Provocative Words: Computers, Labor and Inequality

A thought provoking (if a bit jumbled) perspective on a the “digital divide,” with respect to labor markets, from Christopher Mims in Quartz (a new source to me) and tipped by Library Link of the Day. A few choice bits:

Our Computer Overlords

Early IT disasters: Katherine Hepburn is (elegantly) dismayed by Spencer Tracy's computer innovations in the 1957 film Desk Set.
Early IT disasters: Katherine Hepburn is (elegantly) dismayed by Spencer Tracy’s computer innovations in the 1957 film Desk Set.

“The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories,” said Andreessen. “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.” It’s a glib remark—but increasingly true.

Software Eats Everything

Recently I sat down with the team at Betterment, a tech startup to which people have already handed over $150 million in assets. For many, that money represents a significant chunk of their savings and retirement accounts. Betterment is the sort of company that, if it does well, will someday be a canonical example of the principle that “software eats everything.” It’s an attempt replace the kind of job you might think is still beyond the reach of an algorithm: personal financial advice.

Got a Company? It’s a Tech Company

It’s [technology has] already become so ubiquitous that, argues one of my colleagues, it’s now ridiculous to call some firms as “tech” companies when all companies depend on it so much.

Some concepts seem to be somewhat clumsily stirred together here (if elegantly expressed), but I do think the role of tech in the inequality story isn’t so often told. (Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land,” for instance, which I read last year, focuses mostly on the idea of liberalism and the role of government.)

It’s beyond the brief of Mims, but his point about there being no such thing as a “non-tech” biz, prompts me to wonder whether the same is true of culture? Is there any “non-tech culture?” What we consume as culture or entertainment, is, at minimum, usually delivered or mediated by technology most of the time, and sometimes a great deal more than just mediated.

If there are no analog jobs any more, is there any analog entertainment? Does it matter?

National Poetry Month: Poems About Music, 2/30

Today, still inspired by Elizabeth Bishop, a musical poem by a contemporary and friend of hers:

The Victor Dog
By James Merrill

for Elisabeth Bishop

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 2.25.21 PMBix to Buxtehude to Boulez.
The little white dog on the Victor label
Listens long and hard as he is able.
It’s all in a day’s work, whatever plays.

From judgment, it would seem, he has refrained.
He even listens earnestly to Bloch,
Then builds a church upon our acid rock.
He’s man’s—no—he’s the Leiermann’s best friend,

Or would be if hearing and listening were the same.
Does he hear? I fancy he rather smells
Those lemon-gold arpeggios in Ravel’s
“Les jets d’eau du palais de ceux qui s’aiment.”

He ponders the Schumann Concerto’s tall willow hit
By lightning, and stays put. When he surmises
Through one of Bach’s eternal boxwood mazes
The oboe pungent as a bitch in heat,

Or when the calypso decants its raw bay rum
Or the moon in Wozzeck reddens ripe for murder,
He doesn’t sneeze or howl; just listens harder.
Adamant needles bear down on him from

Whirling of outer space, too black, too near—
But he was taught as a puppy not to flinch,
Much less to imitate his bête noire Blanche
Who barked, fat foolish creature, at King Lear.

Still others fought in the road’s filth over Jezebel,
Slavered on hearths of horned and pelted barons.
His forebears lacked, to say the least, forbearance.
Can nature change in him? Nothing’s impossible.

The last chord fades. The night is cold and fine.
His master’s voice rasps through the grooves’ bare groves.
Obediently, in silence like the grave’s
He sleeps there on the still-warm gramophone

Only to dream he is at the première of a Handel
Opera long thought lost—Il Cane Minore.
Its allegorical subject is his story!
A little dog revolving round a spindle

Gives rise to harmonies beyond belief,
A cast of stars . . . Is there in Victor’s heart
No honey for the vanquished? Art is art.
The life it asks of us is a dog’s life.

The Leiermann referred to in second stanza is the mysterious figure that the protagonist of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter journey) encounters in the last song.

National Poetry Month: Poems About Music, 1/30

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I’m offering 30 days of poetry (mostly on music) with a few links and comments thrown in, as I can’t help myself.

To start, American poet Elizabeth Bishop:

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Anything but the superstar poet during her life, Bishop wrote very little, but all of it to an extraordinarily high standard. (Her prose is faultless and radiant too. When I need to reset my compass for a certain kind of dappled clarity I re-read her 1938 essay on Gregorio Valdes.) She lived in Key West and Brazil, which also seems perfect somehow. Since her death in 1979, her work has become well known, and well loved.

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 10.35.10 AM

And since the earliest idea of this blog was to combine images, words and music, here’s a bit of Bach played by Wilhelm Kempff, an arrangement of the Siciliano from The Flute Sonata No. 2. His poise and supernatural calm as a pianist evokes “A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool.” And because supererogation is how I roll, here it is in its original instrumentation.

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