One of the things I learned during my work in Haiti is that scarcity can be a catalyst for community. That idea rarely comes to play in the United States, where we have so much. But when I stopped by McDonalds for a writing break, and there was only one electrical outlet in the dining area, I had to set up my computer next the man already plugged in. We spent the next hour talking. If there had been other receptacles, we never would have met.
Michael Greigo is a long-time Seattle area resident, father of two, and market research consultant for Microsoft. He explained that Microsoft has about 70,000 employees, and an equal number of vendors. In some cases, employees and vendors perform different tasks, but in other cases, full-time employees and contract workers do virtually identical jobs. Michael knows contract project managers that have worked on the same project for years.
Last year, Microsoft changed its policies toward contract staff, limiting access to Microsoft’s buildings and networks to 18 months before requiring a 6-month hiatus. Michael doesn’t know what prompted the change, though local blogs are full of speculation. (Michael was being strategic in his innocence; Microsoft was skirting Justice Department requirements for ‘employees’.) Regardless, the result is that managers who want to retain contractors resort to work-arounds. When Michael’s eighteen months as a contractor ended, he shifted to work with a management consulting service. “It’s a different structure, but the same work, the same project.”
Michael likes contractor status and believes most other contractors prefer it to being employees. “I go in the office about once a week. I get my work done, don’t have to deal with politics, and have more time to pursue other projects.” This summer morning he’d dropped his daughter off at band camp, then come to McDonald’s with his niece for a change of scene before picking his daughter up later. “I couldn’t do that if I worked full-time for Microsoft.
How will we live tomorrow?
“When I look around I think of Wall-e. We value what is on our screen more than what is around us. If we don’t pay attention, we will lose our connection. Kids attention spans are shrinking, but their capacity to access information is faster. They have different skill sets.
“Tomorrow could be a really bright place. The next thirty years will be more dynamic than the last one hundred. What we have now – GPS, Internet – was science fiction thirty years ago. Look at 3-D printing. We can make a prosthetic limb and send it to a third world country.
“Tomorrow could be revolutionary. Or, with climate change and political instability, it could be terrible. The range of what tomorrow can be is huge. It’s never been wider. We have to be more aware than ever because the rate of change is so great.
“Tomorrow, everyone should live more aware of where we are and what we’re doing. It’s a scary and wonderful place all wrapped up in one.
“It is a given that we are a corrupt country. Thoughtful people, not prone to conspiracy theories, believe that the country is in the hands of the large corporate interests – oil, agriculture, and technology. The corporate structure is bigger than the political structure. But I think about Karl Marx and others from the early industrial revolution. People were tools of industry. Children worked 50 to 60 hours a week. Marx saw this was not sustainable. And it wasn’t. Look at the political changes that got us from an abusive industrial system to an industrialized welfare state. Now we are in the midst of a new change with our technological capacity and global interdependence. I don’t know how the changes will take place, but I believe we can make them.”