Dirk Knemeyer

A Gentler Future for Knowledge Work, January 5, 2017

The French law really struck a personal note for me. The reason for that is when I was younger, it’s less over the last few years, but when I was younger I was basically working 17 hours a day.

I would be spending a little bit of the time with family, but even when I’m there the email’s going and if something important comes in I’m going to respond to it. There’s someone who I worked with for a long time, worked very closely, and certainly email was a big part of our communication. Probably more so for me, I’ve always been a heavy email-er, I’m introverted, it just email as a medium suits me pretty well. There came a point his wife wrote me and said, “Dirk, you can’t send emails on the weekend anymore.” She said, “All weekend emails flow in from you with all these big initiatives, requests, things to do, and my husband gets more and more stressed. More and more anxious. More and more unhappy, because your emails keep coming in.” She said, “You just, you just can’t do it anymore.”

I was in my 30s at that point and so you know I had been emailing my way, which is 24/7 essentially for many years. Just oblivious to the possibility that for another person, that flow of communication in certain times, in certain volumes, would be a negative. Would be something that had a deleterious effect on them, because at that phase of my life I was just sort of wired to be always working, always going, it wasn’t, it may have been subconsciously and internally stressful for me in ways I wasn’t in touch with. Consciously when emails would come in I didn’t feel stress, I just attacked them, I just took them, I just went right to them. The metaphor I’ve used for email is tennis. It’s like playing tennis. I would run around the court making sure the balls were always in the other people’s court, basically.

Fast forward now to today, and France is identifying the fact that email, receiving email, feeling the compulsion to respond to email, the requests that email may contain that spur someone to other action at certain times, in certain proportions, isn’t good for you. It’s unhealthy in ways large or small. I think that’s an important recognition. I don’t think that the French law, you know, you said the sort of- we don’t know yet, is it just one little thing, is it visionary. It’s probably one little thing. France has been a trailblazer in affecting labor law that basically no-one else adopts, right? France famously did the 30 hour work week I don’t know how many years ago, but sometime this decade. You know, nobody else is doing that, or maybe there’s a few small countries. But, the main pillars of the economy certainly are not. They’re going by the old rules, and the old modes.

I’m happy that this law is sort of making us think more about the impacts of modern technology on human life. First world life to make it more specific. But, I don’t think that this law in and of itself is going to amount to a sea-change of any sort.

I think things are going to get on differently now then in the earlier industrial revolution and there’s a few reasons why. Number one is at that time, the worst part of your life was work. You would go in, you’d lose fingers, you wouldn’t be able to sleep, it was human slavery, human torture, human- I mean it was really, the worst part of your life was the work experience. Now, the worst part of your life is not the work experience. So yeah I know, using email as the example, it can be stressful to get email at night. It can be stressful to get email on vacation, on the weekend, yadda, yadda, yadda. But, that’s not the worst part of our lives. The worst part of our lives is not the work part, it’s the life part. It’s the fact that we’re addicted to sugar. It’s the fact that we’re addicted to salt. It’s the fact that we are addicted to the call of the new. It’s the fact that we are in this broken capitalist paradigm that makes us fat, that makes us inattentive, that makes us feel unfulfilled.

There were enormous reasons why the industrial revolution needed to be reformed, and the inhumanity of work needed to be brought more in line with what’s appropriate. But, it’s so much farther down the list now. The issues we have, or rather some of the personal things that I said, or some of the more systemic things around global warming. Like, the fact that email stresses us out is just not a big deal on the list, whereas child labor laws and some of the things that didn’t exist over a 100 years ago, like the absence of those, were more sort of at the fulcrum of what was wrong with civilization.

The things that are wrong with civilization now are really far removed from the plight of the digital worker. Which, is not to say that those aren’t negative things, but it’s going to be a lot harder to coalesce around that as the rallying cry in this environment of plenty, and where the real issues and the real things that are killing us are happening at a very different level.

When I walk into a store, they have a sensor that records the person walked into the store; is that inclusive in my data? When I’m out on the street there are cameras filming, and some of them can make out my face and could come in tight on my face, and that’s data out there. Is that my data? To me that’s the trickiest, because it requires a crisp definition of what, quote unquote, your data is. I haven’t seen a good thesis for what that should be, and I think getting to the bottom of it is going to be tricky.

 


Emerging Technologies & Global Warming, November 4, 2016

What I’m finding is that the advances that are coming more from the science side as opposed to more of the commercial side are the more interesting emerging technologies, the more interesting advances, because they are necessary. I mean, they have a real clear applicable benefit beyond just making some corporation a lot of money while having nominal questionable convenience benefits for the first world.

Did you know that most of the leading oceanographers will not eat seafood anymore? They will not eat things that come out of the sea. They’re so concerned about the detrimental impact to their health for eating the seafood that they won’t eat it anymore.

What I would like to see more of from a standpoint of emerging technology, emerging science, are things that are reversing global warming. Some of the things we’re talking about will allow us to move away from technologies that hurt the environment and warm the earth, to things that either do it less, or don’t do it all. We need to start cooling the earth, right? That’s just the fact of it, unless we want to accept the sea level rises and the other really catastrophic things that are going to come from it. Notably absent on this list are technologies designed for that purpose, to not just slow down the warming, but to start cooling and start going in the other direction. That’s the kind of thing I’m really interested in seeing and as far as I can tell, very little effort is being put to those endeavors.

It reflects industrial age thinking. As you mentioned, there still is a waste product from, for example, microbes that pull and process carbon dioxide that needs to be stored somewhere. I mean, we’ve happily stored garbage underground. We’ve happily stored nuclear waste underground. We can keep doing that, but it doesn’t scale, right? 2016, what about 3016? At some point, we run out of places and the science fiction idea of jettisoning garbage and rubbish into space, that doesn’t scale either. I mean, our world and by world I mean the greater, not just our planet or our universe, but everything. I mean, it’s all interconnected at the end of the day, right? It’s all interconnected, and we continue to take things and turn them into rubbish of varying degrees and toxicity, and putting it away for later, but at some point with later, there’s a reckoning, right? I’d love to see us break out of that frame, of the industrial, going back pre-industrial.

I mean, I guess we go back to agrarian so well into the BC, but of just, “Hey, there’s waste. Bury it, dump it, move it down the road and move on,” I mean, let’s stop with waste. Let’s totally change our thinking and think long term, think sustainable in a more global way. I’m just tilting at windmills at this point.


Future of Diagnostic Health Tools, February 26, 2015

Yeah, I mean it’s steps on the path. We’re seeing this technology continue to progress and evolve where our devices can take data from ourselves and interpret it in ways that used to be done in expensive labs and take a long time. It truly is just sort of one step closer to the Star Trek Tricorder, like that’s the endgame in a certain way. The technology of course will be different. There wasn’t technology in Star Trek. The manifestation will be different, but I mean we’re heading towards if you’re going to hook up with someone, you just have something that is not much more intrusive than a breath analyzer that gives you a very quick readout saying, “Yay, this person’s clean,” or, “boo, this person has XYZ.” I mean this is one step on that path, and it’s something that’s coming pretty soon.