Predictions for the next 10 years

2020 predictions vision of the home video media center family roomBack in 1999 I went to a conference at the Field Museum in Chicago called The Next 20 Years (sponsored by ZDNet, I still have the button that says Believe in Technology).

Now that we’re rolling over the odometer to 2010 I can honestly say that none of the predictions about string theory have come true.

It was an interesting idea though, to think about what is possible now and in the future and speculate in ways that may inspire people to do more, make things better and improve life.

I have been thinking a lot about this decade ending in the last few weeks and aside from an obvious comment about how blindingly fast it went by, I’m skipping the recap and these are some thoughts for the next ten to twenty years.

Disclaimer: These are just my ideas as one person, who analyzes things for a living, and I don’t have a lot of data to prove any of it. Take it with a grain of salt or as entertainment only.

1. Photo Recognition will be big. And I am not talking about face recognition software. But with smartphones we mostly have decent cameras at our disposal that are connected to the internet 24/7. I have been thinking I’d like to be able to redeem the coke-points my husband collects by snapping a picture of the cap rather than entering the number on a form online (boring and slow). This is the exact stuff that QR code readers are used for that work for UPS tracking and a whole bunch of other applications. Expect them to be used as the new coupons, contests, offline-online gaming and a whole bunch of other stuff. Then maybe by the time all that is common place facial recognition of images will be working online.

2. You will probably work in an industry that does not exist yet. Continuing education is a must. I say this because my life is an example. I work in Online Marketing and data tracking for ad agencies and this didn’t exist as a job or a technology available to most companies in 1999. I have to make sure I spend time learning on the job and off the job each year because things change a lot. This does not make having a family easy and we have no idea if we will do that as a result, but it means that you have to be curious about new stuff and be willing to investigate it and you may end up the local expert when you’re the only one with that knowledge. And learn a lot of math.

3. Taxes will go up. All this BS about lowering taxes to stimulate business and rich people spending will go away since we can’t fund the programs required, can’t borrow any more as a government and we would still have the lowest taxes for those rich people to pay when compared to other developed economies. Interest rates and inflation may follow, and of course oil prices crunching a lot of people out of the middle class. Someone will finally do the math proving that investment in hiring new people at a company and creating jobs is inversely related to lowering taxes on the rich and everyone else.

4. There will be a whole new batch of media mavens that we listen to and we will like them because they are curators not experts. No one person will be able to create enough content or be syndicated to as many channels, mediums and messages as would be possible in this fragmented media world. The people you will look to for advice are blogging now, looking at thousands of sources of information, knowing how to process it, evaluate what is good-bad-meaningless and just filter down to the good stuff. We need people like this because the big media push to produce new stuff 24/7/365 is too much for one person to go through and we all still have jobs/families/houses to attend to. And not everyone wants to spend every day plugged into a screen reading constantly. We just want those wow, aha moments. Eventually maybe this 1000 cable channels, commercials every 10 minutes, 100 blog posts a day, constant content model will streamline due to lack of popularity of most of it (no ROI) but as there is more digital space available someone will put something on it, with no guarantee of quality because people seem to randomly stumble upon things still and listen/watch/interact with amusement/laziness/procrastination of their day job. 

5. Expect more digital sensors everywhere. And this could mean in our clothing, in our fridges, on the roads, in our homes. There is a lot of bandwidth for transmitting data and ways are improving for processing data and analyzing it (without human intervention, or programming needed). I foresee more real-time data on traffic and alternate routes in my car guided by my voice requests (like Knight Rider’s Kit?). I foresee clothing measuring weight and texting me that I shouldn’t eat any more calories today. I foresee my fridge telling me the milk has gone bad again and there is a cracked egg leaking all over it. We may spend all day responding to automated messages. These may be an upgrade fee kind of thing but I think at some point the regular cost will include it because the data will be so valuable and targetable for marketers. The recent privacy discussions prove that people are becoming more aware of ad tracking as well as digital capabilities and the younger generations don’t want to go back to a time without it. But we do need better security options for this to work or an opt in policy for managing what companies know and how we want to get/share/target this info.

6. We’re going to get a whole lot more competition from China, South America and Africa for jobs. Companies are going there for operations now and not just to supply their own regions with goods and services. All the Bill & Melinda Gates (plus Oprah, Warren Buffet & That Facebook guy too) funding health/education programs in Africa will create a continent of healthy people who have jobs that used to be here related to their natural resources and possibly other areas as well. China will continue to be a leader in growth and the US needs to define itself. I always wonder why there is such an emphasis on making sure all the other countries have the help they need to solve their problems by these foundations and not the ones with people starving/not getting educated or employed in the USA. Also Immigration, population growth and birth rates in the US will all drop by 2020. (based on what I saw from the census in 2010)

7. The market will continue to be tumultuous. Up, down, sideways. It isn’t connected to real people or the economy as we know it anymore. We’re not sure how to gauge it or if it will make any positive growth in 10 years. With higher interest rates in 2012-2013 CDs may be the hot investment again.

That is it for now, but I may have more ideas later. One thing is for sure, let’s get out there and party like it’s 1999.

rolling over the odometer 1999 2000 2010 100000 miles

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Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?

How GM should restructure for a Government Bailout and streamline Brands and Cars

How can GM save itself from Implosion? Which GM brands and cars should bekept and which should be cut?How many jobs can be saved in Detroit? Should GM, Ford and Chrysler be saved at all? Will the consumer demand for vehicles (cars) ever pick back up again? These are all good questions.

Everyone is all a buzz about the American Car companies and their pitch to the Government saying that “bankruptcy isn’t and option” so give us billions in free money that has no strings attached and we can spend on anything we want. Ouch! I think congress was right to send them packing the last time they showed up in private jets and asked for money, and we have learned that in the other bailouts, the banks aren’t spending their money on what it was “proposed” for so more oversight is needed for any government bailouts of companies.

Back to my thoughts on GM specifically, since I am not an expert on Ford or Chrysler.

GM has some opportunities to be successful in the future but much of that opportunity comes at the cost of getting rid of the past, completely and starting over from scratch.

Almost every GM car or truck sold in the last 10 years has been either: inferior in quality, reputation or design. They also tend to make cars for segments that people don’t need and then wonder why people won’t buy them even when pushed. (Hello: SUVs) I read yesterday that the 4 brands that GM intends to keep are Buick (yay!), Cadillac (ok), Chevy (a necessity) and GMC (WTF?). 

I think they should throw all the brands out and come out with 5 new ones with distinctive market segments and niche products. Here are the segments in automobiles that I think will be big in 10 years that GM or any car company needs to invest in, and cut everything else:

1. The new shiny reliable car below $8,999. Developing countries and low income people in developed nations will need this kind of transportation as the cost of transportation increases consistently. (think college kids and retail hourly wage workers) It isn’t sexy or cool or updated every year. It is a 5 year design of an extremely reliable and simple car and only available in 1 color and maybe with 2 seats. If people want variety they can customize on their own. These cars are cheap super basic transportation and low cost is what sells them and fuel efficiency is also important. They have to be more reliable than a used car or this won’t work. Think old VW Beetle, Geo Metro, India’s Tata, China’s Cherry Motors or simpler version of a Honda Civic/fit.

2. Super eco friendly green cars. This segment has a product range from cheap eco friendly basic cars to luxury eco friendly status comfort cars. Performance isn’t really a priority but style and design is. Comfort comes at a price but miles per gallon is always in the 50-75 mpg range for all vehicles. Leather heated seats is an option on the lux ones. Think Toyota Prius and GM Volt. A 5-door option is nice here too. Eco people are practical people. Plug in charging in your garage and solar panels in roof are also great pluses if the cost can still be comparable to a non-eco car. People need to have one of the eco cars start at $15,000.00. Then fancier ones can be higher priced. Pricing people out of the market is bad for business, you loose sales and customers to people who do have the affordable eco cars.

3. Business/Industrial/Delivery Trucks & Vans. No consumer needs a truck unless they live in the mountains of Colorado or live on a ranch, but telling people they needed huge over-sized utility vehicles for their family use has been a strategy used in the past 15 years to re-purpose existing designs to new markets. This era is over and the SUV needs to die except for people who have 5 kids. (relatively few) There is a continued opportunity to sell trucks to businesses that deliver, transport and create large products in the US but it is a far smaller division of the company and of sales. And living in the US and seeing firsthand how people use these vehicles for business should give GM an insight that the Japanese, Chinese and German car companies don’t have and lead to building and innovating better vehicles.

4. And most importantly: The everybody car. I think GM has no way of recapturing a significant part of the 4 door family sedan but there is an opportunity to innovate it. There have been a few cars that are appealing to everybody because they contain multiple category characteristics. (um, crossovers without the truck part plus luxury) The everybody car I am talking about is the 5 door hatchback sedan. Don’t think 1970’s! Think of the Prius and Saab 9-3 when it was a 5 door, think Subaru WRX. More needs to be done in developing practical sexy cars like this because they take over where SUVs left off. You can haul things in them and get good fuel economy at the same time. You can even structure them for performance and luxury and fuel economy at the same time. So, the 5-door sport/luxury/green/family sedan is the everybody car of the future. Will GM make it and market it properly? (it could be the volt if they lux it up a bit)

5. The Luxury Performance car. Lastly, GM needs a super-car or luxury flagship vehicle that basically walks on water and inspires a generation. (more than the Pontiac solstice) These cars aren’t always profitable themselves, but they make the other brands you own more profitable and can make your brand one that people believe in. How Toyota and Honda don’t have one I don’t know, but maybe that is why they do so much racing now?  The Corvette makes Chevy feel cool, the R8 made Audi sought after. Vipers dying off made Chrysler seem even less cool and less reliable. Plus so few people will be able to afford a luxury performance car in the future that this will need to be a niche business with limited production.

And for fun here is what I think of the brands GM currently has:

Keeping Buick: Buick makes an extremely reliable car (yes like Honda/Toyota reliable) so this is a good place to start and they get 25-30 MPG. What Buick needs is a few smaller car options and even better fuel economy without sacrificing the comfort, luxury and quality that people need and love. They do need a new logo though, that doesn’t look like the 3 old 80’s shields.

Keeping Cadillac: Caddy is all about Flagship dream cars and it may share a few parts with Buick so there are manufacturing cost efficiencies there.  Caddy needs to keep innovating on performance, style and (surprise) eco materials and fuel economy.

Keeping Chevrolet: Chevy has been the all American fleet of everything (soup-to-nuts) vehicles for a long time. Many of the other brands aren’t needed because Chevy offers most everything. They cover work trucks, family sedans, performance cars with the Vette and with the Volt an eco car of the future. They should make them less fugly though, because they aren’t selling against other lux GM brands anymore, they are selling against Toyota and Honda’s flagship cars. 

Keeping GMC: Wouldn’t it have better to just sell trucks under one brand as Chevrolet since we need so few trucks? I am at a loss on this one. GMC offers nothing new, interesting or innovative at all. (yuck)

Cutting Saturn: Apparently this is just Opel cars from Europe now.  The Saturn brand name needs to die since it means cheap, flimsy, crappy, cars that break down a lot and are ugly. Re-release Opels under the Opel name? How about Vauxhall in the US? We like them.

Cutting Pontiac: Well Pontiac has been loosing it’s battle to streamline its designs and be a sleeker performance division of GM because of it’s cheap finishes and lack of quality. Plus the dealers don’t really help here either when they don’t look like a performance dealership. I think the concept of performance only exists at the same time with luxury because who will pay all that money and not want to be comfortable in their car? And quality in finishes and reliability is ultra important. As Pontiac is now, it should be cut and their logo scrapped.

Cutting Hummer; Duh! Sell it to the Norwegians or Russians or UAE or something. Wherever it is cold and has mountains or endless oil. The military division of Hummer should be retained and put into Chevy for developing military/industrial products.

Cutting: SAAB Well we saw this coming. They made an over engineered car un-reliable so GM deserves this one. From personal experience I will never buy another Saab again because of the reliability problems and obviously no one else is either. This is typical GM strategy, cut quality, save money, increase profits in the short term, piss off customers, loose customers, wonder why they can’t win customers back after costing them 5K in repair bills. Basically if you screw someone over financially once, they never forget it. This should not have happened because Saab had a lot of potential, but it’s pretty impossible to fix now.

 

TIME Magazine Article – The Social Contract in America

I was reading my parent’s TIME Magazine this week (that I usually swipe to read on the train) and they had polled Americans on the state of the economy and their take on how they plan to personally “get by” in the coming years. You can read the survey results and the article about this concept of a social contract online at TIME.com.

I had never heard of this concept of a “social contract” that business and government have with America. I work in a recruitment related field so if it existed, I thought I would know about it. As a human being I was aware of it as a colloquial dream we have perpetuated by the stories told by our parents and grandparents.

My family history doesn’t go back that far here in America. My great grandparents arrived from Poland and the Ukraine pre-WW1 and went to work in the gritty factories of Chicago because it was a better living and opportunity than they had back in Europe. (poor peasant potato farmers I usually say) and the economic opportunity has kept us here in Chicago ever since.

My grandparents generation went on to slightly boring but consistent blue collar jobs with pensions and my parent’s generation went on to white collar jobs after getting college educations. Some of them got a pension and health insurance and others did not. My generation doesn’t even get a shot at a pension. Companies have found that they can hire good people without it and they tell us that a 401K is really the same thing. (for reference I am 33)

So, we have these 401Ks that seem to never make money fast enough to accrue enough funds to equal what a pension would. They plummet in value every 10 years or so in recessions, and someone changes the funds available without asking or telling us. Most of us have health insurance through our jobs. We pay handsomely for it, between $100 and $300 per month per person.  And then when something happens that requires medical care, the insurance only covers 1/2 the costs. It is totally possible to go bankrupt with health insurance coverage these days because most coverage is crap compared to what my family had back in the 1980’s.

TIME says that there is an “implied” social contract in America where you give a company (or number of companies) your time and energy and they give you “a basic level of economic security provided you work hard and took responsibility for your family”. (direct quote from TIME July 28, 2008 p 42) And I think things have changed. This contract implied or not doesn’t really exist anymore. I see businesses every day making decisions to give workers less and people have to get more creative trying to survive.

I think the social contract is more like this now.

1. A company promises to pay you as little as they can for your time. This sounds pessimistic but I have seen the proof on paper that you are paid what they can get you for with your experience rather than what you are worth or how much “the job” pays. You have to wait years to work your way up the ladder to make a good wage and then marketers and your neighbors taunt you daily to buy everything in sight to keep up with the Joneses. 56% of the people who made over 100K a year said even they can’t expect to afford health care, college or a secure retirement anymore.  And 100K a year is a lot of clams. (I don’t make anywhere near that. ) I do realize that these businesses have to keep costs low in order to compete with India and China, but somehow I’d rather see the cuts come from other areas that don’t erode the culture in America and impede our ability to raise families. 

2. Marketers will prey on you from every direction. A lot more people could make it through hard times if they had savings but the national savings rate is negative now. All the “stuff” and services you “must” have seems to replace the financial security your grandparents achieved. Just say no didn’t work for reducing drug use in the 80’s and I think that the disposable consumer culture will probably continue here too.

3. Health Issues will cost you. Most young people don’t need much care because you haven’t gotten to the age where things start falling apart yet and we don’t have any concept of how much it costs to survive a serious health issue like cancer or bypass surgery. Both my parents had heart surgery in the late 1990’s and they were 50 & 60K each. We paid about 10K each of those costs and the insurance paid the rest. I just heard someone at my dad’s workplace had bypass surgery last month and it cost $100K. I know they have really poor health insurance there, and I can guess that the guy might have had to pay 50K out of pocket. Even dental issues are expensive. I need have needed a crown for about 5 years and because there is no pain or damage being done since the root canal and filling, I am holding off on the $1,000.00 price tag since dental insurance is only going to pay 1/2 and I would rather save the $ for a real emergency like fixing the 7 year old car I have or paying for the radiator heat to be fixed in my condo.

4. Retirement is going to be difficult. Very difficult. Some people wonder if social security will be around in 2040 when I turn 65. I personally, think it will be. It may not be nearly enough though. Most of us will have some 401K savings but as the Frontline Retirement special found, most people make crucial mistakes with managing their 401K and end up loosing a lot of money and getting little out at the end. (and then have to go back to work) Some tips include, never take a lump sum benefit, due to the tax penalty, never just let it ride and not watch the performance and watch for trading and management fees eating up your money. It also helps not to own a McMansion when you retire and live within your means before retirement. Saving money (like 10% of after tax income) on the side and investing it in some low risk but higher than inflation yields is also a smart way to prepare. And well let’s hope medicare still exists in 2040 also, and that doctors and hospitals still accept it as payment.

5. Creativity & Leverage are the new working hard. Money makes more money, it’s all who you know and being clever with side jobs or side businesses usually helps. Yes, saving a large percentage of your income by living simple and investing it can help you have the “power of compounding interest” as they say. Keeping in touch with people and maintaining your network helps with job opportunities and side opportunities to make some income. Starting weekend jobs or part time businesses online or otherwise helps too. I find people living simply and leveraging clever ways to work in more than one place are the ones that will have what they need later on. Getting into an industry that is doing well in the economy also helps but that may take pro-active skill re-training. Paying off your mortgage early and not moving also helps. You loose thousands of dollars on the services and fees associated with that transaction every time you move, and  we all know you pay 3x the value of your loan in interest if you really pay your mortgage over 30 years. After that you are seriously in the hole.

The only contract I think we really have now is that everything will change by the time the 30 somethings reach retirement age. The only thing we have to rely on is ourselves. In general business is struggling because the US has passed it’s peak and we will be in a pack of “also rans” soon. Companies in the US will not see the skyrocketing growth that they saw post-war in the last 60 years with China, India and Eastern Europe emerging as super-economic powers. This coupled with dwindling natural, energy and food resources will make the next 50 years a post US dominant era that will be much harder and more global.

I actually believe if the US was more competitive with skills and education we would do well in a world economy but I haven’t yet seen the expertise or drive to innovate. All I see every day is the drive to reduce expenses and cut resources in business and make short term gains with little or no thought about long term survival. I feel like the country is being run by the lowest common denominator MBAs right now and the next 10 years for us commoners are going to be difficult as a result, as we all lack the jobs/growth that they sucked/poached out in the short term and ran off with the profits.

So, enough about all that negativity.

How do you plan on coping with the changing game living and working in the US in the next 50 years?

How to keep learning new skills as we get older

I used to think that it was weird to not be learning all the time. You spend 9 years in grammar school, 4 years in high school and if you are lucky, 4 years in college. All total,  that is 17 of your first 21 years in school with daily lessons, lectures, homework, required reading, tests, quizzes, projects, essays and exams. Then you have to make the jump to the working world whether it is in business or other areas and you still have to learn, but it is everything not included in your schooling. How your company works, how people work, what is required there and all their multitude of processes and products.

At that point you usually meet someone much older than yourself that has no idea what is happening in technology. And not just high technology, they don’t get basics that most people use just to function daily like email, pivot tables or search engine optimization. What you don’t know is that they are the future you. They don’t want to change because they say they have just done things this way all these years and it has always worked with paper files, binders, phone messages and post it noes. You look at them and their outdated clothes and rows of beanie babies around their cubicle like they have 3 heads. How can they work this way? How do they get anything done? How can a company value someone antiquated like this over me who has all this knowledge and ability (yet with 0 experience). 

Then time marches on. You become acclimated with the business environment and get promoted or jump to a better job a few times. You balance social, personal and work life stuff and think wow it’s a lot to manage and are always tired. Then some of you have kids and are even more tired. Then you wake up one day and realize that you have become that antiquated person you ran into years ago because they hired some younger workers that are all gung ho about getting ahead and talk about things you don’t understand. Now all college grads come to work knowing how to build databases and web sites even if they got a degree in English? How can they know so much so fast? 

You wonder how 10 years flew by and you haven’t really added anything new to your skill set because you work 50 hours a week, have a relationship on weekends and laundry/dishes/cat/cleaning/reading/few social things weeknights. (you don’t even watch TV for god’s sake) How can you go to school at the same time? If you have kids, how can you exist on less than the 4 hours of sleep you get now just so you can spend time learning? And when will you ever get around to painting the garage? How is this possible when some mornings you come to work 1/2 asleep with 2 different shoes on?

Are companies going to only hire new youngsters for all the positions because they make less money and have more tech skills? How much does experience matter?  Why did it piss me off for weeks when the new wordpress.com backend system was launched, and nothing made any sense anymore? I didn’t have time to spend looking for hours for where everything had been moved to and was just mad that it wasn’t where it was before and it took forever to post. And there was no communication from those adsense loving wordpress people about where everything had been moved to. They thought this was self explanitory? (Not!)

I think I started to recognize some of these changes happening to me in the past few months. I never planned on stopping learning and the things I chose to learn about in my spare (and fleeting) time were never really panned out useful things. So, back to the drawing board. I feel like I need a lot more technical skill to remain ahead of the curve in my job and be able to keep finding great work over the decades to come. And I want to do that along with have a family and marriage and the whole kit and kaboodle. I don’t think this is a women’s issue anymore either really. Men face the same questions as they get off the fashion bus and start looking, sounding and working more and more like their fathers.

Another thing I realized the other day is that I may try and shop at more contemporary stores, but I basically dress exactly like my mom. And she is 67 and I am 32. I used to hate how my mom dressed, and now I am her?  Is this just the arrival of the long plateau of middle age? Are the middle ages of me going to be anticlimactic and uneventful? Or how can you bridge multiple generations, technologies and social groups all at the same time while still getting 8 hours of sleep at night? 

I don’t know how this is all going to work. I suppose many people don’t write about it on blogs, or maybe even recognize the change until they can’t find bleached jeans and high tops at Kohl’s anymore. But it bothers me because I don’t want to stop learning and get left behind. Especially when the economy keeps changing so much every year and the jobs go with it. How do you not get outsourced when literally everything can be outsourced today? How do you keep going to school when most universities require full time attendance of a degree program and not piece mail courses as you need them? How do you find time to do homework when you have bills to pay and garbage to take out and emails from your boss? Even reading was hard to get back into after years of not focusing like that for an extended period of time.

Here is what I have been doing about it and working on over the past years and what I would like to continue to work on:

1. About 2 years ago I started reading books again. I read TIME every week, but that is pretty short. I found it hard at first to just read for an hour at a time because I had gotten so multitask happy with the internet and channel flipping.

2. I also decided it was time to start pushing back sometimes at work and saying No. You literally can’t do that when you start out, and sooner or later you have to set limits and not do everything for everyone else when you have a limited time to do it. The whole idea of urgency and priority come into play and they shouldn’t be anyone else’s priority or urgency but yours. People will negotiate and try and get as much from you as possible but it’s not in your best interest if it’s not really in your job description.

3. The last year was one where I decided it was time to have a self hosted blog. Everyone and their sister had one but me, and it wasn’t supposed to be impossible or anything. So, I bought a url and went to town for about 2 days straight truing to figure out how this wordpress thing worked, researching themes, plugins and all the possibilities and building it. It was a great learning experience although it has nothing to do with my work.

4. This year I had a client that insisted on a different data process than what we usually provided and I had to learn Pivot tables. I still don’t know them to the extent I need to probably, but it helps immensley. I still have more of the high end Excel stuff to learn.

5. I also had to learn Access. I guess 2 days in a class can’t really teach you everything though so I should either retake the class or take another one because my skills there still don’t match what I need them to.

6. I also wonder about math and statistics. I should really go back, take the prerequisites and then statistics. This is what I get for not taking it initially because I didn’t want to work in business. Sheesh. This is by far one of the hardest things to do because, I am not fantastic at math, it has been about 14 years since I have taken a math class and it means driving back to the community college I attended a million years ago. It also entails weekly classes and weekly homework. This could be 10 hours a week or more. Where am I going to find 10 hours a week? Where do people who have kids find that time?  Is sleep allowed?

7. I also think it is time I got better at this friends/networking thing at work and outside it. I have never been that great at the social stuff, but I am meeting more and more people who weren’t necessarily either, but because there are some ground rules in business and no need to act like Jr High kids anymore, they are pretty good at it now. This helps get things done faster when they need to be, and it makes work and life generally more fun. It also helps not to work with assholes.

8. What I would also like to do more of is learn about web pages and building them, coding and sleuthing out issues with them. This comes up with work and would be an asset.

9. Long term I have to get into databases and SQL. I have no choice. It will mean more classes and more time than I know I can find and afford, and that isn’t even the expensive part like tuition.

But what is the alternative? To be outsourced in a few years? To be relegated back to the minimum wage jobs that we had back in college but would be even more difficult to get since they would rather hire energetic young people now, with better tech skills?  The way I see it, the only way to survive is to go onwards and upwards. I have to keep learning things whether I have time for it or not.

Oscars, Trends and Once Movie Wins Best Song

once movie, wins oscar, best, music, song, musical, 2008, 2007, 2006, marketa irglova, glen hansard I think people were generally happy with the outcomes of the Oscar awards last night. Although there weren’t any big blockbuster films this year that were box office smash hits or huge societal movements, there were some well made movies that got recognized for their hard work. I was especially happy to see that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Oscar for best original song. I felt like the Enchanted people were good at producing a Disney musical and Amy Adams sang and danced on stage twice (not easy when it is in addition to her regular attendance duties) but Once was a great movie with a lot more meaning and resonance than a Disney musical could possibly ever have. (especially for people over the age of 10, which I would think most of the academy is made up of)  I was also thrilled to see that Jon Stewart gave Marketa Irglova a moment to come back out and say her thank you for her award after the commercial break. Kudos to him for that. And we should all remember what she said quote: “fair play to those who dream and don’t give up“. Those are great words.

I think someone said on NPR this morning that international (foreign) stars dominated the awards last night and that may be true but I don’t think it was the trend that explains why they won. I think the academy awards are moving past the popularity contest that they used to be and really rewarding the most meaningful and powerful quality work in every category. It makes movies like la vie en rose or Once possible to win when they were only even shown at Art House theaters here in Chicago and most people never even heard about them. (in an unrelated event I went to a blockbuster video store this weekend and I didn’t recognize 1/2 the movies there either) I think this may help these indie, foreign or cutting edge films find an audience they would not have before but more importantly it rewards people with more work because of the award and makes the careers of talented people doing great work so they don’t have to sell out and just do what makes the most money. Its kind of like trying to positively influence capitalism’s negative affect on art.

I also think that it just so happens that the people willing to make these different movies that aren’t big blockbuster type films are more likely foreigners that are less influenced by the lure of the big Hollywood blockbuster that has no artistic quality but brings in a big paycheck and instead, these foreigin actors make movies for the love of making movies and the chance to do good work. And, they got rewarded for that. It is refreshing to find people who are interested in quality work over money. It seems that foreign people not only have the better work ethic and simpler lifestyle demands to be able to manufacture everything from our cars to our clothes but now they also have captured a more pure (not money only) sense of making movies also now. I think it’s kind of a sad sign in general for the U.S. but like always it doesn’t really mean anyone would really try and make a change. We’re not good at that.

I look forward to seeing some of the films that I had not seen yet by the Award telecast and hope to discover some new great actors and films that I can enjoy. And if you haven’t seen Once, go rent it on DVD from Netflix or wherever you rent DVDs today.

Ack Recession!

I have lived through 2 recessions that I can remember already and I really don’t need a third. The thing is that our economy used to run in 30 year cycles according to our history books. Now we seemed to be on a 10 year cycle early 90’s recession and 2001 recession pointed to this. And this time we were only growing the economy for about 5 years! (2002-2007) So, the Fed didn’t improve the economy by lowering interest rates back in 2001-2003 they just sped up the cycle.  And what they are doing now may be speeding up the cycle even faster. What will life be like if we have alternating boom bust years every other year? This is getting a little crazy.

How do you plan for your retirement or family or future with a yo-yo economy?

How can you buy property not knowing if you will have a job in a year? Or be able to get a job in the US reliably in 10 years when they have all gone overseas to lower rent districts? Sure some people will, but what about the average masses? Even those with college degrees keep having to change direction into the flavor of the month job wise with these companies and not everything is a living wage.

I just don’t know where our economy is going considering we have opened the door ourselves on developing nations and are being hit hard by how it has stolen the majority of our growth and industry. We are left as a nation of 300 million luxury consumers that on average owe $128,000.00 each to the bank (per economist’s state of 2008) and will take everything out on credit to have the latest new stuff. When we can’t borrow anymore or pay the bills (like now) the economy will crash and people don’t have any savings to stay afloat. I call that false growth in the first place, but the markets don’t seem to distinguish between what they can falsley get you to buy into for a while before it crashes and real growth, nor do they seem to care.

Doesn’t it feel like 1929 to you sometimes?

Of course these are generalizations and you may not fit the bill at all here but it’s the generalizations that run the economy right now. And I think it’s sad. Our nation’s executives and business leaders have sold out to the lowest bidder and given our jobs away with no loyalty to the country which made all their wealth possible. All the while expecting us to mortgage ourselves to the hilt to keep buying their goods. Something has to change with corporate accountability in order for this to settle without a complete melt down disaster.  And stop blaming the American consumer. It’s not their fault. If they weren’t set up to fail by huge greedy businesses none of this would have happened.