Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

Thankless Jobs

2010-11-20 12:43:50
Shortcut URL: http://t.conquent.com/8C00

There's the old adage about plumbing -- nobody cares about it until they get covered in shit. Turns out a lot of us have jobs that, so long as everything goes right, nobody even notices, but as soon as something goes wrong, all hell breaks loose.

I was going to rant about my profession, in particular. Web servers are constantly under attack, both from malicious Russian mobsters and the vagaries of people and technology interacting -- and you never get praised because it worked, only vilified when it failed.

But as I got to think about it, our entire society is built on people quietly doing their jobs to keep the rest of us from trouble, disease, and death. Sure, there's that Discovery Channel show, "Dirty Jobs" where we see the people who clean out sewers or kill rats -- just so long as it looks really gross on TV.

Unfortunately, there are all sorts of white color jobs that are so incredibly boring that would make lousy entertainment even by today's standards of reality TV. Doing the math to make sure a bridge isn't going to fall down. Enforcing regulations so chicken feed doesn't make hens lay salmonella infected eggs. Researching and understanding the effects of a new investment scheme before it destroys Wall Street and the housing market.

Of course those are all examples where people didn't do their jobs and we got covered in shit.

As I get older and my curmudgeon genes continue to gain dominance, I'm trying to make sure to separate the knee-jerk, "Things are getting worse" old-man response from the fact that the world is fundamentally different than it was 50 years ago. And I think one thing that is definitely different is that the world is a lot more complicated.

I'm sure you can describe the basic method that a physical greeting card gets from your front stoop to your family for Christmas -- a human being picks up that card from your mail box. He or she takes it to a building where people and machines physically sort the mail for what city it's going to. Then the card goes on a truck or a plane to that city, where people and machines sort the mail for what human being gets to carry it to your loved ones' door.

Now, explain to me what happens when you hit Send on an email. Wait, first, explain to me where the very words you're typing are as you type them -- if you're using gmail or Hotmail, you don't even know where your "front stoop" is that starts the journey of your email.

Think of all the software, all the computers, all the wires, all the regulations for those wires, all the companies that your email passes through on its journey, all ways your email might accidentally be copied or routed through China,. Think of all the people who have to do their jobs just right every day to make sure you get your email.

And that's just how sending a letter has changed. There are millions of people doing thankless jobs that didn't exist even 10 years ago, making sure the plumbing of our society keeps clean and doesn't back up all over us.

And if I'm right, fewer and fewer people can actually articulate what's important to watch and maintain, and when those little things we ignore suddenly surface (like "monetized mortgage funds"), we don't even have people who know how to turn off the flood of shit that ensues.




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