I for One, Welcome Our New Overlords

Continuing off from last time, let’s talk about the advancement of technology. The advancement of technology has brought leaps and bounds to our society. Due to the industrial revolution, gone are the days of 99% of the world population working on farms. With the invention of mechanical transportation we have shrunk the world to the unimaginable proportions. And with the invention of the computer… well, let’s talk about the invention of the computer in depth shall we?

In engineering there is this theory of Negative Feedback. It is quite simple, when you try to change a system by making something better, you’re inevitably taking something else away. An example would be a wooden table. To make the table sturdier you would require thicker/more expensive wood – increasing the quality of the product increases the price. This has always been true for human inventions, except the microchip. The microchip’s evolution followed the path of Positive Feedback, where if you improve on the product, it not only does not take away something else, it makes everything better. This, while sounding great in theory, is extremely dangers. Uncontrolled positive feedback in any system causes the entire system to go out of control.

The invention of the PC has made our lives easier. It also made innovation and design easier. By making a faster microchip, we enable ourselves to have the tools to design the next generation of microchips, faster, smaller, cheaper. This led to Moore’s Law, which stated that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) will double every two years. This was true until the point where physics prevented us from making things smaller, which is where we are now.

So what is the consequence of this technological revolution (and yes, it is a revolution, our lives now could not be less different from the lives of our parents and grand parents)? The consequence is automation. Automation has robbed millions of people their jobs, from farming to processing to the service industry. We are even making self-driving cars, which, if popularized, will render about 40% of the world’s population without a job (basically the transportation industry). Remember people complaining in Canada and the states about how the wealth gap is getting bigger and bigger? Automation can be seen as a direct contributor of that. By replacing the most expensive asset in a company (human labour) with significantly cheaper machine labour, the owners of a company will have reduced their cost enormously while retaining higher and higher profits. In layman’s terms, the machines are robbing the society of its money, tunnel feeding it to the select few.

Yes, we as a species have came a long way in the past century to where we are now. We are holding powers unimaginable just decades before. However it would seem that more and more we are losing control. Despite all the technological advancements we have still not solved the most basic problems that plague us as a whole – famine, war, disease. And now more than ever we rely so much on our technology it is almost parasitic. Soon enough, if nothing is done, we may just have to bow to our new machine overlords.

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Update After a Million Years

Well… a million is kind of an exaggeration but after being on hiatus for over two years… you get the idea.

So why the sudden urge to come back to this desolate blog you ask? I don’t claim to know all the reasons (ironic since this is entirely voluntary) but I would say it’s a mix of boredom, the need to write, and the need to vent. A potent combination if nothing else. So hurra for me (and you, whoever you are).

I think I’ll try to write regularly on this blog again, no guarantees though. Persistence is a rare thing these days, with the so-called fast paced living style where instant gratification is king, not a lot of people are willing to put in the time and effort for anything that lasts longer than a week (guilty myself).

Why later?

A lot have changed in the past few decades. We’ve advanced from barely able to cross the oceans in months time to flying around the world in a day. Technology have enabled so many possibilities unthinkable to the previous generations. Imagine in the 1950s, if someone told you they were going across the ocean to another country, you’d probably assume to never see them again as they’re probably immigrating. Nowadays, if someone told you they’re across the ocean tomorrow, you’d probably assume they’re going on vacation. With the Internet, communication has never been easier. Gone are the days where letters were exchanged once a month, now emails are exchanged daily between people are the two ends of the globe in abandon. Our generation is probably the first to experience such unprecedented freedom, but we’re probably also the first generation to feel its enslaving effects.

So who’s walking who?

Recently I’ve noticed pictures similar to the one above popping up left and right, depicting our society being enslaved by social media and its cohorts. If you stop and think about it, it’s actually quite scary. Technology in the past half decade has slowly took over our lives. Gone are the days when an average white-collar worker will return home and relax by the fire place and read a book. Rarely can you now find anyone without any attachment to the Internet (I’m limiting my generalization to the “developed” nations… here comes the pitch forks from the politically correct…) and rarely can you find anyone in our generation who is not addicted to the Internet. In a way we are connected to each other now more than ever, and in the same way we cannot be further apart.

I think I’ll end this here (abruptly?) and continue exploring this topic again in the net post. Meanwhile if you want to see more interesting and thought provoking pictures, click here. In addition I highly recommend watching the Youtube video near the end. Ironic how it takes technology to inform people about the dangers of technology, isn’t it?

Pride in its Many Forms

Pride is listed as one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. While I can see many arguments about pride being the downfall of many a great men (and women), I can hardly see the justification for it being categorized as a “deadly” sin.

Being prideful is not a sin.

There, I said it, and I will stand behind it. It is not a sin to take pride in your work, it is not a sin to have some backbone, and it is definitely not a sin to have a pair (for the men, and for the women, excuse my language).

There is a fine line between pride and arrogance, between pride and ignorance, between pride and insolence. But however fine this line is, there is a line, and this line separates pride from the rest of the colorful vocabularies with their excessive negative-connotations. So what separates pride from the rest of those insult-laden, temper-raising, condescending words? Context. You can never use arrogance, ignorance or insolence in a good way; you can never describe a person as arrogant to portray that person in a good light.

But we’re not here to discuss about the usage of a word, we’re here to
discuss the concept of pride.

There are many forms of pride, pride in one self, pride in one’s work, pride in others, pride in nation, pride in results, to list just a few. To be proud is to grant the sense of accomplishment, either to one self or to another, this sense of accomplishment leads to a sense of satisfaction, which can be addictive. It is not difficult from here to see why the church grouped pride with the rest of the seven deadly sins; addiction is a powerful definition for things we consider to be bad. Just look at the society today, anything that’s addictive is usually associated with negative publicity, drugs, alcoholism, smoking, etc.

So is pride a bad thing because it generates a sense of accomplishment that can potentially lead to addiction? This is a classic example of a slippery slope argument, but are there truths to it? Possibly. There is a quote I am quite found of, “moderation in all things”. It is hard to argue that water is a daily necessity for our survival, but excessive water is disastrous. Pride is similar, and I believe everyone can use a healthy dosage of pride every now and then.

There is an excessive sense of humbleness in Japan. People in this country will usually tell you their work is not good enough, that they can do better, and that there are more improvements to be done.

Well, do them.

It always boggles my mind that people will actively degrade their own work. If you have accomplished something, you should be proud and show it to others that you’re proud. It is contradictory to be proud inside but show false humility outside. If a piece of work is great, actively say so. The act of lying to others and to oneself is not only unhealthy but can cause a subconscious inferiority complex that will hinder future work.

I am a firm believer in taking pride in one’s own work. If I have put in the time and effort to accomplish something, I will take pride in it and say so. If I did an half-assed job, I will also actively say so. Being truthful and giving oneself the satisfaction on appreciating a job-well-done is something I believe everyone deserves after a hard day of work.

This, I think, is the bottom line – being truthful. Pride can easily turn into arrogance if one is not truthful with him/herself. Narcissism is just one short step away from pride, and many would fall into the trap and become overly prideful and step into the realm of self-indulgence and praise. To have a good balance and a sense of self-knowing, acknowledging one’s own work, and realizing when to improve will allow for growth and maturity.

A Case for Risk

Risk, people of our generation that have grown up without knowing poverty seems to be especially averse to it. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of hardship, perhaps it’s due to the pampering of our loving parents, or perhaps it’s just the convenience of our technological advancement. Regardless of the reason, the younger generation do not like to take risks or challenge themselves, opting to take the easy route for simpler rewards.

I can attest to this with personal experiences. Just last weekend in a competition of over 2000 people, after 16 rounds of grueling matches I was ranked 43 and my opponent 48. Only those who makes it to top 64 can walk away with prize money. Unsurprisingly my opponent wanted to draw so we both can be in top 64. My thought at that moment was if I draw, yes it will be simple and I won’t risk losing and a possibility of being out of top 64, but by playing I have a chance to make more money, plus it’ll be a good learning experience.
In the end I won that match by a large margin and knocked my opponent out of top 64. Do I feel somewhat bad for denying someone an easy chance to make prize? Yes a little. However I believe he didn’t really deserve it if he isn’t prepared to lose the last round. Taking the easy way out will net people small rewards, but it will also deny them a valuable chance to grow. By opting to play, I felt I made the conscious decision to not back out and thus set a precedence for me to further challenge myself in the future. Besides, which story would be more interesting to tell my friends, that I drew into top 64 for some easy money, or that I mercilessly crushed some poor dude to secure a place in the top 32 for bigger prizes? I have a cynical reputation to uphold here as well…
Overall I think the most important point to take away here is, don’t be afraid to take challenges, don’t be afraid of change and try to explore all the possibilities. Many people would rather live in the city they were born in for their entire lives without moving because it’s “comfortable”, but are they really comfortable? Or is that just an illusion impressed upon them because they never lived anywhere else and therefore have nothing to make a comparison to? In this modern day and age where traveling is so much simpler, everyone should take advantage of the convenience and explore the world. We are becoming more and more globalized, we don’t need people who are afraid of change and challenge in this day and age, we need people who embrace them.

Politeness and Overtime

There is a false sense of politeness in Japan, and there is a problem of unproductive overtimes. How are these even related? Read on and see.

When confronted with something they do not understand, people in Japan will usually nod and smile as if they understood.

This is what they consider to be “polite”.

This is what I consider to be “ignorance”.

Part of it is due to pride, and I can say this for almost all eastern Asian countries, people are worried about losing face. Pride is placed at a much higher emphasis in the orients than it is in the Western countries. A very good example is martyrdom. Martyrdom is considered heroic and worthy of pursuit in the Orients, especially for army trainings, usually along the lines of “we will fight to the last man, never surrender!” On the flip side, in Western army trainings, the first lesson is usually about survival, and the instruction “your life is important, surrender when you are outnumbered”.

I can see arguments for both sides.

Another reason has nothing to do with pride and everything to do with convenience. It is convenient to nod and smile, pretending you understood an instruction, and go back to whatever you were doing. It is convenient to have someone stop talking to you in ways that are difficult for you to understand. It is convenient to be lazy.

I think I am also picking up this deplorable habit.

What is convenient for a couple of minutes, perhaps a couple of days, will eventually come back and bite you in the ass, hard. It is like chasing away a rabid dog inside a confined space without putting it down, it will come back and bite you sooner or later. Delaying a problem will not fix it, but it seems many people in Japan do not understand this concept. It’s as if a problem is delayed, it will fix itself.

While I admire the work ethics of the Japanese people, I do not admire their efficiency. Work that could be completed in 1 hour in Canada would take a Japanese person 1.5 – 2 hours. Despite having the same qualifications and intelligence, Japanese employees will try to “drag it out”. This is one of the things that leads to the phenomenon I described above. Procrastination leads to laziness, but pride necessitates that the lazy employee must save face, hence the “nod and smile” routine. Another way to look at it is that the employee must save face, therefore even if a problem would’ve been easier to solve if the said employee asked for clarification and help, he/she would instead opt to trying to work it out themselves, spending unnecessary time and resources trying to reinvent the wheel.

Personally I find this to be a very big problem in many Asian societies. Despite the claim of high efficiency and high productivity, the fact is much of the overtime claimed by workers are actually not necessary.

Perhaps one day Japan would realize this, and perhaps one day the future generation would learn that overtime does not equal to hard work. When that day comes, the work stress level in the Japanese society will drop, and people might then finally start spending more time outside of work with their friends and families