A Tale of Two Smartphone Apps: Love and Ethics in the Time of the Travel Ban

It was the best of times, it was the Trumpiest of times.

I don’t write as often as I want to these days, and more often than not it’s for the same reason. In recent months, I find when I go to sit down and write one of these, then I read some awful news that just happened and decide that not only do I not feel like writing anymore, but wonder who would want to read any of my nonsense given what is going on elsewhere. The last time this happened was at the end of January, and President Trump had just signed his first executive order on immigration, the “Muslim Travel Ban”, which immediately barred even legal US residents from certain Muslim countries from re-entering the US. Slowly, stories started trickling in about people who left the country for a vacation and suddenly lost their whole lives. It was shocking not only in these personal stories, but also that a US president could have done this, and obviously not thought through the effects of his actions at all. Another reason I don’t write a lot anymore is that since all anyone talks about anymore is Donald Trump or Brexit, it follows that most of the things I’m thinking about are these two things, and there is already far too much stuff online already about them. So this isn’t about either of these things, it’s just set in this new world, against this madness that we all now reside in.

You were all alive at the time, and remember how the protests against the Travel Ban were organised very quickly, especially in major US airports. The largest protest was perhaps at New York’s JFK Airport, where thousands of people showed up to demonstrate against the ban. Out of solidarity, New York taxi drivers joined the strike, making it impossible to get a traditional taxi to or from the airport. People still needed to travel to and from the airport however, so the obvious replacement was Uber, which had been taking customers away from the traditional yellow New York cabs for years anyway. Uber, in situations like this with higher than usual demand, are famous for “surge pricing”, which entails charging higher than usual fares for car rides as a way to encourage Uber drivers to show up in places and at times where it wouldn’t normally be worth their while under normal circumstances. The company has caused controversy several times for seemingly profiting from terror attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombing by, through means of surge pricing, charging customers high fares to flee danger.

In this case at the airport, there was high demand for Uber rides, but the company decided not to apply surge pricing in the area between the airport and the city. From their perspective, they were trying to help out with legitimate transport needs without attempting to profit from a bad situation. From the point of view of everyone else, they were not only crossing picket lines and attempting to break a strike, but through low prices were actively encouraging people to use the service, and thereby profiting from the Travel Ban. A Twitter campaign began, urging people to delete their Uber accounts. Apparently 200,000 people deleted their accounts over that weekend, a level high enough to force Uber to change the way they handled the process of deleting accounts.

The success of this campaign and the tarnishing of the Uber brand wasn’t very surprising: those on the left have severe difficulty in choosing their battles to fight, and Uber faces such grassroots opposition from taxi driver associations around the world so that any criticism about the company will be spread as widely as possible through networks that were designed for just this purpose. What did pique my interest that day was the news that the other main “sharing economy” company, AirBnB, was also receiving attention. The founder of AirBnB had announced that his company would aid in giving emergency housing to those affected by the ban. It was a very nice and welcome gesture, but it does needs a bit of context.

The Context

In simpler times (about a year ago), the type of thing that would light up the internet for a few days would be something like a “study” of the travails of a black person trying to get a booking on AirBnB in comparison to the ease of a white person. In a series of these, it became apparent that it was extremely difficult to get a place to stay on AirBnB unless you were white, and preferably straight. The conclusion that everyone drew from this was that AirBnB was racist, and possibly homophobic. The people at AirBnB took great offence to this, and vowed to solve perceived discrimination on their site. The culmination of this was that from November 1 2016, anyone logging into the site had to read and agree to a new user agreement, forbidding discrimination on both sides. If you want to rent out an apartment on AirBnB, you have to agree to rent it to anyone regardless of colour, sexual orientation or religion. Similarly, those seeking accommodation were encouraged to rent from all available properties, rather than just those offered by their preferred race or creed.

Ever since I received the email from AirBnB at the end of October 2016 about this proposed new user agreement, I have been planning to write something about it. Look, its intentions are obviously noble, and I would like to live in a world without discrimination, but to think it can be solved by a user agreement is one of the most arrogant things I have ever heard of. I might write about this again soon, as it is the topic of my PhD dissertation and it demands further exploration than the quite right-wing explanation I will give here for expediency, but the arrogance shown by AirBnB here is not that they think they can solve discrimination, it is that they see discrimination as a decision.

Deciding to Disciminate

To the AirBnB people in their start-up community, where they are connecting people through their app and website, rather than taking jobs away from people in the hospitality industry through the exploitation of legislative gaps in taxation and insurance, good people wake up in the morning and decide to treat everyone equally. Bad people wake up and decide that they don’t like certain groups. If only these bad people would stop doing this, then there would be no discrimination, and everyone would be equal.

In reality, discrimination is not like this: most discrimination is subconscious and ultimately involuntary. There is no one on this earth who can say they are not racist, sexist or homophobic, because they really don’t know, and in truth they themselves are probably not the ones who should be the judge of it. I like to think of myself as accepting of everyone, yet at times, and often very suddenly, I am shocked at how I behave in certain situations with people who are a different race, religion or sexuality than myself. I can check it, but often I only realise my behavior afterwards. The reason discrimination is so persistent is not due to choice; it is far, far deeper than that. I would even go so far as to say that it is a very depressing part of what makes us human.

This is not a popular view of discrimination however, and many would have us believe that it is something we can solve by simply being good people. AirBnB say that if you want to use their service, then you have to stop hating black people. That’s fair enough, but what if you don’t hate black people, and receive many requests on AirBnB, and suddenly you receive an email from the company telling you that through analysis of your rejections against acceptances, you reject black people a lot more than anyone else. You didn’t know it, but you’re a racist. And now you’re banned from AirBnB.

I’m not saying that we should all stop worrying about discrimination or that it will solve itself, just that its stigmitisation as something awful is not necessarily always correct. Gender quotas on management boards and parliamentary elections do not exist to enhance equality today, but to normalise gender equality and thus limit this subconscious discrimination in the future. Exposing and defining various forms of discrimination is helpful. Naming and shaming individuals who are perceived to discriminate is not. My grievance with AirBnB is that they expected all their discriminatory users to be aware of their discriminatory behaviour. It’s quite a high horse to ride on. While they have shown through their user agreement roll-out that they are attempting to tackle discrimination on their platform, there is no doubt in my mind that it will have no effect whatsoever, and new “studies” exposing AirBnB discrimination are inevitable.

Back to Reality

What’s this got to do with AirBnB’s actions during the Travel Ban, and with the announcement of housing refugees and US citizens affected by the order? It’s hard to be cynical about something like this, as they are in a position to help people out, and hopefully they have helped a lot of people throughout this period. However, if you have been following the company’s issues over the past year, it is also hard to avoid the fact that they are using the Muslim Travel Ban as a marketing stunt. The week after the travel ban, the company aired an ad during the Superbowl emphasising their inclusiveness policy, and just this week sent out an email to all their users about how inclusive they are. Again, their actions in helping real life victims are pure, but are their intentions any different from the criticism of Uber that prompted such vitriol? At the time of the #deleteuber campaign, the main message was that people would not tolerate businesses trying to profit from Trump’s policies, yet I would argue that AirBnB have done just this.

The moral quandary here is that AirBnB is doing good things, yet it is using a political situation to reposition its brand to a place that is comfortable with the values of its founders. When data inevitably comes back in a few months that its user agreement pledge had no effect, AirBnB can now point to their actions during the Travel Ban as a means to deflect criticism, and they are proving this by keeping everyone very aware that they are doing through massive advertising campaigns and reminder emails. All that could be said of Uber’s intentions were that they were questionable; the intentions of AirBnB much less so. If you’re going to punish companies for attempting to profit from the eccentricities of President Trump, consistency is necessary; the actions of Uber cannot be criticised while the actions of AirBnB go unnoticed. That, and at some stage we will all have to admit to ourselves that we discriminate, perhaps even every day.

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: The Hidden Perils of Upgrading Your Games Console

When do you know that it’s time to replace that little black box that sits under your TV?

I received my first games console at Christmas 1990, when Santa Claus gave me the original NES console, with Super Mario Bros. and Duckhunt with the kickass orange lightgun. That was 26 years ago, and every year since then I have been in possession of one games console or another. The latest one I have is a PlayStation 3, which I have had since December 2008 (a Christmas gift from my mother. Santa Claus stopped believing in me a long time ago). In those almost 8 years, I have bought maybe 10 games. Of those 10 games, 4 have been FIFA 201x titles, and 2 have been Grand Theft Auto’s output in the past seven years. The other 4 games, I rarely played. I am not much of a gamer, but when I buy a game like FIFA 201x or GTA IV/V, I play them to death and they take up a lot of my life for a short amount of time.

Most of you reading this will know that the PlayStation 3 (PS3) is not at the high-end of games consoles anymore, as the next-generation PlayStation 4 (PS4) has been around for nearly 3 years (as well as an Xbox equivalent). Since the PS4’s release, whenever it has come up in conversation, I have always maintained that there was no point in buying one, as game graphics had peaked, and every big game gets released in all platforms (PS3, PS4 etc) anyway. Around this time last year, all of that began to change. In 2015 I decided I was not going to buy FIFA 2016 (for those who don’t know, the FIFA year refers to the next year after release), as it didn’t seem to have any new features from the previous year’s game, and due to the hysteria of Star Wars sweeping the world towards the end of last year, I was looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Battlefront instead. A few days before that game was released, I went to Amazon to order it, and discovered that it wasn’t available on PS3. Similarly, earlier this year I got excited about No Man’s Sky, and went online to buy it, but to no avail. Both of these games received quite lukewarm reviews, so I didn’t feel too strongly about switching to PS4 just yet.

Then in August this year, I decided that my tolerance for FIFA 15 had expired. I play online, and since FIFA 2016 had been released the previous September, the game manufacturers had been systematically downgrading server access for FIFA 15 online games, making it very frustrating to play. I’ve written about it here. So, I would purchase FIFA 17 when it was released on September 30. Once I had made this decision, I did what I always do whenever I am going to purchase something for over €50: I try and find the absolute cheapest version possible. So I researched it a lot online, and found a way to save €10 (of course it was Amazon), but along the journey I also saw the features and details of the game countless times, and saw that although I could buy the PlayStation 3 edition, it would be very similar to the ones I had been playing for years. The makers of the game (Electronic Arts, who are renowned bastards) had stopped innovating for the PS3 version. If I really wanted to get anything new out of this game, I would have to upgrade to PlayStation 4. This, and the two games that I was denied in the previous year made me realise that it was time.

monkey2

At the start of September I started looking into buying a PS4. Within a few minutes I discovered that Sony had scheduled an online event for the following week, and it was highly anticipated that they would announce at least one new version of their console. I waited, and as expected they announced two new versions of the PS4: a “Slim” version and a “Pro” version. The Slim did all the things that the normal PS4 does, but was much smaller. I had never been a fan of the clunky original PS4 design, so this was interesting. The Pro, smaller than the original PS4 but bigger than the Slim, had much better gaming specs, could support 4k video and would be the best way to utilise Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Virtual Reality add-on. The Slim would be available on September 23rd and cost €299, while the Pro would be available on November 14th with a €399 price tag. All the details are summarised here below.

ps4

Slim or Pro?

Immediately after the announcement, the decision was simple to me. The PS4 Pro was for real gamers who value hardware specs etc., and the 4k support was irrelevant since I do not own a 4k capable TV. As a casual gamer, the PS4 Slim would be fine, as it did all the things I needed to, and was not as clunky as the current PS4 or my old PS3. Then I got thinking about my usage of the old PS3 over the previous almost 8 years, and I realised that I really did not know at all what I would end up using the PS4 for.

When I first had the PS3, I used it simply like a traditional games console: games, and possibly DVD’s or even fancy BluRay’s from time to time. After a few months, I realised that I could also transfer video files from my computer to the PS3 hard drive via a USB stick, and therefore watch (always legally downloaded) movies and TV shows on a big TV screen for the first time. In 2013 I figured out how to watch Netflix through an app on my PS3 (before it was available in my country), and this achieved the impossible: my girlfriend was motivated to learn how to use a PS3 controller. My old PS3 was a bit of an electricity hog, but between 2011 and 2015 (when I bought a Chromecast, which blew the PS3 out of the water in both capabilities and electricity efficiency), it was responsible for all audio-visual entertainment in my apartment: movies, TV Shows, and even games (when my girlfriend was asleep).

The point is, when I first received my PS3 back in 2008, I had absolutely no idea that I would use it for all the things I ended up using it for. And since I now knew that these next-generation consoles lasted quite long (remember that I have had the PS3 for almost 8 years), it was worth considering the future me in my purchasing analysis. I was not just purchasing the console for the Cian of today, but also for Cian next year, and 5 years from now, and possibly even further on than that. His needs should be accounted for.

I had to at least consider the PS4 Pro, and soon realised it was probably the better choice. The main selling point was its 4k capabilities, and while I didn’t have a 4k TV, future Cian probably did. I will buy a new TV in the next 5 years (probably just before the next World Cup), and it will most definitely be 4k capable. I will probably even know what 4k is by then. Buying a PS4 Pro would therefore be a gift to future me, who can benefit now and in the future from his shrewd consumerism. Secondly, the other main reason to buy the Pro would be to use its advanced processing capability to run the PS virtual reality headset from. I recently bought a Google Cardboard VR headset and am interested in the technology and software, and will be purchasing further VR items in the foreseeable future. The Pro would definitely be an asset in this interest. After consideration of these two factors, I decided to go for the PS4 Pro. It was €100 more expensive than the Slim, but over the course of 8 years or so, this was just €12.50 per year over the vanilla product. The needs of Future Me were probably worth that much.

Rational Consumer Behaviour

So by mid-September I had decided that I would opt for the PS4 Pro: the slick, sophisticated, future-proof product that would sit in my living room for most of the next decade. Then, in late September the PS4 Slim was released, and the release date (September 30) for FIFA 2017, the game that started this whole thought process, grew imminent. I had rationalised the features, I had rationalised the price, and I had rationalised the value over time. The one thing I had not accounted for was the time element, and specifically my ability to delay gratification. Remember I said that the PS4 Pro would be released in the middle of November? This proved to be the decisive factor in the decision making process between the two consoles. While I knew that the PS4 Pro would be better for Future Cian, Present Cian wanted a new console and to play a new video game that he had been waiting months for. The new console and game were available, and therefore I had purchased both of them (as cheap as I could find) before September was over.

I didn’t just make the decision impulsively of course. The deciding factor was that I saw Google were releasing a 4k capable Chromecast in November, and I had been meaning to buy a second one anyway. Literally within five minutes of seeing this information I had purchased the PS4 Slim, as I was looking for exactly this excuse. Even still, it is hard to escape the feeling that I have screwed over the Future Me by investing in an inferior product at a time when I was willing to spend money on such a thing, and could have bought a future-proof one that would probably be able to cope with most technological advances over the next decade. I did this just so I could play FIFA 17 six weeks earlier than I would have if I waited for the PS4 Pro. Psychologists would call this an inability to delay gratification, in economics we would call it discounting future utility. Either way, Future Me, with his 4k TV (plus knowledge of what 4k is) and abundant Virtual Reality accessories, is sure to be a bitter, bitter man. At the same time, Present Me doesn’t care too much about the needs of that rich, successful asshole and all his cool stuff.

Progress, Discrimination, and Brexit

 

It’s easy to forget, but Brexit was a big shock when the result was announced. What is more shocking is the effect it can have an our view of the world, and also the fortunes of individual British people.

You can tell I have had a lucky life, because I don’t think I’ve ever been any more shocked than I was when I woke up on Friday June 24th 2016 to the news that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. I had been following the referendum campaign closely, and had come to the conclusion that however close the forecast polls showed the result would be in the run-up to the vote, angry British people would come to their senses and opt to make the best of what they had with their relationship with the EU (or else not vote at all). On the evening of June 23rd I was actually writing a (still unpublished) blog while at the same time looking at the early referendum results. By midnight, Nigel Farage had conceded that the Leave campaign had lost, and all seemed right in the world, so I went to bed. When I woke to switch off my alarm clock at 7:30 the next morning, there was a news alert on my lockscreen informing me that the UK had voted to leave the European Union.

Waking to live footage of Nigel Farage’s face completely consumed by an all-conquering grin was not a world that I ever imagined, and that morning really had a surreal, out-of-body experience vibe, like an alternate reality showing us what could happen if we really wanted to shake things up in the world. There was David Cameron swallowing his own tears on live TV by 10 O’ Clock in the morning. There were people who voted “Leave” on TV saying how they didn’t know their vote counted, and there were the main people who were to benefit from the result – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – dodging questions and looking quite conspicuously like they had never wanted to win at all. Since that morning, history has been rewritten with the benefit of hindsight to portray the Leave vote as an absolutely inescapable inevitably ever since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. We have had time to get accustomed to the result, so now we think it was obvious that they would vote Leave. But not many people said that on that morning, or on the preceding few months of the referendum campaign.

I have to admit that I was deeply depressed for a day or two after the referendum. I was lucky as my job required me to research the causes, consequences and intricacies of Brexit all day, so being distracted by the news actually made me work more. While many things were depressing about Brexit, the thing that got me most was that it destroyed my idea of the world as a place that was continuously striving for progress. Although bad things may and do happen, from terrorist attacks and war to the financial crisis, there had always been a sense, despite reactionary forces, that society was dealing with things and was moving forward. Wars end, bad election choices such as the two-term George W. Bush era were inherently limited, and there was always the possibility that something better was around the corner.

Brexit was different, because while both campaigns had portrayed the referendum choice as very simple, and was worded very simply as a yes or no question, the ramifications of a No vote were vast, unpredictable, and absolutely irreversible. If the UK leaves the EU, Russia will be admitted to the bloc before the UK has any chance of getting back in. It will take decades for the UK to adjust to Brexit, and perhaps a century before the UK is ever seen as anything other than an isolationist, xenophobic dinosaur still in love with its glory days of empire. A simple question was asked on June 23rd, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a wrong answer. While the EU is far from perfect, it is absolutely undeniable that the existence of the union has made Europe a better place. The UK voted to leave this union, and decided to try and make it alone.

brexit

A Market for People

While there will be a diverse range of consequences for the UK and Europe, what is interesting to me is the effect of such a change in legal status on individual people. I am a labour economist, so I study the supply and demand for people in the marketplace of employment. Questions I research include the formation of wages, the strictness of employment protection, the effect of discrimination on hiring decisions, or the consequences of migration on the domestic economy. One of the founding blocks in labour economics is the wage (or earnings) equation, which shows the wages of an individual as a function of education, experience and other factors. If I have 6 years of third-level education (a Masters degree) and 5 years of work experience, I should theoretically earn more money than someone who has 4 years of education (a Bachelors degree) and 5 years of work experience. It is possible to isolate discrimination in the labour market is by aggregating a few thousand of these equations, and discovering that men and women (or black people and white people, gay people and non-gay people etc.) who have equal experience and education are paid differently. When you see a statistic that calls itself something like “the gender pay gap”, you should hope that they use this type of analysis, otherwise the statistic is useless.

Discrimination isn’t all about racists, far-right politics or sexists however. The most fascinating thing about discrimination is about how easy, and understandable, it can be.  Imagine you are an employer conducting job interviews, and have narrowed the field down to two candidates. Both jobseekers have equal education and experience, and have performed well at the job interview. One of them is a national of your country, and the other is from abroad. While the two look comparable on paper, there are certain unobservable differences: however fluent the foreigner is in the language of your country of operation, he/she will never be as good as a native speaker, and every few days a few seconds will be lost explaining some turn of phrase that he/she has never heard of. Over time, this would add up, and overall, it follows that it is much easier to hire the domestic candidate. While this is understandable, the decision was based on uncontrollable characteristics of the candidates, and thus is the dictionary definition of discrimination. In this hypothetical situation, the foreigner would need to be compensate for the language issue by having more education and experience than the domestic candidate to be even make it a difficult choice for the employer about who to hire. A compromise might be paying the foreigner (or woman) less, but that’s another story.

Brexit and Discrimination

The consequences of Brexit are very interesting when using this level of analysis. While we don’t yet know exactly what kind of a Brexit we will end up with, let us assume that Farage and Leave get what they wanted and end Freedom of Movement of People, and that the EU does not back down, and reciprocates with regards to British citizens in EU countries. Britons need a visa to work in the EU, and citizens of EU member states need a visa to work in the UK. In the previous pre-Brexit regime, UK citizens had the right to work in any EU member state and vice versa, but this right is now gone. Think of the wage equation in the former regime for a competition for a job between a British citizen in an EU country and another EU citizen in the same EU country. Let’s assume language isn’t an issue here as both candidates are non-native speakers, and both have the same level of the host country’s language. In the former regime, it would come down to further unobservable characteristics (of which there are many), but what about the post-Brexit case, where one of the candidates would require a work visa, while one doesn’t? If the two jobseekers are equally qualified, the obvious choice would be to take the uncomplicated road and go with the EU citizen rather than the administration required to hire a non-EU national.

What this case really means for British people is that on the continent, they soon will be in a situation where they will have to work harder to qualify for a job that in a pre-Brexit world, they would be instantly qualified for. In real terms, in the case of a hard Brexit, it means that the work experience and education of British people in Europe will soon be worth less than it previously was. British “expats” within the EU will see their human capital depreciate overnight, as they will lose their privileges to roam free in their continental playground. While this case may be familiar to Americans, Australians, and those from Asia, Latin America and Africa, those people are accustomed to this treatment. It’s going to be all-new to the post-Brexit UK.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Citizens of EU member states who apply for jobs within the UK will similarly see their human capital depreciate as a result of Brexit. The main differences here would be a) they did choose this situation, as the only people who had a choice in the matter were the UK voting public, and b) Citizens of other EU member states have 27 other countries to choose from, where they are free to work as if they were born there. Citizens of the UK will never have that option again. This is precisely why it is interesting: by voting for Brexit, the UK has set up a situation whereby it limits the freedom of its own citizens while at the same time degrading the value of their labour. The United Kingdom has voted in a resolution that will lead to discrimination against its citizens, and these citizens freely chose to do it.

Progress

The Brexit vote was depressing for a number of reasons: from a campaign point of view where both sides used variations of fear and hate to appeal to voters, and for the possible consequences of the UK leaving the EU. While there were legitimate reasons for the UK to want to leave the EU, these were not the reasons why the Leave campaign won. Leave won based on lies, hatred and ultimately the stupidity of the majority of British people in believing that there was an easy way to opt out of globalisation after decades of being deeply embedded within it. It was a vote against the modern world, and ultimately a vote against the progress of society. We will all get used to this new reality, but it is hard to see the future being great for the UK as a country and for all its individual citizens, who have all lost countless rights and privileges as a result of the vote. Inarguably, it is hardly a sign of progress when it is a fact that right now, while the UK is still an EU member, British people currently possess more rights than their children, or grandchildren ever will.

The Social Deconstruction of Physical Space (and Pokémon)

There is nothing interesting about the Pokémon in Pokémon Go. What is interesting in Pokémon Go is it’s potential to constantly, and randomly, apply new meaning to established physical space.

Introduction

I’m too old for Pokémon. In fact, I’m so old that I was too old for Pokémon back when it first got popular in the late 1990’s. It was the first genuine cultural phenomenon aimed at young people that I just could not relate to, as I was just slightly above the recommended age group. So I can name exactly one Pokémon: the yellow one called Pikachu. Nevertheless, a few days ago I found myself staring at my phone while walking down a leafy, residential street in Hamburg. This in itself is nothing unusual, except that my phone was directing me towards a certain location nearby where it thought a rare Pokémon might be hiding. I got close enough, and the image of the monster appeared on my screen. I just had to go a few metres of physical space more to be able to engage with it on my phones screen, and ultimately attempt to capture it for my collection. I looked up from my phone and realised that the location of my target was in the middle of a designated children’s playground. It was a sunny Sunday, so there were children running, laughing and playing all over the place. In order to ‘catch’ this Pokémon that I had been stalking for about five minutes, I would have to walk into the middle of all of the children, and stand there with my phone while I battled it into submission. After careful consideration, I put my phone away and walked home.

As I said, I don’t know anything about Pokémon, so it is not out of youthful nostalgia that I had downloaded Pokémon Go, it was merely out of curiosity. I am a childless mid-30s know-it-all that likes to pretend to be aware of all current and future popular culture phenomana as a desperate attempt to cling to my youth, so trying out this current Pokémon Go trend is practically part of my job description. The game isn’t great, and I haven’t played it in a few days now, and can’t see myself playing it much apart from when I am stuck waiting around somewhere with nothing to do. While I don’t like the game too much, I do however find the technology very interesting, as I have been following the development of augmented reality (AR) for several years. The use of AR in Pokémon Go is extremely clever, even fascinating. I say it’s fascinating because, like my experience above in the playground, Pokémon Go has the power to constantly apply new meaning to an established physical space. And this could be very, very interesting.

pokemon

Social Constructs

Many of the basic concepts we hold dear in this world we can broadly define as social constructs. Family, government, law, the economy, the country you live in: none of these things actually exist, they are simply modes of complex cooperation that have evolved over time in human history as things that work quite well. It’s generally a good idea for a man and a woman to raise children together, it’s generally a good idea that we have a set of rules that we all stick to so that we don’t all kill each other, and it is generally a good idea to have a few people in charge of everyone to make big decisions. There are lots of different ways to socially construct a society, but this is the one we have, and it’s difficult to imagine it any other way.

While these vague concepts are usually what we use to explain social constructs, what is interesting also is to explore the social construction of physical space, as you will find that it defines our world just as much as government and the economy. To badly misquote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the most important moments in history was when someone put a fence around a piece of land and said “this is mine”. People believed that person, and soon got to fencing in their own land, and now we live in a world that is absolutely defined by property rights. Respect for property rights is one of the essential founding blocks in the reliability of a nation-state (also a social construct of physical space, but that’s for another day). If the people within a country do not have faith that they can own their own property, then chaos will reign in that country. If you have ever seen the TV show Deadwood, that show is fundamentally about the absence, and possible but not guaranteed appearance, of the enforcement of property rights, and as a result society is brutal. An essential function of government, in the form of the police and judiciary, is to enforce property rights. So we have several social constructs whose job it is to enforce a fundamental social construct, the right to call a piece of land “yours”.

It’s not “yours”, of course, but you have a piece of paper from the government saying that it is “yours”, and everyone wants a piece of paper just like that, so it is in everyone’s interest if we all just play along in this grand game of pretend that we call civilised society. So yes, for the sake of civil order, everyone’s piece of paper gives him/her the right to do with whatever he/she wants with it, be it building a house, starting a business or leaving it completely empty. And by doing this, meaning is applied to this land that society has agreed is owned by the person who bought it and holds the deed issued by the government. If it’s a family home, the meaning is that it is the place where the Mulligans hang out, and this meaning is tempered by what we know of the Mulligans and how likely they are to appreciate outsiders coming on to their property, If they are friendly, and if they are likely to shoot trespassers. If it is a business, meaning is bestowed based on what the business is. If you open a bar, then people will feel comfortable coming in unannounced to sit drinking beer for hours. This is unacceptable in most buildings on earth, but because of the meaning given to that particular physical space by the owners of the socially constructed deed, we are comfortable that this behaviour is acceptable. No one even asks when they enter a bar whether it’s ok to sit down and drink a lot, they just do it.

Pokémon & Social Constructs

So getting back to last Sunday at the children’s playground in Hamburg, the reason I did not enter the playground was because of the meaning I had applied (through its social construction) to that particular space. It would have been inappropriate (and quite odd) for a lone man in his mid-30s to enter that space at that time. The interesting thing about this is that for a few seconds, while still involved in the Pokémon Go game, my interpretation of that physical space was completely different to everyone else around me. Through the game, I had applied new meaning to this space: it wasn’t a playground owned by the government to allow children a space to play, it was a free place in the world where a rare Pokémon happened to be.

If you look at the media attention that Pokémon Go is getting, you will see that this is the issue that crops up more than any other: the confrontation between different meanings and social constructs assigned to certain physical spaces. The most famous of these is the highly publicised story about the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC complaining about a lack of respect for victims of the Holocaust shown by those playing the game on the premises. I apologise for any offence, but to commit to my point I have to go there: the Holocaust Memorial is a building that is assigned meaning by those who own it. There is no real connection between that physical space and the Holocaust, its designation as a memorial was a conscious choice by the legal owners of the property, as after all it is located in Washington DC, far from any site associated with the Holocaust during World War II. The space’s official meaning is obviously more noble and powerful, but it is still a complete social construct, and the meaning Pokémon Go assigns the space in the form of a certain breed of Japanese pocket monster is no less objectively valid.

In a similar, although not as moralistic, way, a lot of stories about the game echo this clash between the officially socially constructed meaning of a physical space and the meaning ascribed from the Pokémon Go app. You see stories about homeowners becoming annoyed that people are hanging around outside their property in search of a fixed ‘pokestop’, you see photos posted on library doors telling people that they need a library card to come in and hunt Pokémon, and you read angry tweets about clueless old men attacking millenials for coming too far into their local dive bar to catch that elusive Meowth (alright, I know two Pokémon names). This isn’t where Meowth is, they could say, this is the place where I’m allowed sit and drink all day.

Conclusion

So this is where all the public interest in Pokémon Go is coming from: the clash between socially constructed reality, and augmented reality. The big question would be whether the game gets big enough so that its own designated meaning to a physical space actually begins to supersede the socially constructed official meaning of that space.  This is possible, as it has happened many times before in the form of religious sites such as Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, Mecca and Jerusalem. Completely exogenous events occurred in all of these places that ultimately ended up with a new meaning being applied to the physical space they inhabit. What is the difference between people flocking to a site where someone saw the Virgin Mary, and people flocking to the site where someone saw the rarest Pokémon? Objectively, there is no difference, but social constructs like tradition and religion may think they have priority in the matter.

What will be really interesting is when more augmented reality games appear, and each physical space gets assigned a number of different meanings to different people. To some people, that statue down the road covered in pigeon shit is a former mayor who lowered unemployment. To others, his statue is a haunting ground for an evolved Pikachu. For others, it was the place of death for a favourite character in an augmented reality mystery game they played. For many, however, it is and always will be the place that a hologram of Kim Kardashian appears and demands to take a selfie with them. That pigeon-shit drenched statue could just become the new Jerusalem, with several different factions struggling to have their meaning dominate the appreciation of that physical space.

Thus we have the social deconstruction of physical space, and it is obviously offensive to those that are of the opinion that they not only own a physical space, but also uniquely own the right to apply meaning to that physical space. This was always a fallacy, and it has taken a long time to challenge this perception. Pokémon Go just disrupted property rights.

“This isn’t where Meowth is,

they could say,

this is the place where I’m allowed sit and drink all day.”

Ancient Irish Haiku

A Pirate’s Life For Me

Prologue

A few weeks ago, Bollywood actress Kriti Sanon was on a flight to Delhi with her mother, and just so happened to peek in the direction of the passenger sitting next to her, who was watching a movie on his phone. She couldn’t help but notice that she was the star of the movie that her neighbour was watching, and she also couldn’t help but notice that it was her most recent movie, the big budget Bollywood blockbuster Dilwale, that he was watching on his phone. The problem here was that Dilwale had only been released in cinemas the previous week, and therefore the passenger sitting beside Ms. Sanon was obviously watching a pirated version of the movie, badly filmed from the cinema audience. She was annoyed, and did what any girl in her mid-20’s would do when annoyed: she vented on Twitter, posting a picture of the passenger to her (almost half a million) followers.

So, this guy, in the course of a plane flight was shamed online by one of India’s most popular actresses, all for simply watching a(n admittedly terrible copy of a) movie on his phone. This story stuck with me for a while, as I myself was at the time enjoying the spoils of this year’s DVD Screener season (a late December/early January online release of every movie hoping to be nominated for that year’s Academy Awards. The movie studios send DVD quality ‘screener copies’ to those who vote for the awards, and one of these always leaks online, meaning that it is possible to download a perfect copy of the years “best” movies often weeks before the movie actually opens in cinemas). I didn’t really see anything bad in downloading these movies: for one thing, I already had purchased a ticket to see The Hateful Eight in the cinema when it was released at the end of January, and I knew full well when purchasing the ticket that I would have seen it already by the time the ticket is validated.

It did get me thinking however. I am someone who keeps track of every movie I see, and by my Rotten Tomatoes reviews, I saw 75 movies released in 2015. I paid to see 9 of them, and of those 9, 2 were on Netflix and therefore included in my subscription plan, leaving me with 7 movies in the past year that I have paid to see as an individual product in a cinema. I paid around €85 to the movie industry in 2015, yet by their estimates the bill would probably run closer to €1000. Am I, and Kriti Sanon’s unfortunate airplane buddy, destroying the movie industry?

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What is a Cinema?

A movie is made, it is promoted, it is released in cinemas, and then a few months later it is released on DVD/BluRay/Digital Download for purchase. This conveyor belt model of a movies product life cycle is common knowledge to us all, as we grew up with it as part of our lives, yet really the truth is that the whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense. To us it is natural that a highly reproducible and distributable product like a movie remains available only for viewing in a few select physical locations for the start of its life cycle, and that a premium must be paid to watch this copy at that location.

For a very long time, this was actually true. Before TV, before video, before the internet, a movie theatre was the only place anyone could watch a movie. The building was a necessary physical infrastructure to any community, built big and expansive so that as many people as possible could fit in a room and watch the same movie. Obviously since there were so many people there, a social aspect developed, as well as the idea of a trip to the cinema being a classic ‘date’ event. For decades, cinemas held a monopoly in access to movies of any kind for the general public, and this was only threatened once VCR/video players reached critical mass in the late 1980’s. Since most high-end movie markets could now choose to watch movies at home, cinemas emphasized the social aspect of physically ‘going to the movies’, and differentiated the singular experience of seeing a movie as a large group rather than in your own living room. However, once DVD’s replaced VCR and HDTV’s replaced screen static with clear digital images, cinemas faced a new challenge: the home copy of a movie was actually better quality than the one shown at a premium in the local crappy fleapit. The social experience argument wouldn’t win this one, so the product differentiation had to come in the form of a switch in movie production from film to digital, and most abhorrently: the rise of 3D movies, an experience which (unless you are an idiot who bought a 3D TV) could not be replicated at home.

What A Cinema Is Now

So the humble cinema/movie theatre has come a long way in its existence over the past century: from acting as an absolute monopoly for many decades, to qualitatively differentiating its product due to the threat of competition, and more recently to being forced to invest in new technology in order to actually make the act of going to a physical location to watch a movie worthwhile, and perhaps even good value relative to the cost. Nowadays a cinema is merely a way to watch a movie, rather than the way to see a movie. If you want to see the movie in 3D, you pay a ~€15 fee, and you are ok with it because there is no other way to see it in that format. Plus, it is genuinely more enjoyable to see a movie with a large crowd of people (if that movie is actually entertaining). I have watched The Force Awakens twice now, in 3D and in IMAX, and it was worth every cent of the circa €30 in total I spent to see this movie.

The same could not be said of Spotlight, a film I had been looking forward to for a long time, and yet one I knew I would never pay to see in the cinema. The movie tells the story of a Boston newspaper that fights to unearth the culture of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. It’s obviously not in 3D. It was filmed digitally, yet the digital rendering would probably be crisper on an average HDTV than a large cinema screen. Therefore the only reason I would go to see Spotlight in a cinema was if I enjoyed the social aspect of the experience. I’m going to state this for the ages: I don’t necessarily want to be in a large room full of people who want to be in a room full of people who want to watch a movie about child abuse. The only reason I would ever pay to watch this in a room full of people would be if this were the only way to watch it, and due to the DVD Screener season, it obviously was not.

The pressing issue here is that in 2016, there are precisely two ways to watch a copy of a highly reproducible, highly distributable, new movie: either pay €10+ to watch it in public, or else download it illegally. Cinemas obviously are not the only way to watch a movie, they are a way to experience one: either through advanced technology (digital 3D, IMAX etc.) or the social aspect of seeing a movie in a large group. If this is the case, then the movie itself is not the product, and therefore cinemas actually sell their own specialised qualitative good (as well as expensive popcorn) that cannot be replicated outside their walls. If this is actually the case, then it follows that as well as being released in cinema on opening day, a good copy of the movie should be available to download online for a reasonable fee, directly from the movie distributor, free from the moral dilemma of piracy. The technology to price discriminate certainly exists, and it is only the industry power of cinema chains that maintain the antiquated monopoly power of their business model. I for one would certainly consider paying €5 to watch a newly released movie, especially without the threat of being unable to pause it in the middle to go to the bathroom.

Epilogue

There is definitely a romantic aspect to the cinema, we all remember the first time we were taken by our parents, and we all remember some iconic scene in a movie like Cinema Paradiso that celebrated the escapist power of a movie theatre within a community. What needs to be realised however is that even when most people reading this paragraph first visited a cinema, their business model was out of date. The movie theatre industry has been redundant for over 30 years, and has kept on going as if nothing has happened, as if it still owned monopolistic access to a movie for the first few months of its life cycle. A cinema obviously does have a product to sell, in its social aspect and high resolution 3D display, yet still it exists now as a slightly unnecessary middleman in the otherwise straightforward distribution of a single mp4 file. Some might say that it is unethical to engage in movie piracy, and that all should pay the market prices for a unit of entertainment such as a movie. The thing is, the market price for a product is dictated by the price and ease that product is available for, and therefore for example if it is a choice between paying €15 for a movie that starts at a specific time and in a specific location, or downloading a good copy for free and watching it whenever you want, the real market price is probably closer to €0 than it is €15. Something else must be inflating the cost, and it is probably worth the industry’s time in discovering what that something is. Answering my moral dilemma, in the wake of Kriti Sanons Twitter shaming of a man who didn’t want to pay to see her movie in a cinema: in a capitalist society, it is not the duty of customers to ensure the profit pools of an industry, it is the industry’s responsibility to adapt to a market disruption and find new ways to extract profit from its customers within the new business environment. Don’t blame the customers, blame the business model. We are already there, you just haven’t organised us yet.

Ideas & Institutions

One of the most debated and controversial economic policies of the 21st Century has been the concept of ‘trickle-down economics’. According to the theory, the unconstrained free-market capitalism of the super-rich will eventually lead to more investment, more entrepreneurship, and more jobs, and that these actions will cause the previously concentrated wealth to ‘trickle down’ to the middle classes and eventually the poorest of society. It argues that the current level of inequality in the world is a good thing, as the money is now concentrated in the hands of a few exceptional individuals who will use their business acumen to make the world a better place, in a way that no government could or should. Trickle-down economics reframes the current wealth gap as merely the starting point of a new age of billionaire-led growth and prosperity, rather than the more obvious analysis that would argue the wealth of the world is being sucked up by a new world economic elite. It is an undeniably attractive argument, backed up by easily understandable logic and explanatory metaphors, and it is no wonder that trickle-down economics has been trumpeted by politicians in the more unequal, capitalist-minded democratic societies such as the USA. Leave the billionaires alone, keep taxes low, and the rich people will shower money on everyone.

The problem is that there isn’t much evidence that trickle-down economics actually works. In fact, leaving the super-rich alone to do their own thing probably increases inequality, as the rich get richer but the money never quite seems to trickle down to the lower socioeconomic levels. The idea of trickle-down economics is perfect and watertight, yet somehow something happens when this idea is applied to the real world. Something gets lost in translation from the ideal of billionaire-led growth to the actual result of richer billionaires and a comparatively worse-off everyone else. This something is the fact that ideas like trickle-down economics are devised in a theoretical, perfect and unconstrained world, while in order to exist here on earth they must be implemented through the very real, very constrained and very imperfect institutions that disseminate and organise ideas to society as a whole. In the case of trickle-down economics, the idea was sound, yet the implementing institution was the complex and far from perfect entity known as “the economy”. The idea didn’t really take into account that very very rich people will do absolutely anything to save even a little bit of money, such as moving operations and factories overseas to save on labour costs rather than staying put and investing locally, yet in the real world institutions of national and international economies, these things are everyday occurrences. The idea was divine, yet the institutional reality was all too imperfectly human.

ideas

Yet still, when you watch an American news show where trickle-down economics is being debated, you will have conservative commentators touting the ideals of the concept, using metaphors of money raining down on everyone, from rich to poor, and how this is the way to a stable recovery from global crisis. Opponents will attack the concept with evidence from the real world with figures of more people falling into poverty, yet the response will always plead to the side of theory. This phenomenon is not limited to just this issue, but found all across the spectrum of societal debate. In this world, we defend things we like with theoretical ideals, and we attack things we don’t like with criticism of the actions of their institutions. When a politician speaks about democracy, he or she will speak about the ideal of every citizen having a say in who runs the country and having a voice, and not about the institutional and administrative nightmares that conspire to prevent real democracy in nearly every democratic country in the world. Yet when a politician, particularly in the United States, talks about communism, the discussion is about famine, corruption, and poverty: all the institutional failings that occurred in communist countries during the last century. The discussion is completely earthbound, there is no reference to the abstract ideals of Marx and Engels, but limited to simply dirty, human failures. Democracy is defended with ideals, and communism is attacked for its institutions. In a similar way, in the West, capitalism is defended through its ideals of giving everyone a chance to succeed, rather than how the concept is applied through our institutions. Socialism in the US is attacked not through such philosophical debate, but through quoting the high tax rates and entrepreneurship statistics of selected socialist countries. It is clear that we prefer debating the ideals of things we like, and the institutional the reality of things we don’t.

The most glaring expression of this mistranslation of ideas through institutions is probably in religion. When debating religion, care is taken to avoid attacking the beliefs of others, and it is acceptable to attack the actions of the governing religious institutions, while at the same time defending our own beliefs with ideals and abstract concepts. I’m sure there is no global religion that doesn’t have something worthwhile to say about humanity, and whose teachings don’t inspire a person to lead a better life. Setting aside religious mythology and world creation stories, the core ideas of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, even Scientology all give profound guidelines on what it is to be a highly thoughtful, sentient being living in a highly imperfect world, and how to make the best of the experience. How each of these ideas are beamed into reality by the institutions that govern each of these religions is of course something entirely different. Scientologists have organised their religion as a profit-driven Ponzi scheme, Judaism at the highest level is nothing more than a geopolitical bargaining chip, and the interpretation of Islam by certain splinter groups is quite diverse and harmful to the entire world. The institutions of Christianity have not been great either, with the corruption of the papacy and local Churches wielding much political power worldwide throughout the ages, and also the child abuse and paedophilia scandals that have finally ruined the reputation of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States and elsewhere. All of these religions started as some sort of moral compass in a world full of morally ambiguous life paths, yet all of them have been translated through human institutions as something harmful, to members and non-members alike.

Ideas are born in heaven, while their implementation down here on earth through imperfect, corrupt institutions is depressingly human. No idea, no matter how simple or innocuous is immune from the harmful effects of institutional mistranslation. Even atheism, with its core belief being an absence of belief, is an ideal that suffers when applied to the real world. Atheism simply rejects the idea of religion, and puts faith in scientific and societal developments as means to lead a good life here on earth, rather than believing in something supernatural that rules us all. Atheism says nothing about becoming a condescending asshole and mocking other people as stupid and unenlightened simply for having beliefs based in other religions, yet this is how atheism has often manifested itself in its (admittedly highly disorganised) institutional form. There is a disconnect there between the ideas and the institutional manifestation of these ideas, just as occurs when any idea is applied to the real world.

All ideas work in theory, all ideas are good in theory, and all ideas can be argued incessantly through theory. The problem with any idea occurs when it has to leave theory behind and become a reality in our complex and imperfect world, and it becomes subject to the petty and morally ambiguous whims of complex political and social institutions. In the same way we rationalise our own personal actions by our intentions while judging the actions of others by their outcomes alone, we champion our favourite ideas through theory, and attack conflicting ideas through their institutional failings. All ideas are perfect, and all institutions are depressingly imperfect. All of us in our lives forgive our favourite ideas for their institutional failings, while simultaneously ignoring the ideals of conflicting ideas and instead focusing on their failures in reality. The compromise position is admitting that no idea, no matter how theoretically perfect, can possibly translate perfectly into our imperfect world, and that institutions simply do the best they can to translate an idea into reality.

Just Passing Through

Zero to three times a week, for the past three years, I have been going to the same gym, located a mere three hundred metres from my apartment in Vienna’s 5TH District. I would describe it as the Ryanair version of what a gym would be: it’s cheap, it’s basic, it’s bright, it’s loud, and they try and sell you stuff at every opportunity. It’s cheap and bad enough that you don’t feel you have to go every day in order to get full value out of the subscription you pay every month. It’s a trashy place, and like Ryanair, attracts a broad clientele: on more than one occasion, I have not been able to enter the men’s changing rooms because there are other men taking selfies of themselves in the wall-length mirror that is positioned at the door. These incidents got to me so much that early in my relationship with this gym, I decided I wouldn’t go near the changing room at all, and just come straight from my apartment already changed, and afterwards go straight back and have a shower at home. This worked pretty well, apart from every now and again I would get some hassle from the reception staff for wearing ‘street shoes’ in the gym: apparently this gym required people to keep a special pair of €100 trainers just for use on their hallowed ground and should never touch the dirty ground outside their walls. These exchanges always went the same way: I would say I didn’t know about this rule, they would say I was ok for today but that I should remember next time, then I would apologetically agree, and we would part ways. This would happen every few months, exactly the same way, for over two years.

The reason I just would not abide by the rule was mostly driven by my own comfort, but also because I knew I would get away with it. The thing was, there never was a next time for any of the reception staff. I don’t know what kind of crazy contracts my gym gave to their employees, but every time I went in, there were two different people behind the reception. It was like they had a constant stream of young, smiling, body-obsessed people in the staff area, ready to throw on a uniform and send out to the general public to give advice on what colour Gatorade to drink on leg day. I really could not count how many of these clones I have seen on reception duty during my time at the gym, so if one of them tells me something that relates to something I have to do at a future time, I will always agree, and thank them for the advice, safe in the knowledge that we would never see each other again, and that my blatant rule-breaking could continue indefinitely.

About six months ago, something changed, as three visits to the gym in a row, I noticed the same guy working at reception each time. He was exactly the same as all the other identikit gym receptionists, but differed only in his consistency in the position, and this fact made a big difference. The next time I went to the gym, he was there, and to my horror he told me I had to bring a change of shoes next time. I agreed, apologised, and knew the game was up: from that day on, I have been bringing an extra pair of trainers to the gym, which requires a trip to the locker room, and all the selfie watching that this entails.

blogdrifter

So, all it took for me to respect the rules of that gym was the existence of a staff member that was more than just a nameless clone in the correct uniform. Now, I don’t know what kind of contract these receptionist workers were on, but by the ease of their entry and exit to and from the reception counter, I would imagine it is quite similar to other service industries like bars, restaurants and cinemas. These establishments don’t want permanent staff, they want a constant supply of low-paid workers, who can move on just as quickly as they arrive. They are jobs that both employees and employers treat as transient jobs, just something to get money on the side while striving to become something else. When someone says she is a waitress, often the next line is someone (or the person themselves) talking about what it is she really wants to do. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being a waitress, and it can be a surprisingly high-paid job. No, the main black mark against these service jobs is that they don’t really fit into the constantly rising career arc narrative that we are sold in this modern, consumerist, self-actualisation-obsessed society. Professional bar tenders, waiters, and even gym receptionists are hard to come by these days, and if there are any out there, they might find themselves having to explain their reasoning behind the career choice every time they meet someone new (unless of course, they own the establishment they work in). It’s one of the reasons why, even in a restaurant or bar you frequent constantly, you will not be surprised to see new faces behind the bar, or taking your order. These service jobs are full of people just passing through, on their way somewhere else, and employers are more-than-happy to abide by this view as it translates to lower wages and the absence of full-time employment contracts and benefits. There is skill and some kind of craft to all these jobs, yet their labour markets have allowed this to be sacrificed in order to create an extremely flexible labour force for the employer and the illusion of freedom for the employee.

This is something I have also seen slowly creep into the labour markets of higher-skilled jobs. On one side, there is the glorification of the freedom of freelance or contract work, but also there are constant articles in the media proclaiming that people nowadays switch jobs more than at any time in history, and this is portrayed as a good thing. The one common thread going through those points is that the value of tenure (staying at one company for a long time) is being undermined, and not only that: companies don’t want to hire you, they just want you to work for them. Freelancing is sold as the personification of freedom, a state of being where a professional chooses his/her projects, and performs them on his/her time. This is being done for a company that would otherwise have to hire someone full-time in a secure job, but now because of freelance aggregation sites such as Upwork they can simply define a project, throw it into the platform, and simply accept the lowest bidder for the project. The freelancer may be free, but is also earning less money, and has none of the security or benefits of a full-time job. The benefits of all of this seem stacked squarely in the favour of the employer.

I’m writing about this now because it does seem to be the future of employment: I wrote about Amazon a few months ago, about how they really just want people to work for them for a year until each employee burns out, and is then replaced. Labour markets are in an interesting place right now, as any employer with a bit of brains will try and outsource certain projects to desperate freelancers hungry for work rather than expanding the workforce. Especially in European countries, where employment protection legislation is strong, no company wants to hire long-term, as they are waiting a few years to see if they can get away with outsourcing/automating/contracting away all of their full-time employment commitments.  The value of tenure, of an employee staying with a company for a number of years, has been completely devalued in the modern labour market, as employers simply wish people to come in, do some work for them, and hopefully be replaced by somebody (or something) that is more (cost) efficient.

That’s not to say that companies themselves do not lose something from this devaluation of the value of long-term employment relationships. In fact, a company I worked for had an identity crisis on just this issue. The problem they had was that they were in the business of providing expert opinion and analysis, yet the turnover of staff was so great that not many of these ‘experts’ had been in place for more than a year. What was worse was that the company also exclusively hired employees early in their careers, so as to pay lower wages. In order to hide this, all employees were forbidden from posting on LinkedIn that they even worked for the company, in case any potential clients could do a quick search and find that the expert opinion they paid for would be provided by people in the job for only a few months. My employers at this time actively encouraged a work environment focused on using the company as a platform to launch a career elsewhere, yet they were embarrassed to reveal this to their clients, as it devalued the actual work produced by the company. Just like my gym down the road, lack of trustworthiness emanates from the lack of a consistent workforce. Companies don’t want employees, they just want people to do work for them. Yet these companies themselves probably would not trust or respect a company with a similarly low-tenured workforce. Most people who work in the private sector reading this will be affected by how this contradiction is resolved over the next decade.