Credit: the always-amazing Instagram account of Alexandra Valenti.
Here is something I think about a lot.
Is it better to have a body-centric job, or a mind-centric job?
I wonder about this because (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere before) my creative brain is basically divided into two halves: the writing side, and the movement side.
During times of physical stillness, pregnancy for example, I list far over to the writing side, and become a little story pitching machine. Then, the gears shift, a baby is born, and I swing back to the aerial dance side.
Rarely, if at all, do I devote absolutely equal energy to the two.
Anyway, I’ve been a freelance writer for almost two and a half years now, which is actually the longest I’ve had any job. Since my early 20s, something always happened around the two-year job mark that made it impossible to go on: the gears ground down, I got tired of the work, and subsequently tired of myself. I’d bitch and whine to whoever would listen, develop a growing sense of inauthenticity, then chastise myself for being ungrateful that I had work at all. Then a client would send me a passive aggressive email, I’d mentally punch them in the face, and the whole gross process would start over again.
The clouds parted, I became a freelance writer, and I don’t have those feelings anymore. I totally, unabashedly love my work, and when I hit the three-year mark I’ll buy myself balloons and send all my clients gushy thank-you cards.
So when I look far off into the distant future, I think, “writing FOREVER! This is how I shall earn my keep. Forever.”
Until, that is, something like this happens – in 2012! – and I think…”uh oh.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve been knee-deep in aerial stuff, or maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much Black Mirror, but I have this growing suspicion that in the future, professional pursuits involving the body, rather than the wits, may be the way to go.
Now, we should probably stop right there and establish that the mind/body dichotomy is a false one. Everything involves both all of the time.
Still, though. I have mostly a speculative, but somewhat substantive, fear of the digitization of jobs, including my current one. Ross, my husband – a music teacher, I might add – says that’s silly.
But, Bill Cosby (stay with me here) couldn’t have predicted the Internet. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, all the men whose past sexual sins are now coming to light, just didn’t know that we’d have these crazy machines in the future. Machines that would give us an audience, shift the balance of power, and enable us to tell anyone’s secret that we wanted to.
Which is all to say (in very bizarre fashion) that even though robots doing our jobs sounds like Jetsons stuff, maybe it’s not so nuts after all?
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Algorithms can deduce and replicate patterns. (I think.) They are predictive in a way that white-collar professions, especially those in tech or finance, also are. Tech/finance folks are also extremely innovative, of course. But they are diagnosticians, studying trends and predicting the future based on information that they have today.
Now, I do not know HOW Narrative Science (robot doing my job in the future) “automates” stories. But I believe it extrapolates from data, and rarely do their stories make mistakes.
But when you perform a body-centric job, especially if it is performative in some way…it is the small mistakes that makes things delightful.
Can you write a code for “human” mistakes?
I don’t think you can.
And this is what gives me pause.
Often, in this culture, we view performers, teachers, caretakers, yogis, etc. as idealists, rather than savvy business folk. At least I do. I think: “now, how long can you reasonably keep doing that? How long until your body gives out? Maybe find a job that you can always do even when you’re tired and broke-down, hippie artist person?”
But in the end, will hippie artist people who use their bodies for work have the last laugh?
Especially if it turns out that we can keep on using our bodies a lot longer than we think?
As it stands, I make a lot more money writing than I do for aerial work. But maybe that won’t always be the case. I guess my central question is: if info gathering and its attendants (data interpretations, trend projections, “narrative generation,” etc.) becomes cheap and easy work to perform, and is thus devalued, will the human touch become more rare? More valuable?
Will we be so sated by accuracy, that we start craving human slip-ups? Or at least the potential for slip-ups?
The sung note just a hair off-key…the flash of uncertainty in a teacher’s voice…the guitar string that snaps…the dancer’s foot with one funny, funky, unpointed toe – will these be our gems?
What is the work that you absolutely, cannot, never ever digitize?
That is what I’m wondering.