Saturday, 20 January 2018

Equality versus Equity

In our reading of King (1964) this morning, King was arguing not simply for justice but for additional support to give the African Americans the opportunity to gain equality. In effect, he is arguing that it is not equality unless you have equality of outcomes. Simply removing desegregation was not going to give justice unless the African Americans had the opportunity to take advantage of the new opportunities. Is it justice that you can go into a lunch bar and sit with white people if you cannot afford to buy a lunch? Is it justice if you can apply for jobs but you will not get them because you have not had the educational opportunities to gain the qualifications required? Is it justice if you have the qualifications and skills but you cannot get the position because the focus of your qualifications or skills does not match with the dominant framing story of society or the institutions that would normally employ you?
King was fighting for civil rights but he recognised that it was not simply the African Americans who were disadvantaged by the nature of capitalism. The poor whites suffered from the same disadvantages that segregation caused for the African American. He therefore argues that a bill of rights for the disadvantaged should not simply be for African Americans but should be for all disadvantaged people.
I see King’s argument as promoting the different between the argument for equality of opportunity or what I refer to as equality of outcome (equity). Equality of opportunity simply says anyone has the opportunity to participate but it does not take into consideration the disadvantages that some people have that actually hinders there ability to take those equality of opportunity. Equity recognises the those disadvantages and endeavours to overcome them so that all have the same outcome. An example of equity is were you have different height people and seeking to look over a fence. Giving them the same height box is equality but if those boxes do not allow all to see over the fence then there is no equality of outcome. If instead, they are given different height boxes to ensure that they all have the same view then you have equality of outcome or equity.
Some would contend that equity exists in our society but I see on a daily basis how some are disadvantaged because of attitudes of others or the competitive nature of funding gives advantages to others. If what you seek to achieve does not match the dominant themes then you are not likely to have the opportunities given to you. If the roles that you are able to obtain do not enable you to take opportunities to advance then you simply become enslaved to the system. Our society tends to reward those who already have the advantage and to restrict the opportunities for those who are disadvantaged.
I see the UK education system as failing to provide equity. It does nothing to help people find their strengths but instead forces students to conform and if they fail to conform then they are spat out as of no value to society. The opportunities to recognise that you have made the wrong choice and to restart are not there. Instead the system leaves them with a huge debt that locks them into a path that they possibly chose before they recognised what it was that they were interested in or that they were good at. That debt becomes a noose around their neck limiting their future opportunities.
However, it is not only students who are disadvantaged by the system. I see staff locked in because they need the work but cannot afford to move to another location. I see it in others that I meet who are locked into low paying occupations with no opportunity to advance. Capitalism inherently encourages inequality. Capitalism encourages conformity to its story. Capitalism requires competition and if you cannot commit or prefer not to compete then you have no future.
Like King, we need to be calling for reform of an unjust system. Like king through nonviolent action or protest, we need expose the injustice. We have to expose it in such a way that there becomes a real drive for reform. We need to continue the reforms of the civil rights movement so that real justice prevails.

Reference


 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964) Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Inequality and economic slavery

We have been working our way through King (1964) “Why we can’t wait” on the civil rights actions in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. King describes how the authorities fought to hold on to their segregated society in the face of nonviolent direct action. However, in today’s reading, it was comment that he made about a company who had major operations in the Birmingham area but whose headquarters were in New York that prompted this post. King says “Profits were not affected by racial injustice; indeed, they were benefited. Only people were hurt, and the greatest single power in Birmingham turned its back” (p 133).
As I reflect on inequality and economic slavery, I can see that I could adapt this statement to apply to many of the decisions being made by governments and business leaders. The company had said that it had “fulfilled” its “responsibility in the Birmingham area” (p 133) when in reality they had changed nothing and only benefitted from the segregationist policies.
Our capitalist system says that things are alright provided the “profit” is not impacted. Change only came in Birmingham, Alabama when the nonviolent direct action began to impact the profits of companies and even then the authorities sought to apply force to coerce the protesters to accept existing policy.
In the British media, the gender pay disparity has again hit the headlines in part because high profile females are protesting to not being paid as much as men for the same job. I agree with their claims, they should receive the same pay but I would contend that there is a more uneven pay differential that is being completely ignored and it is this second pay differential that leads to inequality. I no longer believe that we should be judging the value of skills as a way of differentiating how much we should pay people. The argument for the skills pay differentiation is “market forces”. Supposedly it is easy to recruit workers for low skilled jobs. There are more people competing for these jobs so the pay is low. If I listen to some of the anti-Brexit discussion, this appears not to be true. People do not want the low paid jobs and avoid taking them on. The low paid jobs have no future and do not guarantee security. They lock you in as a slave for life. As a result employers are looking to immigrants who will just about take any job to fill these lowed paid positions. If market forces were at play then the pay would rise to attract local workers to take up this work but that doesn’t happen. The market doesn’t work. Pressurising the low paid to take lower wages in order to maintain profit is what drives the economy.
However, the pay disparity between the low paid and the high paid ensures the unequal distribution of wealth. It ensures that a proportion of the population stay enslaved to the economic system. With government policies being made based on the average or above average income, a large percentage of the population are unable to achieve a viable living standard and they are certainly unable to put aside what is needed for a pension. I am sure this claim could easily be verified from the national statistical databases. The end result is that a large proportion of the population is enslaved to the work that they can obtain or they remain locked in to receiving government handouts.
I believe that it is not simply time that the gender pay gap was resolved. It is time that we overcame pay prejudice and rewarded everyone equally for the time that the put in. It is also time that we implemented a basic income for all and to get rid of the discriminatory social security systems that are implemented around the world. Inequality is not the result of people failing to put in the effort. Inequality has its roots in pay inequality and the basic operation of a market driven economy.
Profits are not affected by pay disparity; indeed, they are benefited. Only people are hurt, and the greatest single power for achieving equality has turned its back.” This power is governments and business owners. We could have a completely different system if the focus was on greater equality and not difference.
Yes, I can hear the cries that we cannot afford to do this but a lot of these cries show a complete lack of understanding of money and its creation. We do not have enough money because we have turned money creation into private debt and focussed on being able to pay. Governments ability to create money for essential works is being hampered by attempting to treat governments like companies and declaring that they have to live within their income (i.e. tax). If you want growth in the system then there needs to be an expansion in the money supply and that expansion has to be without the debt risk. The only entity that can expand the money supply without the debt risk is the government through its central bank but that is for another blog.

Reference


 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964) Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Heroes and Peace building

I have never been comfortable with the “Help for Heroes” charity and the constant use of heroes for military personal. The more I read on peace building, the more I object to the use of the term heroes for military personal. The use of this terminology glorifies militarism and war. It also silences any voices that may voice alternative approaches, such as peace building, to militarism.
However, if we are not in favour of calling our military personal heroes then what do we call them. I call them victims of our militaristic framing story and, like all victims, they need our support and help. It should not be through charities. It should, along with helping the civilians impacted by war, be accounted for as part of the cost of going to war. If this was done then I suspect governments would be more reluctant to use militarism as a way of resolving international conflicts. They may also be more reluctant to support an arms industry as a way to increase the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
There are numerous problems with trying to change this deep seated cultural perspective. There is the impact on those who have served as soldiers and who have returned from war zones that now feel that they have sacrificed through putting themselves in harms way but are forgotten or their work is not honoured. I recognise this problem and if we are to transition away from a militaristic culture then we need to acknowledge that it is our cultural norms that have promoted this militaristic self-sacrifice. It is we who must accept the guilt of having sent them to cause destruction and not they who should be treated as outcastes. We speak against the action and not the person.
The problem with militarism is that we send out people with weaponry to cause destruction in another nation, and then when the military personal return, we are upset at the destruction caused. We are upset at what appears to be indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weaponry that is unable to pick out individuals. But we are to blame because indirectly we supported the militarist stance that sent them there. Even as a pacifist and peace builder through silence, I have implicitly allowed military action to occur even though I feel we should be pursuing peace building alternatives.
We, the general public, are at fault here and we need to acknowledge that we have sent people out to maim and be maimed. Yes, they may have signed up for service but our implicit acceptance of the militaristic solution is what keeps the current system in place.
What I am arguing for is a change of language around military service. We need the programs to rehabilitate those who have served and this isn’t simply to make them feel they have done us a service. Even more we need a change in language about how to deal with international relationships and terrorism. This may mean acknowledging the harm that we have done in colonising other nations and our attitude of superiority. So often I hear politicians using words that suggest the third world nations should be grateful for our help when it is we who have caused many of the issues that have arisen in their relationship with us.
We need to be humble and willing to listen. To stop demanding what we want and be more willing to meet the need. The capitalist system favours those with the wealth. It never starts or operates with the equal playing field that free markets require. The imbalance exists and until the imbalance is addressed and continually addressed, we will have those who rise in protest.
Peace building starts with listening and understanding the problem. It does not ignore conflict but seeks to deal with it by looking at the underlying causes. It means being prepared to nonviolently stand up to the oppressor and to expose the injustice. Militarism does not do this. Militarism relies on might and coercion. Peace building seeks to put things right and to bring justice.
As I reflect, I recognise that the problem is not simply militarism but that coercion is deeply ingrained into the culture of western society. Our businesses apply coercion to customers. Our education system indoctrinates students. We foster an us versus them culture where we must win and others must lose. To maintain this culture, you have to apply coercion whether through military power or monetary reward. People are required to conform.
If we are serious about seeking to build a peaceful society then we need to focus on meeting needs and not demanding payment. An economy for the common good has to be an equitable economy. That is an economy that ensures all people’s needs are meet regardless of how we value their contribution to society. It also means to enable people to contribute, we need to focus more on their potential and enabling them to develop in ways that allow them to be contented and to feel that they belong. The tensions that we try to repress with militarism are caused by the imbalance of our economic system. If we fail to address the subtle coercion of our economic practices then we will fail to bring a coherent peace.

It is time for a serious rethink so that peace building takes priority and the bulk of our investment. Our use of the term heroes needs to decline.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

I am not who you want me to be

I am approaching retirement after forty plus years of working in the computer industry or teaching in higher education or universities. Along the way, I have done a number of interesting things but I find myself saying that I am retiring to pursue the things that I want to do and to be who I want to be. I am revolting against being forced to conform and be someone that I am not.
I often wonder how many others are crying inside saying “let me be who I am and not what you think I should be.” I fear that some of them who resolve to be free turn to violence and become something that they end up loathing more than what they were trying to escape from in the first place. Others simply give up and try and escape in activities away from the daily grind for survival. Is this really what life is all about?
This blog is stimulated by the situation that I find myself in but I was also motivated by some reading that I am currently doing on peacebuilding (Francis, 2010). She was reflecting on people movements and in particular how some people movements started by women with no formal education change when they become funded so that the originators of the movement are no longer involved. This happens because the funding organisation seeks professionals to run the movement and not amateurs. In the process, the movement loses its original focus and becomes what it can obtain funds to achieve.
As I look back over my life, I see a number of recurring patterns related to this theme. I am a problem solver and technician. I enjoy the challenge of making things work or of uncovering the underlying problems. However, I found frequently, I was being pushed to take on managerial roles or in the role that I was in, they have added a whole swag of managerial type tasks. In nearly every case, I have rebelled by moving on or in some cases getting in and doing the technical work that was required rather than the managerial work. Most of my managers never understood and I suspect still don’t. Promotion systems rely on people seeking to move up the ranks into management but not all want to be managers. Quite frankly some of us don’t want management roles at all.
Let me give some examples. In the late 1980s I was working for a company that ran a computer bureau operation. I initially went in as a programmer supporting a bank. The asked me to manage the introduction of IBM’s new AS400 into the bureau. A bureau operation is different to how these machines were used within companies so we needed to ensure that they were configured to match our security requirements. Those who supported these systems contended that we could not achieve what we wanted to achieve because what we wanted wasn’t how they did things with these machines. I was supposed to be the manager but I demanded the manuals and set about verifying whether they were correct. I quickly discovered that they weren’t correct but that the conventions in the use of these machines was to use the super user to maintain all the software on the system. I set about setting up what we wanted partly because the people who were supposed to do it for me flatly refused. The technician in me loved solving the problem. I didn’t enjoy the management issues of getting someone else to get it right.
Later in education, I was asked to prepare a proposal for the introduction of a degree programme. Once we had it through the approval processes and were implementing it, I was asked to manage the programme. Sorry managing the programme isn’t me so I found myself a position that would allow me to return to the technical work and when that migrated back to managerial tasks, I resigned again and moved back to a teaching role.
I look at why I am not getting a large number of research outputs in my current role and I could argue that it is because the role is focused on teaching but there is a deeper problem. Research roles once you get past the original qualifying work (i.e. obtaining a PhD and getting a base research history) are not about doing the research. They are about obtaining research funding, recruiting novice researchers, and managing the research process. Although I have seen a number of things achieved through student final year projects and with a PhD student, I find myself frustrated because the ideas that I have are not being implemented. They are being distorted. I find my knowledge base is secondary knowledge and not primary knowledge (although I admit for teaching preparation, I do experiment with the ideas and technology so I have a practical working knowledge). I love the experimentation that goes with learning new things. I enjoy the challenge of experimentation and implementation. I do not get that as a manager or in the roles that I find a university wants me to be. I can not be a teacher who teaches from someone else’s materials. I have to teach from what I understand and know. This means there is a huge overhead when I am asked to teach something that is not part of my background and it becomes worse when what I am asked to teach is not something that interests me. I teach from my knowledge base which I work to expand and through interaction with the learners. In the process my knowledge and their knowledge grows.
As I watch crowds of people going to and from work, and receive calls from people being paid to pester people with marketing that they don’t want to receive, I am not surprised by the problems that we have in this world. How many of these people are actually finding fulfilment in the work that they are employed to do? They work because the system says that this is the way to earn money. They don’t work for enjoyment or to improve things for others. Each day is the same old drudge just to earn a little more.
I suspect in my retirement that I may need to supplement my income from time to time with work but I am determined that the focus will be on things that I want to do and see as valuable and not things dictated to me by a system that I no longer see as valuable or support.
If you are a manager and reading this then please give your workers space to be themselves and to explore things that they want to do. Let them find out who they are and give them space to develop some of the characteristics that make them who they really are. If you work for a funding agency then give the movement you are funding space to be able to keep those people involved who set the movement going even if they don’t have the qualification and credentials you desire. You will get more from people if they find that what they are doing allows them to be who they are and to find enjoyment in what they are doing.

References


 Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Path To Retirement

I am beginning the process of preparing to retire but this does not mean doing nothing. What I am looking forward to is being able to pursue some of my dreams and visions that have been bogged down by the daily grind of work. I am not retiring because I wait to finish working. I am retiring because I no longer see the work that I am doing moving in the direction that I believe is desirable. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer belief in the system that my work is promoting or encouraging others to pursue. One of the possibilities for retirement is that I will have a base income that will allow us to meet our needs but that income will not dictate how I spend my days. It will allow us to fulfil our potential in areas that have been dormant while we have pursued the income that we believed we needed to live.
Earlier this year (25 March), I blogged on a set of progressive principles that I had been working with a group here in Birmingham to develop. The key principle for me from our five principles is enabling potential. I know others argued that this principle was too academic and was the weakest of the principles that we developed. For me, if we recognise the importance of enabling potential then our attitudes will change to the way that we see others and to the way education is developed. It would also change the way that we treat other nations and I believe resolve many of our international relationship issues.
Enabling potential is about understanding the needs of others and the environment to enable them to flourish using the skill set that they have been given. Our current economic and educational system looks at all things from the perspective of the profit that can be made from them. Under the current system, the use of the environment is about maximising production whether in farming or extracting natural resources. Enabling the environment to flourish is something that individuals have to fight for against the system.
In the education, I see it increasingly being about indoctrination of students to become part of the current system and not about helping them to become what they are capable of becoming. We push large numbers through a pipeline for the purposes of enabling them to be employed in a system that is slowly destroying them and the planet. That indoctrination process doesn’t ask them to question the direction of society or to evaluate evidence. That might make them unemployable. The fact that encouraging the questions to question and to develop their potential might lead to a better society is irrelevant.
Two of the other principles are equal society and economy for the common good. I believe neither of these principles will be achieved without creating a needs based economy, that is one that focuses on meeting needs rather than achieving profits. I believe that this was the basis of the original obligation systems (Graeber, 2011; Martin, 2013) and not for the accounting of what was owed as the result of a trade. What was exchanged was what was predominantly what was needed to live.
A needs based economy and enabling potential require a change in focus from what can I make from this exchange to understand others and the environment so that we can meet their needs. This makes it a much more relational attitude and one that encourages understanding. This is how I understand conflict resolution or transformation and particularly peace building. Government peace building often focuses on creating infrastructure and economies (Francis, 2010) but this ignores the relational aspects of peace building. My interest is to promote this more relational approach to peace building, economics, environment, and individual relationships.
So if you are interested in building a different society to the one that we have now. A society that is not competitive but cooperative. One that fosters potential rather than indoctrinates then lets talk.

References

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House.
Martin, F. (2013). Money, The unauthoriesd biography. London: The Bodley Head.
Francis, D. (2010). From pacification to peacebuilding: A call to global transformation. England: Pluto Press.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Wider Ecosystem

Being without the MacBook Pro that I have worked on for the last six years has taught me a few things about the way that I am dependent on the computing environment that I have created. Being able to restore my data did allow me to continue work but it lacked the tool set that I was familiar with and I found myself looking to get my environment back. A Ubuntu based system provided my first interim system but it lacked the tools that made my job easier. I am not keen on remember lots of command line commands to get basic tasks completed nor do I favour test editors over proper development environments that tell you when you have a syntax error. I wanted the tool set that I was used to and am familiar with. To compound it LibreOffice which I use for doing these blogs did not edit PowerPoint slides without corrupting the graphics and some of the animations. A Widows system with Microsoft Office helped the editing problem but I was conscious that I was losing a lot of time fighting the systems that were not setup for the way that I work. The computer needs to be a productivity aid and not a handicap to productivity.
I did manage almost seven days ago to get an iMac to boot from the MacBook Pro disk. That gave me all except the network connectivity that I was used to. But having proved that the iMac would run the latest software and talk to the network, our tech support decided it needed to be upgraded to the latest OS X and set up to the current university standard. That meant a change in my user id. Sounds simple but how do you transfer you settings from one user id to another?
Yes, I made some progress by running from the MacBook Pro disk drive but my Time Machine backup is accessible to the iMac (different networks and location and I am not prepared to put my backup on a public network). Still everything is on the MacBook Pro disk so migrate from there. That would have worked fine as long as the user id was not changing or the user id was not already setup. Two days more lost migrating and copying files and I am getting closer to what I used to have but still feels a long way off. This is now two weeks of low productivity and I am conscious that when the replacement MacBook Pro arrives, it will be configured to the latest university standard so taking the time on the iMac may make it easier to migrate. That is at least the hope. I might be able to set it running the migration over a weekend and go in on the Monday to a working system (as the New Zealand Tui beer adds say ‘Yeah Right!’).
This whole episode reminds me of being a systems programmer supporting IBM’s VM/370 and DOS/VSE operating systems. Each new release meant changes in the configurations. The systems programmer spent their time setting the system up and ensuring that migration was possible. Here I am thinking again about system configuration but I am conscious that my current system configuration is based on having access to the Mac OS X environment. Is it possible to have a more portable work environment configuration? A portable environment that would work regardless of the operating system or equipment supplier. Supposedly cloud computing is the solution but do I want all my data and applications out in the cloud?

I am talking here about computer ecosystems and what we get used to but I am also conscious of how dependent we get on modes of transport and wider social environments. Changes in these also influence our productivity and how we respond to the things that are happening around us. Rebuilding a work environment or social environment when it has been uprooted through relocation or disaster is not easy. Yet, the current economic thinking assumes mobility and adaptability. Could it be possible that our workers might be more productive if we provided them with a more stable work environment? I believe that we can and should but then I am just a squeaky door that can be ignored.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Stuck or Locked into an Ecosystem

This blog is prompted by the failure of my six year old work MacBook Pro. I love the machine and the Mac interface, and I like the way that I can step down to a BSD Unix command line when I need to but what do you do when your faithful computer system fails? I was fortunate because I had used Beyond Compare to update my backup on my home network drive (NAS – Network Accessible Storage) and I had also used the Apple Time Machine backup to place a copy of the critical files on the NAS drive. Just for security, I have two of NAS drives and one backs up to the other on a weekly basis. They also use a four disk RAID disk arrays so that if one drive fails, I can replace it and the system will recover with no lose of data. That makes it sound like I am fairly safe against equipment failure. Right???
But before I describe some of the issues that arose, let me make sure you understand what is meant by an ecosystem. The meaning according to the Oxford dictionary is “Community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” That meaning is based around the natural environment but a more general use of the term again according to the Oxford dictionary is “a complex network or interconnected system.” So in the context of this blog, I am going to talk about the Apple Ecosystem or the Android Ecosystem or the Windows Ecosystem or the Microsoft Office Ecosystem or your favourite browser ecosystem but I might stray into the economic ecosystem as well. Why? Well the failure of my MacBook Pro taught me a lot about my dependency on the features of these systems and on my assumptions about how economic systems work.
Let me explain: We become used to using the features of our chosen system to manage our work environment. In my case, this wasn’t simply the files and data that I worked with but things like remembering user ids, passwords and URLs. I don’t trust to memory many of the everyday tasks because I like to use my brain for the more challenging thinking so why clutter memory with things that my tool set can remember for me. I wish security experts understood this trait because they might then understand why all their efforts at strengthening the security of systems fail but that is a side issue maybe for a later blog.
I quickly restored my files from the backup that I do with Beyond Compare because this is simply a copy of the files to my backup drives. Accessing the Apple Time Machine backup was a little more difficult. At work, I had access to an iMac except I could not log in because it was no longer recognised by the work network and anyway it couldn’t access my home based NAS drive (I deliberately have not made this accessible via the internet. Attaching to the internet is like making it a public resource so ensuring it can’t be reached is key to security). Option one gone. Option two was to use computers in the university labs but these are dual boot of either Windows or Linux and again don’t have access to my home NAS drive. I was provided with a temporary desktop machine that runs Ubuntu. That is reasonably close to Linux and the BSD core of the Mac operating system so few difficulties with using the machine but what about the software combinations?
I was conscious that my Beyond Compare backup was completed at the weekend and I had two days work that was only captured on the Apple Time Machine backup so how do you access that. I found a piece of software that would give me access from our home Windows computer so latest backed up copies were restored but did I have everything I needed?
The MacBook had Microsoft Office on it and I used Outlook to manage my emails (the Mac Outlook file format isn’t compatible with the Windows version although you can export and import between them provided you have a Mac). Still web access was there for emails that I hadn’t downloaded but the history of emails was gone (and still is). A lot of my lecture materials are based on PowerPoint or Word documents. LibreOffice will solve that (right?). Well not quite. Subtle differences in the way formatting is handled makes even simple documents a potential problem and I have animations in my lecture slides and the lecture theatres all have Windows based lecture machines so compatibility is key.
But it was all those website URLs and passwords that were the real issue. They were locked away in the Keychain on the Mac although shared with Safari and somewhere out there on the cloud. The solution was to install Safari (No longer supported by Apple for Windows nor Ubuntu). At least I have the iPhone and iPad so I can look them up there but you need internet access, right! Fortunately, I do have that but what I am really getting at is our dependence on the ecosystem that includes our chosen operating system, software tool set, and the internet with all its security risks.
Whether we are using the Apple, Microsoft, or some brand of Linux/Unix, we are locked into that ecosystem especially if we use its features for saving critical information such as user ids, passwords and URLs. However, the same applies for browsers. I have already highlighted the Safari issue but it also happens with Firefox, Chrome, … Each use their own file formats for saving critical data. Any tool we use potentially has that problem.
Some of my computer science colleagues would say the solution is easy use what I will call the lowest common denominator (i.e. text files) or files that contain the equivalent of text (i.e. Latex or XML). All you need is a text editor to access them. I explore this some years ago toward the end of WordPerfect. One reason why I was using WordPerfect was that it allowed me to use SGML, the forerunner of XML to produce documents. For a while, this gave me a combination of WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) and a file format that I could access and maintain separate to the WordPefect. The idea never really gained popularity and many of my colleagues in computer science would suggest Latex as a preferred option that gave better typesetting. The thing is using text based files does man that you are not having to find specialist tool sets (software) to access your data when things fail. (I am going to ignore encryption in this discussion because that adds another level of issues and for the average user is possibly beyond their ability to resolve).
However, this whole episode has made me think of other dependencies on the ecosystem. Having just leased an electric car, I am conscious of the dependency on an infrastructure that doesn’t actually have a consistent access. We have to sign up to a number of different schemes to gain access to electricity pumps. Some are RFID card access and others are app on smart phone access. Are we leaving ourselves open to running out of charge in the middle of no where with no electricity pump we can use? Fortunately, we can use a standard power outlet but that is a slower charging process but may give us enough charge to get to a faster charging pump.
All of these are symptoms of our growing dependency on technologies many of which are not standardised but we also have also accepted an economic ecosystem. One that involves credit checks, debts, digital currencies, cash cards, … Few stop to ask where this race is actually heading or whether this economic ecosystem is actually fit for purpose. Theoretically as the UK works toward separation from the EU, it has the opportunity to rethink some of these economic issues but I doubt whether they will be rethought or whether the questions will really be asked about inequality. Why?
We are locked into a growth economic mindset and a belief that as long as the economy keeps growing, there will be access to everything that people need. This is despite the signs that in something like a 200 year period, we have gone from surplus of many natural resources to scarcity. It is tempting to argue that poverty has increased but my family history research tells me that over 500 years or maybe more, society has never dealt with poverty well. We have condemned people to the poor house because they were locked into an old ecosystem that was no longer relevant in technological advance. Employment agent continue to do this when people are made redundant. Our mindset is shuttered by the economic environment in which we work.
What could have been an obligation to meet the needs of others with our skill set has been replaced by an obligation to pay for the goods and services we receive. How many of us received from our parents the resources that we needed to gain an education and to get our first employment. Mine didn’t do it because they were expecting a return on investment and we didn’t do it for our children because we expected them to pay us back. Yet, the basis on which we run our economies is maximising for self and arguing for return on investment. That economic perspective locks us in as much as the technologies we use to write this blog or do many of the other things in life.

Let us stop and think what is really important and what it would take to survive if and when our economic ecosystem collapses. Historical evidence suggests that we have the intuition to survive without these ecosystems but are we losing these intuitive skills just as we are losing the fertile ground to grow our crops in the local community? It is time for a rethink and to ask what type of ecosystem do we want to be locked into.