this point, although I have never seen it, I do not think there are rules again hopping around. If a fighter looses both arms, they will admit defeat, although once again, I don’t think there are rules against going all Black Knight.

Heavy fighting is a recreation of broadsword melee mostly. However many people choose to use axes, maces, or even pole arms instead. We are not a live steel group, which means that when we fight, we are not using real weapons. Most are built by members out of Ratan which is like a heavy bamboo. Usually they are wrapped in duct tape. Because Duct Tape.

Light fighting is a recreation of fencing. We use heavier swords than that used in the Olympics, but use similar face masks. These swords are tipped so that no-one gets run through for real. Beginners usually use only one sword, but more advanced fighters can choose an off-hand weapon as well. I have seen a dagger, a buckler, a cloak, even a rubber chicken.

  • Other Martial Stuff – The main categories here are Archery and Thrown Weapons. These are essentially target-based activities, since we don’t actually try to kill each other. In some large-scale battles, archers are invited, provided they wear armor that meets the regulations of the battle, and use special ammunition.

I do archery, but I use a Cherokee Flat bow, so it’s not quite period. I do have to shoot a little bit differently than most people who shoot long bow. Other people use the later re-curve style. I have also seen people shoot crossbow, although they are more expensive, and therefore rarer.

I have also done some thrown weapons. I usually use knives, but have dabbled in axe throwing as well. The principles are the same. This is the least popular of the martial activities, although in many ways it is the simplest to get involved in.

  • Performance – There are also bards musicians and dancers in the SCA. People study instruments that most people have never heard of. Sometimes we can even get musicians to play for dancers. Usually this is drummers around the campfire at night while some budding belly dancer shows her moves. Occasionally we will have a formal ball, with court dances that are taught during the day for those daring enough. Bards often travel between camps singing their tales of faraway places. At my son’s first event, it was a bard that finally managed to get him to sleep.

As with everything, there are experts and there are novices. People are not deterred from doing something they are not good at, but rather recruited as someone to pass knowledge on to.

  • Arts & Sciences – In the SCA this mostly means arts, or stuff you create. As an activity, this is not the most obvious, but it’s effects are evident the moment you see a gathering. While some things are purchased outside of the organization, most things that people wear or use at events are made within the group. Some people take pride in making everything themselves, while others contribute to the SCA economy. We use modern currency, but I consider the SCA to have its own sub-economy. Some merchants are able to earn their livelihood by traveling and selling their wares at events, although many include Renaissance Faires as well. We have our own supply and demand trends, sometimes fueled by the fads. Yes, even though we are re-creating the past, certain periods go in and out fashion.

Once again, if someone made it then, someone probably makes it now. I know blacksmiths, weavers, leather-workers, seamstresses, and jewelers. Some people focus on period re-creations. Many SCA members carry knives and even swords on their person, even though they are not allowed in combat. Other artisans focus on SCA-specific crafts like creating the regulation weapons that are used in combat.

I always say that I do not like shopping, and I take great pride in breaking the female stereotype in that. But I have to admit, I lie. I love shopping. I just cannot stand the places that most people shop. I love thrift stores. I will have to write more about that another day. I also love Merchants Row. At most large events there is a designated area for craftspeople to set up stores. This is my weakness. These people sell the types of things I like. People sell period clothing, weapons, armor and jewelry. Others do intricate hair braiding (When you are at a week-long camping event and the showers are full of sweaty fighters most of the time, a braid can be a big help.) or henna. Some people sell modern paraphernalia like t-shirts. Period games are always interesting. Real root beer is always a classic. This is one of the only places that you can find period fabrics and trims to make stuff yourself. Many of the merchants accept not only cash but also barter. More recently, with the help of technologies like square, most can now accept Master Card and Lady Visa as well. I only include that because I find it amusing.

Where is it? – The SCA is an international organization, but mostly exists in the United States. There are local groups in most large cities, and even smaller ones, although it really depends on the town. The city I just moved from had, at its height, more than twenty. Then a lot of people everyone moved away around the same time, leaving around eight active members. A larger city that I lived in had its branch nearly dissolved because no-one was participating. A few years later it has grown and it thriving. Check out your area.

So Why Do I Play? – I got into SCA because I am a history nut, okay, so since I now have a bachelors in History I have decided that I can say Historian instead. But I stay in because the people are awesome. In general the people are far more accepting of others. This is the place where people who feel alienated by society at large find a home. I have made friends of different religions, political parties, and gender identities. People who have been outside the norm for their hobbies, or the way that they look, walk or talk fit in just fine in the SCA. There are some people who will point out historical inaccuracies. Usually that is done in fun, and with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is a merchant trying to sell their wares.

How Much Time and Money Does This Take? – As much as you want to put into it. Some people camp in extravagant period tents, I use a cheap two-man tent I found at Wal-Mart. Some people build elegant Elizabethan gowns, while others wear simple Viking T-tunics. (Some people build those in a period way, while others use modern techniques.) You can spend as much or as little as you want, but if you are like me, you will always want to spend more than you should.

Chapter 14 (WIP) – Worlds Collide

Rodney listened intently as Jessica explained how the capitalist economy that she grew up with worked. All the while she wondered why someone in her head would need so much explanation. As Rodney asked questions she decided that it was so that she could make sense of it herself. 

“Wow, how much do you work?” Rodney was shocked when Jessica told him that in order to get necessities like food and housing you have to work for money. 

“That depends. Anything you work over 40 hours a week is considered overtime, and they have to pay you extra. Right now I am working 52 hours per week.”

“So that must mean you can buy more than you need, right? Why work so much?”

Jessica smiled at Rodney, he seemed so naive. “Actually I am struggling to get what I need. I work as much as my job needs me, and they don’t like having to pay the extra.”

Rodney thought for a moment. He hesitated for a bit before saying, “Here everything that we need is supplied. Whether you work or not you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water, internet, whatever.”

Jessica just sighed.

“People do work, but it is to get better things. If you don’t work, you live in shacks. but the more you work, the more education you have, and the more contributions you make to society, the better your living arrangements and the higher priority for one-of-a-kind things.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well a lot of things are mass-produced, and whoever wants one can have it. But artists work hard, and the things they make are put online where people who want it can put their name on a list. The person who has the highest priority on that list gets the thing.” 

“But wouldn’t that mean that the people on top just get all the cool stuff, and everyone else gets cheap crap?” Jessica paused for a moment. “Well that happens with money too.”

Rodney looked a little cockeyed at her before continuing. “Everyone gets to improve their ranking. It is recalculated every day. The work adds up per year so you get a re-set, the education and contributions are lifetime. To prevent the same people from getting everything, each person has a limit to how many things they can get this way each year, and overall.”

Jessica thought for a minute, “So if you haven’t been working much and something comes up that you really want?” 

“Depending on the time of year, you could work as much as you can to rack up hours. But usually people work so they have it when they want it. Because people save up the few things they can get, they usually don’t even use up their quota by the end of the year.”

“That’s pretty neat actually.” Jessica said, “But I am trying to figure out how people just get what they need. It sounds like magic.”

“Most things are done by machines. There are a few jobs that machines can’t do. The hours those jobs take are divided up and everyone is told how much they need to work a year, it comes out to about 10 hours a week. As long as we keep on it there is plenty of food to go around. And there are plenty of homes for people, so why not use them?” Rodney thought for a moment, “I guess that is why you have to work so much, necessities are scarce?” Rodney asked in the most well-meaning way.

Jessica was a bit taken aback. She paused before speaking “No, not really. There is plenty to go around, but everything has a price. The people who work to produce the food need to get paid, the people who move from the food to where it gets consumed need to get paid, it’s all about supply and demand.” Jessica caught herself using the rhetoric to explain it, but questioned it for the first time.

After letting that sink in, she changed the subject, “So if there is so little work that needs to be done, what extra work do people do?”

“They create things,” Rodney said as if it was the most natural thing ever. “Some people do the art that others want, other people built the machines that do the work. Every time a new machine takes something over, there is less work that needs to get done, so in the end it helps everyone. This park was created as an art project.

Rodney tried again to find an answer, “I will have to show you how the machines do things around here. That way you can show people there what to do.”

Jessica was wondering what marvels this place must have in store if everything is done by machine. But she also knew that so little in her world was done by hand, that she had to wonder how different things actually were.

“In my world, artists and creators are laughed at for not having ‘real jobs’.” Jessica said quietly, nearly to herself.

Rodney responded just as quietly, “That must be a pretty boring world, nothing changes, nothing is beautiful.

Chapter 15 – Recovery

Table of Contents

A Costume Designer’s Perspective on Halloween

In case you could not guess, I am a big fan of Halloween. Not because I can dress up, since I do that anyway (and at work it doesn’t matter, I still can’t.) It is because other people dress up, it’s like the one day that the population at large joins me in my world. It is special. This means that unfortunately I expect a lot of people. Looking online I see pictures of inspired, intricate costumes that took planning and dedication.

Last night and tonight I have been watching costumed guests pass through the lobby at the hotel. People put in time to get ready to go to their parties, they get all dressed up, they do their makeup, they do their hair. Some of them look pretty good. Sometimes they do themes for groups of friends. You know it’s a good day when a total stranger asks the only woman in the building who is not wearing any makeup how to apply pencil eyeliner.

That is what I want to see everywhere, and for some reason I am surprised every year when that is not what I see.  I know that for most people it’s just one night. They will throw something together at the last minute or buy something cheap off the shelves just to ‘get in the spirit’. This bothers me a little bit. It’s like they think that these cheap costumes that can only be worn once before they fall apart puts them in the same category, ‘people who dress up’. I find these cheap costumes insulting. When I make something I make it to last. Yes, to most people it’s just a costume,  but I value the time and effort. I value the care and dedication. People who wear these cheap costumes cheapen what I do. By using disposable costumes people tell me that what I do is worth no more than that.

More than that though, the problem that I have with these costumes is how sexist they have made this beautiful holiday. Women, and even girls, find that most of the costumes available are ‘sexy’ versions of something. Even the ‘original’ version is often unavailable. This makes it so that women have no other option than to try to be sexy. It is so pervasive today that even the homemade costumes usually lean this way. This year I have noticed several of these costumes with no more than underwear to cover the lower half!

Let me pause here to say that I have no problem with sexy costumes. I have no problem with women, or men, exposing their bodies. I do not believe that doing so inherently objectifies them. I do have a problem when a person’s sense of self-worth comes down to how others perceive them. I do have a problem with women being reduced to no more than their bodies. I do have a problem with having no choice but to dress provocatively. I do believe that this lack of choice objectifies people. They do not have a way to fully express themselves.

There is another problem that this revealing fad causes. Halloween falls during a time when it is getting colder outside. Girls are forced to choose between having the full effect of their costume or of staying warm. That is not healthy. Most girls grin and bear it. Most guys seem oblivious to it. Those that do take notice end up working for the girl, if they care. This means that women are put into a position of helplessness. They will wait inside while the boy goes to bring the car around, or she counts on his coat, or cape, or whatever.

Men, at least, have some choice in their costume type. But even that falls into certain categories, all of which are carefully chosen not to lose any semblance of masculinity. They can be funny, they can be scary, they can be sexy, or they can copy the original (as long as it is a manly thing). The other way that they can preserve their macho-ness is to not really dress up. I have seen many groups where the girls are done up all-out, while the guys just wear a t-shirt with a Velcro cape attached. Okay, I love those shirts, but I was honestly hoping that they would be an introduction to the everyday costume, not herald the end of dressing up.

On another, but related, note. I saw a costume of one of the monkeys, or whatever from The Bloodhound Gang video for The Bad Touch. I stopped myself from complimenting the reference because I realized what stereotype a woman who likes The Bloodhound Gang would fall into. I would instantly go from ‘responsible employee’ to ‘sex fiend’. I am a happily married woman, I like the music, and I find it funny.  If you listen to the music, it is all about sex, but it has never seemed to me to be necessarily about anything more than a guy who likes his girlfriend, which is fine. It is acceptable for a guy to make the reference, although the stereotype would probably lean towards ‘woman user’, since that is what most people think of the band. Unfortunately that stereotype is something that is acceptable, and even funny to most people.

Halloween symbolizes the best and worst of society. It brings out people’s creativity and individuality. But it also cements many popular trends. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and people do know the difference between a disposable costume and something that will last. I am hopeful that people will learn to escape the boxes that marketing and stereotypes have forced us into.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Chapter 13 (WIP) – Something’s Missing

That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.

In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly started the first page before her eyelids fell shut.

Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”, no brand, no logo. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.

During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just buy a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. However, each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.

Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light mesh done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.

“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.

“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.

Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”

Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.

After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”

Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”

Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”

Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”

Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”

Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.

“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”

Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”

“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”

Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”

“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.

Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”

Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I really live here. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”

“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”

Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.

Chapter 14 – Worlds Collide

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CHAPTER 7 (WIP) – SELL SELL SELL

Jessica meandered through the mall, looking for nothing in particular. Everywhere sale signs beat down on her as she realized that ‘sale’ means nothing when you are broke. No matter how much off, if you have no money, it is still prohibitively expensive. About this point Jessica realized how dumb it was to come to the mall when she had no money. This was a place where everything had a cost, and without money even walking was not fun.

Jessica walked into a small deli and grocery. The smells of food that was not ramen tempted her taste buds. She paced up and down the aisles as the signs that said “Sale!”, “Buy 2 get one Free!”, “40% off!” seemed to push her down. She was hearing them in her own head. “Sell!” “Discount!” “Value!” It all made Jessica feel ill.

The deli connected to a hospital wing, where Jessica went to the desk and told them she was not feeling well. The lady at the desk asked for an ID and insurance card. When Jessica provided these, the lady did not even look at them before proclaiming that this hospital was too good for that insurance, and told Jessica that if she could not pay for care herself she would be escorted off the grounds, ill or not. Jessica turned to the door and decided to go to a park to clear her head. When she got outside, Jessica found the park very relaxing. At least for a little while she could escape the money grubbing and the constant marketing.

As soon as this thought occurred to her, Jessica realized that the sounds still echoed in her head, “Online Reputation.” “Social Media Marketing.” “Page Rankings”. As she shook her head to get rid of the voices she noticed that the grass was made of paper money and all of it with a picture of Franklin. She jumped to her feet and plucked as much as she could get her hands on. Soon she was surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Jessica filled her arms with the bills and headed for the exit before people stole them from her. At the edge of the park a man in a suit directed her to deposit her armload into a chute. When she shook her head he told her that she would be taken to prison for theft if she did not let go of her spoils. As she did, the man in the suit put on a visor and punched a few numbers into a calculator. He handed her a small slip of paper as he said “15 minutes plus commission, your pay for this morning is $5. Thank you. This field in worthless now, tomorrow we hope to see you at Downtown Park for the next reaping.”

Jessica left the park confused and dazed. She felt the check slip from her hand and dropped down to retrieve it. Suddenly mud splashed into her face. At first she thought she must have done it when she landed, but after wiping her eyes she saw black dress shoes with mud on the toes. As she looked up she saw a man in a black suit and black sunglasses holding her check. He looked at it, reached to his right and handed her three dollar bills. “Uncle Sam needs to keep you safe” was all he said before walking away, leaving Jessica in the mud with nothing but $3.

As she looked across the now desolate field, she saw people putting up tents while the suits talked about selling mineral rights while people still saw value in it and how to convince workers that collecting as much as possible as quickly as possible was in the worker’s own self-interest.

Jessica thought that no matter how rich she was she would never treat people like slaves. A voice behind her began to speak. “You have to spend money to make money.” Jessica spun around to find that no-one was there. “Money fuels the American Dream.” Jessica frantically looked for the source of the words.  “Putting down your own money shows commitment.”

Everything became a blur as Jessica called out, “But how do I show commitment when I am broke?”

Jessica ran toward the voice, “We will tell you how much is enough commitment.” responded the voice of the bank. Jessica stopped running. If she emptied all of her accounts and committed to survival based on the investment, wouldn’t that show more commitment than the richest man alive buying it outright?

Jessica found herself alone in a sea of black. She had only her three dollars to keep her company as she suffocated from the lack of air in this space. How would she ever escape this well of poverty when in order to grow she needed wealth?

Jessica found herself gasping for air as she awoke to hear Kenzie’s training videos, “Sell, Sell, Sell!” “Motivate!” “Upsell!”

Chapter 8 – Collateral Damage

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