How to Work in Engineering for Global Development

job engineer2“So, you have decided to put your engineering skills to use in the service of global development, but you’re not sure how to get started. We asked some of our happily employed members and other experts and came away with two different kinds of answers. The first is that it’s hard, and the second is that it’s possible.”

Read more at Engineering For Change. Image: Envisioning the American Dream.

Human Alarm Clocks

human alarm clockI’m one of those people for whom it’s hard to get out of bed early, especially when I didn’t sleep enough. Setting an alarm clock makes little sense because I turn it off and go back to sleep. Setting multiple alarm clocks throughout the apartment might work, but it bothers the neighbours and I will still wake up too late. The only foolproof solution for me is a human alarm clock, but unfortunately this is not always available, or reliable.

Enter the professional human alarm clock, or knocker-up. Before the advent of reliable and affordable alarm clocks, British and Irish workers were woken up by a person who made sure they could get to work on time. The knocker-up used a baton to knock on clients’ doors or a long and light stick to reach windows on higher floors. Others used a pea-shooter.

knocker up with pea shooterThe knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until it was sure that the client had been awoken. People would agree verbally, in advance, or simply post a preferred time on doors or windows. There were large numbers of people carrying out the job, especially in larger industrial towns such as Manchester and London.

Generally the job was carried out by elderly men and women but sometimes police constables supplemented their pay by performing the task during early morning patrols. Larger factories and mills often employed their own knocker-ups to ensure labourers made it to work on time. The profession lasted at least until the late 1920s and in some regions until the 1950s. Bringing it back would not only make me reach early morning appointments on time. It would also create new employment, foster social cohesion, and save energy and resources.

Sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4. Thanks to Cynthia Hathaway.

How Beneficial is the Sharing Economy?

“Uber is part of a new wave of corporations that make up what’s called the “sharing economy.” The premise is seductive in its simplicity: people have skills, and customers want services. Silicon Valley plays matchmaker, churning out apps that pair workers with work. Now, anyone can rent out an apartment with AirBnB, become a cabbie through Uber, or clean houses using Homejoy. But under the guise of innovation and progress, companies are stripping away worker protections, pushing down wages, and flouting government regulations. At its core, the sharing economy is a scheme to shift risk from companies to workers, discourage labor organizing, and ensure that capitalists can reap huge profits with low fixed costs.”

Read more: Against Sharing. Thanks to Sarah.

Medieval Fairs and Market Towns

medieval fairs and market towns

After quitting Soberton Down, we came up a hill leading to Hambledon, and turned off to our left to bring us down to Mr. Goldsmith’s at West End, where we now are, at about a mile from the village of Hambledon.

A village it now is; but it was formerly a considerable market-town, and it had three fairs in the year. Wens [large overcrowded cities] have devoured market-towns and villages; and shops have devoured markets and fairs; and this, too, to the infinite injury of the most numerous classes of the people.

Shop-keeping, merely as shop-keeping, is injurious to any community. What are the shop and the shop-keeper for? To receive and distribute the produce of the land. There are other articles, certainly; but the main part is the produce of the land. The shop must be paid for; the shop-keeper must be kept.

When fairs were frequent, shops were not needed. A manufacturer of shoes, of stockings, of hats; of almost anything that man wants, could manufacture at home in an obscure hamlet, with cheap house-rent, good air, and plenty of room. He need pay no heavy rent for shop; and no disadvantages from confined situation; and then, by attending three or four or five or six fairs in a year, he sold the work of his hands, unloaded with a heavy expense attending the keeping of a shop.

Quoted from: “Rural Rides“, William Cobbett, 1830.

Tax Resources, Not Labour

“In our society, high taxes on labor drive businesses to minimize the number of employees. Resources remain untaxed, so we use them unconstrained. This system causes both unemployment and scarcity of resources.” Read. Via Femke Groothuis.

Workers of the World Relax !

We work too hard. Thanks to Leah Temper.

Characteristics of Modern Technique (3)

“The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains.”

Bookbinders “Modern technology has deprived man of the kind of work that he enjoys most, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which he does not enjoy at all.”

“All this confirms our suspicion that modern technology, the way it has developed, is developing, and promises further to develop, is showing an increasingly inhuman face, and that we might do well to take stock and reconsider our goals.”

Quoted from: “Small Is Beautiful“, E.F. Schumacher, 1973.

Characteristics of modern technique (2)
Characteristics of modern technique (1)

Has There Been Progress Since 1250?

“Even in backward mining communities, as late as the sixteenth century more than half the recorded days were holidays; while for Europe as a whole, the total number of holidays, including Sunday, came to 189, a number even greater than those enjoyed by Imperial Rome. Nothing more clearly indicates a surplus of food and human energy, if not material goods. Modern labor-saving devices have as yet done no better.”

Quoted from “Myth of the Machine : Technics and Human Development“, Lewis Mumford, 1967.

Has There Been Progress Since 1250?

has there been progress since 1250“Fourastié [A French economist] is right in putting the case numerically to dramatize the shortening of the work week and the enormous transformation in living standards and in the qualitative nature of life. The case is indeed simple if 1950 is compared with 1815. But it is no longer quite so simple if 1950 is compared with 1250. It is important to consider, for labor, not only time but intensity.”

“It is possible to make a meaningful comparison between the fifteen-hour workday of a miner in 1830 and the seven-hour workday of 1950. But there is no common denominator between the seven-hour day of 1950 and the fifteen-hour day of the medieval artisan. We know that the peasant interrupts his workday with innumerable pauses. He chooses his own tempo and rhythm. He converses and cracks jokes with every passer-by.”

“We cannot say with assurance that there has been progress from 1250 to 1950. In so doing, we would be comparing things which are not comparable. Therefore, it is advisable to limit ourselves to saying that there has been progress since the beginning of the industrial era, which was founded on the breakup and destruction of the non-comparable and vanished old order.”

Quoted from “The Technological Society“, Jacques Ellul, 1964 (p192) / Original work: “La technique ou l’enjeu du siècle”, 1954. The illustration is a detail of “Les quatre états de la société”, a late 15th century painting by Jean Bourdichon.

Obsolete Occupations: the Jobs of Yesteryear

obsolete occupations of yesteryear

Overview of endangered professions at the National Public Radio (via Obsoletos): “As computers and automated systems increasingly take the jobs humans once held, entire professions are now extinct”.

I would like to add to this: As fossil fuels run out, some of these professions might return. And then I want to become a River Driver. Previously: the panorama of professions and trades.