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My New — Fruitful — STEM Hobby

(Image credit: Erik Furulund, CC PDM 1.0)

I wonder who’s going to see this.

Yes, we have no prompts today! I looked them all up, I looked them all over . . . I considered them all. I had a funny idea of using them all in an alternate title to this post, and then just freestyling the rest.

It would be a shameful play for more reads, more eyeballs on my post. But shouldn’t I let that happen naturally? I decided that today, I will go prompt-free. Bold.

I’d rather talk about my latest passion-project: promoting the production, and packaging, the excretions of microscopic fungi for future consumption. How exciting, to bring so many worlds together! It’s like cooking food for billions of pets, most of which do not yet exist; then you throw a relatively small portion of the end population right into the food and check in on them frequently as they feed and multiply and excrete over the next three to four weeks. When the food runs out, they all go to sleep. Then you move all that fungus-pee to a different vessel, and wash all your pets right down the drain.

It’s like a science experiment!

Then you throw in a little more science. You see, it’s not easy to actually move all of that end-product exclusive of your prized pets — you know, the ones you washed down the sink. A few may be left stranded behind, and the last thing you want now is to have them start the experiment all over; after all, you’re past that step. So you add a few minerals to make sure they can’t do that anymore. Then you sweeten it up a touch.

Then you drink it and get all kinds of fish-nickered!

Of course, I haven’t had a chance to drink any of my mead yet. Well . . . not technically. You see, every time I rack a batch to a clean carboy it leaves some behind. The lees, which is not what we want, with a thin layer of mead on top. So every time I try to finish siphoning off that liquid with just the tube into a glass so I can try it. My first few batches, being based on a basic recipe, were somewhat harsh on the alcohol flavor. That ages out; they say that mead needs to age 6 months to a year to mellow out and whatnot. But when I hit my fourth batch I discovered something interesting: If you use juice instead of water, the product is drinkable almost right away.

Science!

My fourth batch, I’m so proud of it. So delicious that when I couldn’t get the last of the liquid separated from the lees I drank the whole thing. No regrets. Now I’m doing all kinds of crazy stuff. Making hooch. Looking at recipes by people who do it cheap. So often nowadays I find myself wondering, ‘I wonder if I could ferment that?’ Or thinking, ‘I could definitely ferment that.’

Batch 5 is just about done, and I do believe I have a new crazy experiment in mind for batch 6, a recipe called Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead.

So if anyone is wondering what I’ve been getting up to while letting my blog languish, wonder no more. Making wine is only the latest thing I’ve taken up, but it’s fun and takes a lot less work than one might think.

And it’s science. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Out of the draft box, Part 3: Haiku Today 2015.10.24 —

Ironclad
(Image credit: Rob Ross [that’s me!])

Ironclad —
a pact between waters
of Earth and sky


The gray autumn sky chills. It’s full of reminders of things we have yet to do –– things left undone. It’s packed with guilt and frustration; it hangs around like a guest who’s worn out their welcome, chilling us to the bone. Consuming the warmth of summer as quickly as it came. It hangs heavy on my heart and weighs on my mind.

The gray autumn sky comforts -– it’s a looming alarm that says, “time’s up, buddy. Whatever you had planned, you may as well shelve it. You’ll have plenty of time to make it even better than you had hoped. So put on a pot of coffee, some slippers, and your hoodie. Play some video games. Dig in, stay warm. It’s not the end of the world, or else I would not be here.”


Here I am again, taking stock of what’s left in my draft box. Just one more after this, and I’m going to have to work that much harder to turn the purse of my mind inside out; and it may look, for all I know, like a TeeTurtle with the same question mark and dubious smile on both sides.

My instincts tell me that I still have much to tell and stories to unfold, I just have to get after them. And even when life and work and all things seem like a huge cluster . . . bomb, I intend to find the time to make it happen. After all, I have been known to be a time thief. 😉 The time is coming for me to take stock of all that is overwhelming in my life — for it’s been so good for so long that the load is getting ponderous.

I remember a time when life flowed more quickly. Moving here, moving there. Not having the kind of discretionary funds to do much more than live day-to-day and cobble together my hobbies as cheaply as possible. Things were simpler, and less of a hassle. Now I take stock and everything I see looks like something all-too-neglected . . . every skein of yarn I thought I was going to turn into a pair of socks or whatever; every exercise widget and gadget that’s rarely used in my fitness regimen, such as it is. Books. I haven’t read a book in forever, it feels like — and yet I still own quite a few of them, some of which will only be taken from me when I am dead. Clothes that no longer fit. Clothes that I’ve never really worn.

I’ve been ramping up to this: building up the temerity necessary to start going through and whittling it all down — mercilessly working to get things down to a manageable level. I feel like it would be great if I could take time off from work to do this, but unfortunately that is not possible at this time because . . . well, COVID.

So there’s the elephant in the room that I didn’t want to bring up, because it’s a little too on-the-nose. But rather than hide out at home or find new ways to make money to avoid contact with the public, I live life boldly by serving my community in a capacity that often feels underappreciated. I personally feel underappreciated by those above me in the chain of command, and yet I do this not because I feel a need to be appreciated; indeed, if I ever had this particular need I was disabused of it a long, long time ago. But thanks to COVID and the omicron variant now making its rounds through our facility I have all this vacation time saved up that I am unable to use.

So here I am, putting all my plans on the shelf as staff shortages rise once more. Delaying the inevitable, but not for much longer. I’m going to clear out the clutter and find myself somewhere therein, turning the gray skies blue once again.

Image credit: U.S. Army Europe, CC PDM 1.0

“Strap on those boots, soldier.”

Where did the horror go, anyway?

(Image credit: rtaylor111, CC PDM 1.0)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” That is the first line of what is likely my favorite from a long list of works by an author so well-known in my lifetime that in my mind, he carries this torch. Genre fiction author Stephen King — best known for his horror, but indeed he has touched so many genres it’s not fair to pigeonhole him as a “horror author as such” — is someone that inspires me, and not just because he wrote some books that I have enjoyed.

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of this guy. People in my high school classes would remark that I came in with a different book every day, and that’s largely due to King. I devoured his works. I kept a list of his novels, which ones I’d already read, and I visited local libraries frequently to try to score the ones that I hadn’t gotten to yet. I wrote a few fan letters, got a few form letters back in return . . . I get how that works. No big deal.

When I read his nonfiction book On Writing, that’s when I got a real window into who the man was. I mean, he never left us lacking for insight in the forewords and afterwords he wrote in his novels, and I always read those too. King was one of those authors who could make a connection to the Dedicated Reader with just a page or two of his own sincere words, and so I anticipated with On Writing, I’d get more of that with some amazing advice about writing . . . and a good sense of how the indefatigable King pumped out work after work, winner after winner.

It turns out, however, that On Writing was part autobiography, talking about King’s early years writing, as an English teacher, coming to terms with alcoholism (having written some of his best works on the bottle,) and once getting past that it seems he didn’t skip a beat but kept on going. The man was hit by a van and almost died. I almost gave up hope on the chances that King would live to finish the Dark Tower series, the one that began with that line about the gunslinger chasing the man in black. Not only did he come back from that but he kept on writing. Took that lickin’ and kept on tickin’.

These days, it feels like the horror genre as I knew it has slipped out the back door. It’s not what it used to be at its zenith, and sometimes we get a taste of the old days in film and tv, but King still writes stuff that speaks to me even if people still treat his old stuff like it’s camp. Not that I’ve picked up a book in the past decade. Having the opportunity to do that while operating in the modern paradigm . . . that’s unfathomable to me right now. But I do listen to audiobooks, and so the written word is not entirely wasted on me; these days I can pump those words right into my earholes while I’m busy adulting.

So yes, I still admire King. I admire that he’s still out there telling stories, even after all he’s been through. And even if one day he gives up that torch, it might well be taken up by Joe Hill: an author in his own right, and not just King’s son.

At the end of the day, I want to tell stories too. I’m not sure if anyone will think they’re worth paying for, but sometimes that’s not what it’s about.

Sometimes you just have to explore.

(Image credit: sjpowermac, CC0 1.0)

Out of the draft box, part 2: Haiku Today 2015.11.17 —

(Image credit: Eric Huybrechts)

fading ages,
protruding via
tenuous
pockets of space-time
grown cool . . . bitter . . . thin.


January 3, 2022

This is an easy one to knock out. A haiku which felt unfinished, and no longer relevant today. But I breathed some extra room into it — made it tanka — and felt the icy ping of cold air, as I finished it. The original text I’d composed for this photo went:

Faded ages,
protruding
through holes in time

Of course, at the time this was written as a draft and I meant to come back to it. For six or seven years I’ve meant to come back to all of this in some functional way as I struggled in my manufacturing job for fair treatment by my employer. Fair for me, fair for my coworkers, some of whom I still feel don’t make enough even though I haven’t worked the plant since September of 2017. I’ve meant to return to all of this as I worked retail in the interim, as a hardware department floor associate at Menards — as I transitioned to a career in the law enforcement sector, serving my community for real this time.

And the Interwebs and all my readers have been so patient all this time. I’ve had things to resolve, and I’m not even sure I’m all the way through this process as I still deal with some of the hangups I’ve collected throughout my life. Yet here I am, presuming that I am ready to insinuate myself into the blogosphere once more . . .

Is this really a new dawn, or just a waft of scant inspiration? There have been some false starts, of course. It reminds me of quitting cigarette smoking, only in reverse — I had to try several times before I could quit permanently. And yet . . . there have been relapses. So is anything really permanent?

All this to say, I now have this design to pick up my writing once more, but I know I can’t go back to what I was doing before. That’s why I’m cleaning out my draft box. I need to figure out a new direction, or at least create a new plan if I want to go long-term again. I don’t think I will ever say goodnight to this blog, though I’ve considered it before; but I’d love to find a new groove and get back to writing.

I’d love to write more flash fiction for you! 🙂 🙂 🙂

What I wouldn’t do for some bargain-basement inspiration right now . . . I’m so thirsty I just know I would soak it all up like a sponge, and I feel like once I get some momentum I should be able to maintain. I’d build new suburbs of sweet script, neighborhoods of knack, communities of composition — cul-de-sacs of content! And I’d erect it all, block by block right here on WordPress. I can surround and obfuscate those cryptic, monochrome bones with my inspiration. . . .

Then I can forget that they’re still there, and there they will always be.

And in other news, in case we need to know: robssurfreport.com is back.

Out of the draft box, part 1: Haiku Today 2016.04.20 —

(Photo by Mahir Uysal, CC0 1.0)

A chill mist
pervades this frigid heart
of battered stone


Sometimes it feels like life has a habit of pulling me along with a string, moving me one way or another along this linear direction. Occasionally I will go, “I’m going to try this, and then before I know it I’m in so deep I’ve dropped everything else and forgotten where it is I came from, like it never mattered. 

. . . or maybe I can be obsessive — maybe that’s the more accurate way to put it; and to find myself in a reclusive, self-interested fog seems to always be the primary clue that I’ve gone way too far from where I’d like to be. 

A fog is just a cloud of particles that move in this lazy way; they hang around with no real intention, and when moving they tend to slink and creep, not having the coherence to withstand the slightest breeze. That dearth of energetic motion promotes further energy losses; by which I mean that it has this tendency to bleed over into the soul of one enveloped within that chill fog — a vampiric effect that “puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills . . . ” than to change.

Emerging from a fog of frustration, of self-enmity and frivolity, is like coming out into the first warm day of Spring. It’s not the doom of gloomy days, but could be herald of what’s to come if I can stay the course and keep a solid heading. 

After all, who knows what adventure waits around the corner?


January 02, 2022

Holy smokes, that was almost six years ago. I pulled this one out of the draft box and generously edited for language, trying to keep the content while trying to not leave too much cheese behind.

My goal here is to dig all four drafts out of my draft box and start anew. I know my last post was heavy, and I won’t apologize.

It needed to be.

Things have eased up a little bit in the interim, but those challenges remain and are often exacerbated by the most imaginary slights. Attempting to feel supported and appreciated in a milieu where appreciation is rare and support should be a call away but sometimes feels remarkably extinct is challenging, and may require some self-adjustment. After all, I may be part of the problem. I can admit that.

It’s a new year now, and while it might sound like a cliché to say it’s a time for new beginnings, I can’t think of a better time than now to figure out how to rediscover the mental headspace I inhabited back when I was posting regularly. A new beginning, this far down the line. After all, you can go bankrupt what . . . every seven years? What’s the statute of limitations on rekindling the light of optimism, of chucking all the emotional debt and starting over from scratch? And regardless of the (largely subjective) answer, how is that even accomplished?

I intend to figure that out. I will clear out this negative clutter, and find the dusty corners. I’ll sweep them out and set lamps to light them. I probably can’t commit to writing here daily, but I should probably do it a lot more. We’ll see how that goes.

I am the medicine man. I will make the medicine if I have to sing, dance, chant, and call to the heavens to make it happen. I don’t have a grass skirt but I do have some fine kilts. Maybe I’ll have to swap the tropical beaches for some snowbanks. Combat boots instead of bare feet.

I know, it still sounds amazing. 🙂

(Image by Frank Schulenburg, CC0 1.0)

Bottling lightning

Lightning strikes
Image credit: Rob Ross (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The last few days in my land have been marked by brief, yet intense summer storms. The lightning that laced the orange sky was so frequent as the storm receded that both Mme. Ross and I tried to get pictures of them, but our efforts were met with very different levels of success. Mme. Ross has a consumer-grade DSLR camera to work with, while I have my iPhone, and I think that might have had something to do with the speed of her success. I held the camera still and snapped hundreds of photos as electricity zipped across the sky, calmly trying to track the explosions of ancient wars across the whole my view, only being able to catch a quarter of that view at a time and so hoping that I was not shooting a dark section while another was lighting up.

Lightning is quick. The whole thing occurs in the fraction of a second, so if you’re not close enough to be struck, then by the time you see it it’s already gone, and that’s the challenge in capturing it. As the arc is formed between the sky and ground, the air column in its path is transformed into a plasma — the electrons stripped from the oxygen molecules, making that column a conductor. The light of the arc begins travelling toward your eyes at the speed of light. The heat of the arc causes the air around it to explode thunderously. As the light travels in a wave toward the sensor of a camera, the options for capturing a pretty picture of a lightning strike come down to quick timing.

With fancy cameras it’s a very attainable thing but when you’re shooting with an iPhone you enter the realm of probability. Hundreds of shots, I think, are likely to yield at least one good photo. Because as I noted while going through those shots, deleting all the lookalikes as I went, when you’re too late you mostly come up with phantoms: large fields of diffusing purple light. Less frequently you get the arc in its full brilliance and it washes out the camera sensor because in all reality, it’s only an iPhone. Fancy phone, ho-hum camera (in the grand scheme of cameras, I mean.)

Like any wave, you have to time it just right.

In hundreds of shots, I got two hum-dingers. It was so worth it.

 

Lightning strikes
Image credit: Rob Ross (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Looking for something to do with that fancy-schmancy camera and/or phone? Check out the Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge.

Musical Monday — Looking Out My Back Door

Looking Out My Back Door
by Surfer Rob

Hey
It’s me again
Your little talking friend
From the planet in your head
I’d
Like to propose a toast
To the humble host
Of all the crazy shit
That’s been running through my yard

It’s been a while
since we’ve felt like this
a lot of lingering love
from a literary kiss
It’s got me thinking
and I’m thirsty for more
of singing “doo doo doo”
looking out my back door

Hey
is that a flying car?
maybe you’ve gone too far
or maybe it doesn’t matter
It’s
not a DeLorean
Maybe I’ll get me one
when I’m making fat checks
writing for TV
there’s killer robots there
they’re flying through the air
and mopping up rebel meatbags
And
they’re not the only ones
’cause blotting out the sun
is an all-consuming ooze
made from future processed foods!
I know it’s crazy but just give it time
while purple plant people plot
to plunder your mind,
until they’re Roundup Ready
and we’re runnin’ to shore
a-singin “doo doo doo”
looking out my back door

(cue the face melting guitar solo)

(outro riff with some tribal tom beats)

singing “doo doo doo”
looking out my back door
 


 
There you go. I wrote you a song, bringing back the nostalgia of 90’s alternative pop (if you hear it the way I do, something akin to Jimmy Eat World) with a little nod to Creedence.
 
Happy Monday!

Stuck for an idea? Try today’s Daily Post prompt.

Fill-up Friday — takin’ care of business

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t worked Fridays since about April.

With one or two exceptions, I’ve been home every Friday for a few months, and it’s both glorious and ignominious at the same time. I know that for three solid years I worked 48+ hours a week 90% of the year, and I didn’t like it. I don’t like being indebted to such an extent. And all it took was a few changes in leadership to cut off our overtime altogether. It felt like the water was draining out of the boat on its own, like “YES”. But then I realized what had happened.

We had become complacent with the number of hours I had been working. Mme. Ross needed a car. I needed a decent computer. We had to see this family or that. I had to go surfing.

You know I had to.

All of a sudden, all the payments we were making were biting a huge chunk out of the weekly take-home. And when it comes to pay, the bills get paid first, so things have been drying up for over six months with no overtime. Suddenly, it was like the air was slowly leaking out of our bubble.

Then, the hammer falls.

Our customer — our only customer, who by the way owns everything inside the plant — thought it might be a good idea to shut down for a few weeks to give them a chance to sell all the inventory that had been stockpiled due to their borderline manic drive for production.

Remember all that overtime? Well, we became quite good at what we do!

Our company managed to negotiate for five 32-hour work weeks instead. We get to work, they don’t have to pay unemployment, and they can ensure that some employees will still be left when the production shortage is done.

I know I’ll be there. I’m a sucker. Who’s got two thumbs and is a company man?

This guy.

Another bright ray of sunshine is that this week was only three days — 24 hours — due to the opening of deer season. Right now I kind of wish I was a hunter because it seems like I could have gotten some meaning out of Monday.

I refuse to use PTO to cover the loss, because if we shut down over Christmas, there’s no reduced hours. It’s just a total shutdown. But never fear, I’m Surfer Rob and I’ve got this covered. I cut down our monthly bills budget by over $200. Almost everything is paid off. For extra ducks, I donate plasma, which I absolutely enjoy. It gives me a chance to read a real book (made of paper!) for an hour. We have an extra daycare kid starting this month and that is definitely one of the pillars of strength in our financial lives right now.

But back to this business of Fridays. I keep telling myself, “you’ve got Fridays off. Why aren’t you posting at least once a week? The weekend is all ‘getting out’, and ‘getting stuff done’, I get that.” So for that end all I have to say is, I needed to clear up some concerns.

And that’s the Kwai Chang Kane way of saying it. If that dude was gonna kick your ass, he’d look you straight in the eyes and say without emotion, “I don’t want to fight you.”

As it turns out, life didn’t know I was gonna sweep the leg. I knew how the whole fight was going to go before a single punch was thrown. I saw into him, and I saw the lie of him.

Surfer Rob wins.

It wasn’t a flawless victory, but I’ll take it. And in the spirit of a (much) clearer mind, I inaugurate Fill-up Fridays: because I gotta fill them up one way or another.

So today I played Bioshock Infinite for a few hours after Lil’ Miss woke me up and declared that it was time to wake up and go downstairs. I love that about the weekend. That game, and others like it — I will now confess — is the reason why I needed a decent computer. By decent I mean “top of the line because I want to play awesome games” and that’s what I got. I’m a little behind on the latest games, and that works well for me because I game on a platform called Steam. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a service that is not unlike Vudu (not Netflix) because you buy your games through them and through them you assure that whatever happens to your computer you can always get them back and play again. Steam is awesome, it’s over ten years old now and the best thing about it is that you can compile a wishlist. On the right side is the price of each line item in your wishlist and you can see if it’s on sale; the old price; the new price; and the percentage off.

I check it daily. I never pay full price on Steam, and I rarely pay over ten dollars for anything.

When I first got my computer, I didn’t even know what Steam really was. I thought it was a DRM scheme — like while you’re playing your game the software periodically checks in to make sure you’re not playing a pirate game — but that’s not it at all.

Steam is a community, a marketplace, and a damn good place to get good games for dirt-cheap.

When I first got my computer almost a year ago, I got three games for free as a promotion for choosing to get an AMD Radeon card in my computer.

NVidia fans, shut your mouths. I know what you’re going to say because I’m a NVidia fan, but I saved $500 on the computer and I got three free games so whatever!

So this is cool — whenever I talk to friends IRL we inevitably bring up the games we’re playing because we’re friended on Steam. We talk about them. I talked to a friend recently who said “I saw you’re playing Bioshock Infinite; that’s a good game.”

I said “yeah, I’m really enjoying it.”

If you’re a video gamer of any sort — even if all you do is Angry Birds and World of Goo — then you might want to look into Steam if you haven’t done so by now. That’s all I have to say about that. They have stuff for everyone, and the communities to support them.

And I’m all about community.

After Bioshock Infinite, I had a few loose ends to tie up with this plan to end our financial downfall. Things went . . . not exactly according to plan, but all in all I can’t complain. So now we’re on a new track. A better track. Then I went to donate plasma, made a few more stops, and came home to knock out some chores.

All in all, not a bad Friday.

🙂


Stumped for a blog post idea? Try today’s Daily Post Prompt!

Thirsty Thursdays: exploring the wave–particle duality of writing

They say it’s a bad idea to apologize to your  readers for not writing.

“Never apologize.” That’s my motto. I mean, it’s not like I’m getting paid to write, after all!

So I make it a point not to mention it.

We know that sometimes writing does get put on the back burner for other pursuits – home repair and restoration, playing video games, binge-watching Arrow on Netflix, heavy drinking, etc. But that doesn’t mean that writing isn’t important. It’s HUGE, big enough to threaten the structural integrity of the cast iron grate on that back burner. It’s boiling over, and my tendency of late is to hope that it stays that way while I’m attending to other, somewhat less meaningful pursuits.

When I’m writing my mind is this closet that I’m always dipping into, and when I write, what I take out of the closet goes back in when I’m done with it. From time to time I would get an idea and try to find a nice spot for it in the closet. But when seasons change you might forget what’s even inside the closet; you just throw your ideas in there and shut the door again. Then one day you open the door out of some morbid curiosity and this is what greets you:

picture of a messy closet
Not my closet, but if I weren’t tidy that’s what it might look like. (Photo credit: Scott Rubin)

And yeah, there’s a whole shelf of haiku buried in that morass.

Sometimes writing acts like a wave. That’s what you went out there looking for in the first place, to just have this great big idea splash out of you onto the world. What you got, however, was much more than you expected. But that’s why we ride, isn’t it? It bears down on you with crashing, primal strength. You catch it so it can lift you up and carry you forward. You ride it out, a symbiotic force of nature. You come away from it exhilarated, and you can’t wait to catch the next one.

Sometimes writing acts like a particle. it’s just this little thing that by itself is hardly worth mentioning. But if you pump yourself up you can watch the spontaneous particle spring forth from a single atom in the gas-filled tube of your imagination, watch it bounce back and forth between the mirrored ends. You’ll see it coax other gas atoms to sacrifice just a bit of energy to release other particles to run with it, and each particle added to the run multiplies the effect until eventually that one particle has become a powerfully concentrated beam of inspiration, capable of cutting through writers’ block like nobody’s business.

Writing is a perpetual task. When you’re a writer you write for life. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. That’s why I never make promises when it comes to my writing: that promise would have to be delivered in perpetuity. I couldn’t do that because eventually I’d be forced to break my promise through one means or another, if you get my drift. So for me to call this post Thirsty Thursdays might invite one to infer an implicit promise that next Thursday will bring you another post called Thirsty Thursdays. I assure you that to make this assumption would be a mistake; there are no guarantees in life.

That being said, I think I’m going to try to tackle this closet.

“Help Not Wanted” — Rob’s Sunday Soliloquy

Have you ever considered that a robot might be doing your job some day?

How about your spouse’s job, or your parent’s job? What if only 1 in 100 were employed? Or 1 in 1000?

This morning I woke up to find a Planet Money podcast waiting for me on my phone. It’s called This is the End. Planet Money tends to clock in around fifteen minutes, so I cranked it up and set about making coffee. They’re talking about how jobs are going away in successive recessions and not coming back, because at the end of that recession the businesses that had to downsize for the recession is able to recover their lost productivity through automation. They begin to explore the idea of what a jobless future will look like.

I listen, I process – jobless automatically means poor, right? Because you need a job to earn money and buy at least the stuff you need to survive.

I imagine.

I can’t imagine, however, a future of widespread, abject poverty. There must be, I thought, some way for people to make money. For one thing, there’s no way a person would allow all of their friends and family to starve, or to go homeless and be beaten to death by the elements. In a way, it reminds me of my mother’s response back before the year 2000, when I told her about the government’s program to phase out analog television in favor of digital, and how we’re going to have to purchase a box for every old-style television we have that we want to watch our shows on: she said, “there’s no way they’re going to do that. They can’t do that. There would be riots in the street.”

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there were no riots; digital TV took over without much fanfare. Sure, there might be a few analog channels yet, but the technology phased us away from the old paradigm, and now we find ourselves in this future where we really aren’t all that worried about it. We watch our shows – perhaps some of us not as obsessively as we used to, but I like to think of that as “growing up and getting in step with the real world” – and the idea of rioting doesn’t even enter my mind.

I do, however, remember a certain amount of disgust over my inability to pick up digital signals no matter where I was. The television industry had failed to provide a viable replacement for analog TV, but at that point I felt like the point was moot anyway; I already had access to much better content, because guess what? Netflix had started this streaming video service that actually worked pretty well. In seamless fashion, our “revolutionary” snail-mail DVD rental service stepped in right when a lot of us needed them, and we haven’t looked back since.

So who or what is going to step in for employment?

One of Planet Money’s guests for today’s show is Andrew McAfee. He’s an associate director at MIT who studies how information technology affects business. They asked him how this jobless future might work, and what it would look like, and guess what?

He said it makes his head hurts to think about it.

No kidding, right?

Forty years out in this “ridiculously abundant economy” McAfee says that “[w]e’re going to be freed from want and from privation. . . . However, in that economy do we have prices? Do we have money? If so, how do you get that money, because you don’t really have a job in that economy; there aren’t very many of what we used to consider jobs, and that was the way we distributed the money you could use to buy things, and that system . . . works really, really, well.”

That’s when it hit me: we’re all going to be Muppets.

Bear with me for a moment here.

When you strip it down to the studs the only way to “make” money is to create value for someone else, or by extension, for society at large. When we create value, the money seems to roll in all by itself because we’re used to performing and they’re used to paying for it . . . so what’s left when a massive paradigm shift has taken that assumption and turned it on its head?

I have an idea – how about we go wherever we want and do something we enjoy?

I know it all sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, but this seems like it could be the Star Trek future coming at us fairly fast: an abundant economy, no want or privation, i.e. no real need for money. So why worry about money?

Ding!

It’s like the old TV, we don’t need it anymore so just let it go.

Money? Psht! What’s that?

So what do you do?

The answer to that is, you live your life the way you want. In a future where the work is taken care of and there’s no need to provide the basic needs for yourself or your family, you’re free to pursue the things that interest you. Every person will find their talent and fit in where they can do the most good, not because they’re forced to by the economic model of the day, but because they want to, and eventually because that’s what they love to do. This transcends doing right by the family, and instead places the individual in a position of responsibility to the society as a whole.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Because of this, people will probably still entertain. People will probably still write and create art, and they will certainly explore worlds without and within. They’ll research, study, and innovate. They will push the boundaries of science and philosophy ever outward, because we love to do that. We were made for that. We’re insatiable for it. The people of the future will, in fact, create value by being good and happy citizens who have the leisure to make society a better place by just . . . having fun.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but it’s a lot easier to believe than thinking that in a world where robots do all of our work, we’re left out in the cold to suffer with scant means; because that would be a world torn apart by war – a neo-luddite war against the machines and the corporate oligarchy that use them to displace the masses: those who will stop at nothing to tear the whole system apart and build a new world where they will be free to do it all over again.

That might make an interesting movie, however.

Of course the world of the future will look alien and outlandish to us – do you think our parents at our age even dreamed that we would have the things we have today – the cell phones, the Internet, driverless cars? In that light, some skepticism on the part of pretty much everyone is understandable when someone says that someday we will be largely unemployed and yet everyone will be happy and money will truly be no object.

It’s like saying we’ll have tigers for pets and they won’t eat us alive.

But then again, why should they?


This is the End | Planet Money

If you like audio drama, I also highly recommend listening to The Last Job, an audio play by the PRX podcast The Truth, in collaboration with Planet Money.