Complexity and the Human Race

Most human beings crave and need stability, normalcy and predictability.  We want our job to be there tomorrow.  We want out kids to be successful.  We want our spouse to remain faithful in multiple ways. We want to know next year we will be able to take a vacation.  Hell we want our daily commute not be impended.


Throughout mankind there has been eras of huge change as the human race invents and innovates.  Prior to the late 20th and early 21st century the most previous episode was 100 years before.  The electric grid, telephone, indoor plumbing, etc. enabled the Industrial Revolution.  This caused the greatest migration in human history as well as millions of Americans trading in a farm life for an urban or what was early suburban life.  Of course the change was not easy.  Extended families became immediate families only.  Many people lacked the needed job skills and became unemployable.  Immigrants were not always a welcome addition and seen as taking away jobs that should go to Americans.  We've been here before even though the particulars are different.


The inventions of the time were not always greeted so enthusiastically.  Some considered the automobile and motion pictures the work of the devil.  Automobiles, horses and carriages didn't make for a good combination.  Some claimed listening to the radio would make a person deaf.


Moreover, with the dawn of the industrialized age there was ample opportunity for more power and accordingly ease of human exploitation and abuse. This of course started the movement of the Wobblies.  They were the original organizers of unions and civil rights.  It also ignited the federal government as the watch dog of the people.


Ultimately we suffered through a decade of great income inequality, a decade of economic depression and two world wars before a feeling of normalcy and stability returned.  In fact for the first 20 years after WW2 we craved, honored and expected it.  Being different was frowned upon.


The generational divide of the late 60s and early 70s was the chink in the armor of normalcy.  Suddenly we as a nation began to question authority and stated values and standards even if it was tilted towards the under 30 group.


Over the years technology advanced.  At first quite innocently, for example a computer now at work or one of the first desk tops at home which allowed you to nicely type papers, and not much else.  Over time technology became all encompassing.  By the late 1990s the Internet was completely changing how human beings communicated and interacted with each other. Technology changed the workplace.  Human thoughts were replaced by cold data.  Job skills changed from the ability to lead, manage and think to being able to understand programming, reading and organizing data.


Like the early 1900s this has caused great human discord but on a much grander scale because the same technology causing the anxiety magnifies it to a much higher degree.  People worry and with good cause whether human beings will have the ability to live peacefully when they can be so disjointing virally.  People wonder and again with good cause how in the world are they going to stay employed with skill demand changing so often.


In short, we've entered a period of upheaval and uncertainty and it doesn't fit in well with our natural discourse.  We crave stability in a world that is becoming more and more unstable by the day. 


In the many times before the human race adjusts, at least for a period of time.  However, as the old saying goes past performance is not always a guarantee of future performance.  Can we successfully adjust to a world in which to stay employed we must job hop every 2 to 3 years?  Can we accept a much more violent world in which crimes of horror can happen in the best of communities?  Will we be able to survive a world in which we are attached to others only in a viral sense?


The truth is no one knows. We are in unchartered waters.  We also have a world economy that is built mostly upon debt. What will happen if massive defaults occur?  How would we economically fare through a jubilee?


It's real scary times.  We might not see it clearly but all of what occurs is interconnected.  A young 19 year old man that guns down 17 of his peers is not a sole outlier.  He is a piece of a bigger puzzle we've yet to come to terms with. 


The last period took nearly half a century to concur.  Even at that the period of smoothness was very brief and still filled with uncertainty (the assassination of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the violence of 1968).  It could take another 50 years, some of those years filled with social revolts and revolutions to find an era of peace, prosperity, calming and assurance.  And even that again will be filled with the horrible and the unexpected.



Bill Kamps Added Feb 24, 2018 - 5:13pm
In short, we've entered a period of upheaval and uncertainty and it doesn't fit in well with our natural discourse.  We crave stability in a world that is becoming more and more unstable by the day. 
The last 70 years have been among the most stable we have seen, in the past several hundred.   Certainly much more stable than the 100 years that preceded them. 
It doesnt mean we dont have challenges.  It does mean we havent had world wars killing 100s of millions, the US didnt have a Civil War that was the most costly of all our wars, there wasnt a depression where more that 40% of US workers were out of work for a decade, we didnt have the Spanish Flu killing 50-100 million.
Yes there is the potential for problems, and some may be large, but over the past 70 years we have avoided problems like these.  Problems that were abundant during the previous hundred years. 
I think we are spoiled with the stability we have lived through, and the problems you see are small compared to the problems the generations before us lived through. 
opher goodwin Added Feb 24, 2018 - 5:43pm
George - you are right - we like routine and predictability. We like enough change to produce challenge. Presently we are swamped with change and that produces overwhelming stress and confusion. People feel left behind by technology and then feel incompetent. The wisdom of older people is devalued and they are treated with disdain. 
George N Romey Added Feb 24, 2018 - 5:48pm
Opher it’s also the overloading if information that overwhelms us. We aren’t sure what is real and what is fake.
Katharine Otto Added Feb 24, 2018 - 6:27pm
I've been working on an article about the industrial revolution, how it paralleled the founding of the US.  The Founders were all fascinated with technology and did what they could to promote it.
It's hard to be objective about our generation.  It seems the young people today have the same contempt for their elders as my generation had, but the complaints were different.  My generation thought parents too materialistic, but our parents were raised in the Depression so were afraid of not having enough.  Now it seems materialism is the new religion shared by all the generations.  
I'm not sure long-term employment is beneficial or even desirable.  I don't know how other people do it.  An advantage of being young is the adaptability.  Also the less you spend, the less you have to work.  Maybe we need to cultivate laziness.  It would probably make us healthier.
Dave Volek Added Feb 24, 2018 - 6:53pm
I would not want to be in the middle class in the year 1900. Life was a daily grind to make ends meet while enjoying only a few of the nicer things of life, like a vacation.
The middle class prosperity after WW2 was an aberration of history. It would be nice if we could continue it, and maybe we still can. But as long as we let political parties run governments.
George N Romey Added Feb 24, 2018 - 7:33pm
I’m not sure we can say we are happier. I’m fascinated by these television shows of people living off the grid. They seem to be happy with the most basic and simple life. It matters not to them whether Trump or Clinton would have won.
Complexity is against most human nature. Yet we are being forced to live with more uncertainty. Possibly like before we will adjust. My grandmother was born in 1899. She told stories of how her mother would hide if an automobile came down the road she was so sacred. That sounds unimaginable to us today.
Leroy Added Feb 25, 2018 - 2:04am
Work has certainly gotten more complex over the years.  It's hard to judge if it was just my company or all companies.  I suspect it is a little bit of both.  In the early days, everybody cooperated with each other.  There were a lot more people.  There was a department for everything.  In our small group, we had three secretaries.  We typically worked on one major project at a time.  Most of the work was within a hundred mile radius.  Because the American market was so different, the European masters left us alone.  The company wasn't that profitable.  It was featured on one of the late night shows in the early 90s as being one of the major companies likely to go bankrupt in the next century.  I guess that shook the company up.  The bean counters took over.  It was long overdue but it took the fun out of engineering.  There was a lot of focus on costs.  Work started to be outsourced.  Headcount was reduced.  If you had a bad appraisal, you were out.  If you weren't working on a major project, you were sent to remote locations where no one wanted to work.  If someone quit, they weren't replaced.  Fast forward to today, everything is contracted out.  Everyone became project managers.  You handle five or six major projects and are responsible for maintaining equipment dossiers.  The European masters took control.  There were procedures for everything.  Idiot decrees were issued, like requiring all machine noise levels had to be below 76 dB, about the level of a vigorous conversation.  Some factories had noise levels in excess of 80, yet, the way the rules were written, you had to meet 76 dB and prove that you did.  On the American side, we got creative and said we needed money to train someone to make the measurements.   For every project, you had to use standard equipment, even in the older factories.  I was threatened with dismissal for using the wrong width conveyors, the same size as the rest of the factory and the only size that would fit.  Rather than training people how to be a project manager, spreadsheets were developed and it became engineering by the numbers.  The focus became paperwork.  Meeting indicators became the prime objective.  You had to have weekly meetings with the manager as well as monthly meetings and monthly departmental meeting.  Managers didn't have time to produce the indicators, so management functions were distributed to members of the team.  You have people hitting you from all directions for information to fill out indicators or other management functions.  I was assigned to periodically review all projects for conformity.  It was the job of my boss's boss (the engineering manager), but he didn't have time.  You have the European masters contacting you continually for documents and information for their indications.  They send you a spreadsheet to fill out the details on how the project will be installed two years down the road and you are still trying to figure out what the project is about.  Then, you have these millennials who all want to be bosses sucking up to management.  Then they tell you to cut travel expenses.  They tell you that you can travel one way on company time, which is code for you must travel on your own time on the weekend at least for one way so that they don't have to compensate you (didn't anyway).  They suggest that you eat more at MacDonalds.  Now, you're traveling all over the world, and it is treated as a benefit.  When at home, you're pretty much on call from anywhere in the world.  Life got more complicated.
Flying Junior Added Feb 25, 2018 - 2:28am
You describe one helluva chase.  I'm sure it is a microcosm of modern times.  My life is much more simple.  But I did see big changes in the way that businesses operated just in the ten years preceding the explosion of the internet.  My first professional job was at KayPro computers.  Andy Kay invented the IBM compatible.  KayPro was known for valuing its employees and providing a stimulating and balanced work environment.  Famous actually.  Sadly, just a few years later they went out of business.  The next few computer jobs were still quite enjoyable.  The computer revolution was bringing a new era of control and accuracy to businesses.  We were setting up the high times of the 1990s.  Things began to change subtly.
Fast forward a few years.  Suddenly, everyone is replaceable.  You are only a valued employee if you are available at any time or any hour if called.  There was enormous pressure to get more work out of a smaller workforce.  Those at the bottom were treated to a hell on earth known as the electronic sweatshop.  And I got out of this rat race twenty-five years ago.  Even my new career soured after a time.
Now I just play music at a church.  It's not so bad.
Leroy Added Feb 25, 2018 - 3:57am
"There was enormous pressure to get more work out of a smaller workforce."
FJ, the motto today is, "More for less."  The idea is to get more out of a smaller workforce as you say.  Then there is benchmarking against competitors (which is a mystery).  Supposedly, we were 30% higher.  That puts you in the awkward position of having to tell your suppliers that they have to cut the cost by 30% or more.  We held their feet to the fire, even if we changed our mind.  Or, you redesign equipment so it costs less.  It's been highly successful in reducing the capital cost.  The only problem is that the plants have to dedicate a technician to babysit each machine.  Same old song; you can have it good, fast, or cheap--pick two.
Sounds like you are doing what you love.  That's great, FJ.  I've missed the better part of my son's life.  I am trying to make up for that during my downtime.  I'm six to eighteen months away from working again.  Now, I have to decide what I want to do when I grow up.
I started out as a Custom Electronics Design Engineer for a small company.  It was a lot of fun.  The owner like to fly and had his own plane in a hanger at the downtown airport.  He hired a mechanic to service small airplanes.  Then he had two technicians to service the avionics.  The third business is where I worked.  It was more of a hobby for the owner.  We did custom electronics.  We serviced Perkin-Elmer minicomputers over the Southeast to pay the bills.  We would get a call and an hour later we were on the plane and on our way.  Sometimes we had to land in cow pastures.  Nominally, I was in charge of the engineer(s), technicians, and co-ops as well as the avionics, but I didn't know beans about avionics.  Because I was long and skinny at the time, I was often called to do things in the tail section of planes.   I didn't always know what I would do each day, but I never spent a night away from home.  Life was simple.
opher goodwin Added Feb 25, 2018 - 5:55am
George - too true. Everyone has their spin. Nothing is as it seems. Reading between the lines is becoming harder by the minute.
Dino Manalis Added Feb 25, 2018 - 7:54am
We're complex beings, but should try to keep things as simple as possible!
George N Romey Added Feb 25, 2018 - 9:26am
I’ve seen finance change from a job that requires extreme business acumen and understanding to nothing more than a twit than can do all kinds of Excel functions . Since most companies today simply manage by what the spreadsheet tells them having a good business mind doesn’t mean squat. It’s how fast can your fingers fly over a keyboard. Executive management no longer has any balls and doesn’t want to make real decisions; rely solely on the data.
Everyday I mediate to the spirit of my ancestors to get me through these next 6 years until I’m 65. I’ll collect my SS and take up a couple of part time jobs that hopefully I’ll enjoy. I’ll withdrawl from this freak show of a world and laugh at the joke it’s becoming.
Bill Kamps Added Feb 25, 2018 - 9:42am
Dave, I would suggest very few people in 1900 took vacations, only the rich.  The rest were just trying to survive.
By almost any measure people are more prosperous, and healthier today than 100 years ago.  More people travel for leisure, more people are literate, have access to health care, the list goes on and on.  Travel for leisure happens to be one of the fastest growing industry, this could not happen if the middle class didnt have money to spend on leisure, the rich couldnt account for this increase in tourist travel.
That some people see the glass as half empty instead of half full, is their point of view.  If you really look at how the world lives now, compared to 100 years ago, you can only conclude that great progress has been made.  This includes governments. 
I contend that we are overloaded with the media telling us something is awful and not how it should be, and we therefore conclude that things are getting worse.  After all, there are no headlines telling us there was no world war today, only a few died from the flu instead of hundreds of thousands, no planes crashed, etc. 
It is not unlike my grandmother, who when she started to get tornado warnings, concluded tornadoes had increased in frequency.  The frequency was the  same, she just didnt know about previously.  
We know a lot more about the problems in the world than we did 70 years ago, therefore we conclude the problems are worse.   This is a well known phenomenon studied by leading behavioral scientists.  READ the work by Daniel Kahneman and understand how the reporting of bad news skews how we generalize. 
George N Romey Added Feb 25, 2018 - 10:00am
Happiness should not be confused with material possessions. Populations with the longest longevity are the ones that tend to lead simple lives with plenty of personal contact, laughing, and physical work. Moreover we increasingly are tying materialism to self worth. And we wonder why we have an adult opiate crisis.
Bill Kamps Added Feb 25, 2018 - 10:11am
George, happiness is largely up to the individual since it is a state of mind.  People can be both happy and unhappy in the same day, even though their general situation hasn't changed at all.   Having material goods doesnt make a person more or less happy, it is how people THINK about their material goods or lack of them that makes them unhappy or happy.  Again up to the individual. 
Longevity by ANY measure has increased over the past 100 years, even though our lives have gotten more complex.
If you focus on the problems in the world, that is what you are going to see.  If you take a more balanced look at things, you will see both the positives and negatives of the world we are in.  Mostly what we hear from you is a focus on the negatives.  They exist no doubt, but so do many  positives that didnt exist 100 years ago. 
Leroy Added Feb 25, 2018 - 10:17am
FJ, I read up on the history of KayPro.  Interesting company.  Sounds like he tried to make the best computers out there.  In the end, it was Death by Engineers.
Doug Plumb Added Feb 25, 2018 - 10:31am
re "What will happen if massive defaults occur?  How would we economically fare through a jubilee?"
The Jubilee eliminates the debt. Its gone after a Jubilee - not waiting to be collected.
George N Romey Added Feb 25, 2018 - 10:48am
How about Control Data that ruled the computer world in the 60s and 70s and claimed it was going to change the world for the better.
Bill you are still confusing material things with how people think. People tend to think linear, it’s the way in which we are wired. Today there are so many points of view each with their own set of evidence.
A few days ago I read a report on Zerohedge (I think) in which the author using the worker participation rate pegged unemployment at 24%. Now while I tend to discount that percentage I in no way shape or form believe a 4.2% rate. So what’s the correct percentage? Depends upon whose report you read.
See the argument now on guns made worse by the media dissecting it’s every bit of it. No wonder parents are becoming basket cases.
Flying Junior Added Feb 25, 2018 - 3:54pm
Too many Kays and not enough Pros!
I joined this industry during a golden era.  I worked for four companies that were doing groundbreaking work.  I found stimulating work even though I only had an A.S. degree.
The second one was STAC electronics, the developer of the various compression algorithms.  Eventually we were eaten up by the bigger fish, Microsoft.  RAM was prohibitively expensive in those times although storage was expanding rapidly.  People shy away from compression software today.  Too many Unrecoverable Application Errors I guess!
In about 1990 I worked for a small company that created a similar product to Adobe Type Manager.  I'm sure Adobe Systems was a stronger organization.  We lost the all-important Microsoft contract for expandable WYSIWYG typefaces.
My last job was working the help desk for ENCAD.  This company is still thriving.  They create a variety of products today including robotics.  Originally, they manufactured pen plotters and inkjet plotters of a similar quality those of Hewlett-Packard.  The plotters were built right here in San Diego which is difficult to believe.
Good luck in your future endeavors.
Jeff Michka Added Feb 25, 2018 - 6:30pm
Too many Kays and not enough Pros! Ah...Kaypro made my first personal computer, and it was great.  Pre MSDOS, a CP/M system, but it was still okay.  Portable and seemingly well-built.  Good one on ya, FJr...My first MSDOS syste, was a Kaypro desk top, much like the IBM equivs.  Still have it, though not been turned on for 30 years.  It worked still right before it was stored.
A. Jones Added Feb 25, 2018 - 7:46pm
 Prior to the late 20th and early 21st century the most previous episode was 100 years before
Such clear, elegant prose. God, I love your posts, Romey.
Flying Junior Added Feb 25, 2018 - 9:16pm
Hey Jeff,
Even in 1989, we still had customers that loved their old Kaypro IIs.  One guy even installed a little, red reset switch.  They were built so tough, the legend was that one time Andy Kay dropped a couple of the old CP/M machines off of the loading dock and they kept on running.  They ran WordStar and Peachtree accounting software.
Jeff Michka Added Feb 25, 2018 - 9:32pm
the old CP/M machines off of the loading dock and they kept on running.-I had one of mine come off a desk and hit the floor and still worked.  Loved they came with all the software you needed, even if the OS was CP/M.  Portability and overall ruggedness made them wonderful machines over time.  Cool wiring up a red button for reset...CRTL-X/CRTL-C a way of life in CP/M.  I can see a Kaypro being a machine a fan would use into the late 80's.
Katharine Otto Added Feb 25, 2018 - 9:34pm
I haven't heard anyone mention KayPro in years.  My first computer was a KayPro.  I didn't know about Andy.
A. Jones Added Feb 26, 2018 - 12:11am
But Romey, what about the most previouser industrial revolution that occurred after the more latest of the others one (that ones and those one), next to the more lastest before the secondary first? Huh??? What about that ones? I'll bet you can't answer that! I dare you!
Jeff Michka Added Mar 1, 2018 - 7:36pm
KO notes: I haven't heard anyone mention KayPro in years.  My first computer was a KayPro.  I didn't know about Andy-Wow, so you are another that got started in "The Golden Age of Computing," much like Monty Python's bit about "The Golden Age of Ballooning."  Andy Kay was quite a character.  Put personal into computing, IMO.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 3, 2018 - 11:13pm
George,  re:
"Most human beings crave and need stability, normalcy and predictability. "
This human does not.  To me normalcy is average. Predictable is uninteresting. Stable, I like that.
"We want our job to be there tomorrow.  We want out kids to be successful.  We want our spouse to remain faithful in multiple ways. "
With you on that, but what do you mean by successful?
"We want to know next year we will be able to take a vacation."
Not here.  For most of my life no.  I just wanted meaningful work. i felt if I could get that i would not need a vacation. Although it took a few decades for the faults in this premise to made clear, that IS what I thought. NOW, I want my vacation. Of course, now I would like to stop working for a living.
 "Hell  we want our daily commute not be impended."
Nope, not here.  When I see someone that needs help, or someone that I have not seen in a long time, someone I enjoyed very much, I am happy to interrupt my commute. It reminds me of my priorities.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 3, 2018 - 11:16pm
George, re:
""Hell  we want our daily commute not be impended.""

I was going to work the other day in Phoenix and I saw an immateur
Golden Eagle, in downtown Phoenix. I immediately took an exit, got out my binocs and soaked in as much of that sublime beauty that I could.
I was happy to have my commute impended. Golden Eagles, impend away. I am at your mercy.
Jeff Michka Added Mar 5, 2018 - 9:31pm
Most human beings crave and need stability, normalcy and predictability. "
This human does not.  To me normalcy is average. Predictable is uninteresting. Stable, I like that.-But I bet you crave acceptance and membership in "your tribe," right Mustafa?

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