Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Good Old Days?

My umbrella broke in the wind the other day and I was reminded of that song about the man who mended umbrellas. Can you imagine being able to make a living mending umbrellas? Yet there were also people who earned their living repairing shoes, re-tailoring clothes, even collecting old rags. There was no throw away society when I was growing up.

And in those days milk was delivered to the doorstep. So were newspapers. Sheets were sent to the laundry once a week. The window cleaners came every Wednesday. The piano tuner every couple of months. On buses there was a conductor to collect the money. At stations there were plenty of porters to carry the bags. Theaters always had a live orchestra. And the point is that all these people could earn a living doing these jobs, and we could afford to pay them.

The cost of living and wages have risen so steeply that all the above have disappeared. Likewise the big corporations have shipped manufacturing jobs abroad, the banks have shipped their service centers abroad. It makes one wonder what jobs will be available for the generation now growing up.

I had a long chat yesterday with a young man working as a bagger at the supermarket. He's also a college student and asked me if I thought his generation lacked the drive and enthusiasm of former generations, who had wanted to make the world a better place. I said I thought he had grown up in bad economic times which had created a depressing atmosphere for many young people. In the past we expected to get a good job after college. This is no longer true. In fact in some parts of Britain there are people who will never work in their lives. There are no jobs in areas that used to be coal mining, ship building etc.
So what's the answer? Obviously the bright young people will make jobs for themselves. The next Steve Jobs and Bill Gates will do fine. But how can a country sustain itself and flourish if there aren't enough jobs? My own daughter has been unemployed for two years now. And she applies for several jobs every day. And she has great credentials and work experience. She's been reduced to part time babysitting and office work in an attempt to keep her head above water.

As a writer I watch as the e-book gains momentum, wondering what that will do to my future book sales. obviously I don't make as much from an e-book as from a hardcover. And then there are the pirated e-books being offered free on the internet. Almost every day my name shows up on one of those sites now. The music industry has the same problem. I remember when we'd rush to the music store the day the new Beatles song came out on a 45. (I realize this dates me)

So what do you think is the answer? Where are we heading? Is there any good news for our young people?


  1. My Dad would have said "the country's going to the dogs" - and I fear it is true. I spoke with a dear friend of mine today. We were bemoaning exactly the same things you listed in you blog post! The comment that struck me most was when you said that some young people will never work in their lives. That's terrible. No more grumbles about my day job. I'm thankful to have one! Thanks Rhys!

  2. I dunno, Rhys. I recognize the challenge faced by your daughter and others . . . and am perhaps blinded by my own experience, which was dealing with work that I did because there was a market for it (administrative, temp, secretarial), or a permanent market for it (teaching), or because it was all I could get . . . and then, coming into the new era of work and realizing I had to make my own niche with training in a career that I was uniquely suited for. I'm not rich [yet?] because I'm slow in entrepreneurial skills, but I'm working, and so grateful for it. I tend, thus, to look out at today's young and/or unemployed folks and feel that they'll find new ways, if they just keep after it and trust themselves. The paradigm of survival changes every century or two . . . we're just witnessing the transition, such as from Iron age to Bronze Age or from Industrial to whatever to whatever . . . . That's very facile and doesn't take into account the very real suffering and emotions that come with the transition, but I don't despair for us or our future generations.