I am back in Marrakech for work once again, and so far not a ton is new to report. I did bring Mr. Toutmerde along for the ride, so I have a little bit of company. I am happy to note that my friend Bjorn is also in town, and we will be having dinner tomorrow night. The company I am working for put me up at the Bab Hotel, which was really run down and terrible the last time I stayed here, but they told me it was under new management so I agreed to give it a another try (not that I had a choice). I have to admit that several things are quite improved since the last time. The service and attentiveness of the staff is much better than before, and the breakfast is actually fresh this time around, instead of the stale mess they used to serve. The place is still in serious need of a maintenance budget, but overall things are ok and the design of the place quite good. As for the work itself, it is as I expected it would be (when you work in Morocco, you don’t hold your breath for things to go off without a hitch), but the people are nice as always and the weather has been 80 and sunny, which is a wonderful change from NYC.
I am writing this from the airport in San Francisco. In less than two hours, I will be on my way to Japan for the first time. This is where the far-flung part of my trip begins, and no telling exactly when it will end, but at this point I expect sometime mid to late February. I will of course be working along the way, one of the perks of doing what I do. This will allow me to continue earning as I go, and still experience these other places and cultures. I really marvel at how lucky I am that I have chosen a career that allows this kind of flexibility. All I need to be productive is a laptop and an internet connection. With the exception of a face to face meeting or site visit here or there, I never need to be physically co-located with other people. That de-coupling of work from place is the basis for a kind of freedom I never expected to have growing up, when this was not an option. So I am grateful for the time and place in which I was born.
I really should plan for longer trips here, there is always so much to do, and today in particular I was running around like a mad man. I did work in time to have a couple of nice meals though, highlighted by pastilla and mechwi and friendly fun talk with friends and colleagues. I will probably be back again in a month or two for another round of project work, there is so much to do. That said, I am very happy with all that we accomplished, and it was nice catching up with people while here, and experiencing warm and sunny days for a change.
Tomorrow I will head to Geneva to visit my old friend Jonathan (no, not the other one) for a few days, and then I will finally head back to NYC.
While reading an article in this morning’s NY Times, I was reminded of an old Woody Allen stand up routine that ends with the following joke:
The upshot of the story is, that day I called my parents, my father was fired. He was technologically unemployed. My father had worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big, that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.
The article examines the accelerating phenomenon of having all kinds of tasks go away due to automation, including higher “white-collar” ones that previously seemed beyond the reach of computer or machine intelligence. It posits that in the past the speed at which human tasks were replaced was slow enough for people to find ever newer (and higher) tasks, but that today we as a global population are having a harder time adjusting.
I often think about the very occupation I have today (mostly web design and programming) and wonder how long it will be before my own work will be automated. People like to think that areas like this that require a high amount of human creativity are immune from automation, but I have watched as it has become easier and easier for people to buy some very nicely designed (if not entirely custom) web sites, and I expect that the ease and options for creating one will only grow with time, to the point where for the vast majority of people, what I do today will simply not be needed. Web sites themselves will evolve and will probably not resemble much of what we think of today. Information will be free-floating everywhere (it is already happening) and the idea of even looking at a screen will become quaint at some point.
This does not actually concern me overmuch. The job I have today did not exist even 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago my work was very different, and I have benefitted immensely from new technologies and automations that have made my work easier to do, more lucrative, and more possible. I don’t have any real expectation that what I do will even exist (in something resembling its present form) in 10 years. I will have to acquire new skills and evolve, as I have over the past 10. At some point, I may do something completely different, not at all related to what I do today. I think that this notion can be highly destabilizing for some people, but it is increasingly the norm. We can put our heads in the sand or try to adapt and enjoy the ride. I have no idea what the future brings, but (at least in the area of automation) I don’t particularly fear it for myself.
I do have great concerns, however, for the growing income disparities that this changing world represents. We must find a way to change our social/economic model to account for these changes. We need to invest heavily in education at all levels, and assure people a decent minimum level of subsistence (and I don’t mean poverty). We can’t continue on our greedy social path, we need a more equitable society that everyone can feel a part of. Imagine if that vast new area that opens up in the wake of this automation led to new occupations concerned with the well being of those around us. I have no doubt there are plenty of opportunities there, the question is, at what point will society place a high enough value on it to collectively fund it?
There is something about seeing the Manhattan skyline from a plane (or a car for that matter) that has always made me smile with a sense of possibility and more recently that is mixed with a strong sense of home. I am thrilled to be back. Now to attack all the new projects that are awaiting me: two proposals, a report, ongoing client work and two new website projects. I feel very blessed to have as much work as I do with the great clients I have. At the same time, I have finally arrived at a point in my professional life where I no longer get overly stressed about it. If someone would have told me this was possible several years ago, I would have nodded that it was probably doable in theory, but never in practice. I really believed that lots of work meant lots of stress, and there was nothing really to be done about it but take a vacation from time to time to recharge. Now as a freelancer, I feel a lot more in control of my work and schedule, and I would not trade it for anything. I mix work with vacation and travel and feel more even keeled about it across the board. This large trip I just got back from is a good example. It was mostly vacation, but also a little work, especially in Hamburg and Marrakech. And I also managed to keep up to date with a few other clients that needed minor information or changes.
As one can no doubt tell from the date of my last blog post, it has been almost three months since I have written anything. There have been several reasons for this including an incredibly busy summer, a general malaise with blogging, and a redesign that I have spent far too much time waiting to complete.
The redesign you see before you. To tell the truth, I am not entirely happy with it and will probably change it again soon. Nevertheless, it does contain a few things I think are working well, and that I will incorporate in the final design. For one, I was looking for a way to highlight some of the literally thousands of photos I have taken on my travels over the past several years, in a way that invites greater exploration or curiosity. To that end, the photo at the top of every page is a random one that will change with every page load. Clicking on it will take you to that photo in my vast, picasaweb collection. Secondly, I have included mapping that will give greater context to my posts, since so many of them are written in so many various places around the globe. On a page of many posts, the map at the right will show the locations of all of the posts on that particular page. On a single blog post, it will show the location of that post. Of course this will require me going back through all of my old posts and adding such information to them. I have gone back several months in my posts and done just that. All future ones will be made with a location, and I will eventually get to all of the old ones. Lastly, the blog is now much more responsive when using a mobile device, and will resize appropriately. As I said above, I am not entirely happy with the new design despite having some elements I really like, but I was sick of letting it languish. Better to put it out there and see how it works, then tweak or change later.
Another reason to pick this all up again is that (you guessed it) I am embarking on another grand trip. I leave today for Belgrade (to see my dear friend Boris), then off to Paris, then Venice, then Hamburg, then Marrakech, then back to New York. The last two, Germany and Morocco, are work related (or work mixed with pleasure). Stay tuned for the photos and updates!
To say I have been busy the last couple weeks would be a gross understatement. I have worked (and billed, thankfully) more hours in the past month than any single month in my entire freelancing career. Which means of course that the blog suffers from neglect. Part of the reason I am working so furiously is just the lucky coincidence of so many projects, and part of it is my impending vacation to Morocco in less than two weeks. I am trying to get all major work accomplished before then so that I can really enjoy my time away. It is true what they say about Jack, however, and I need to really make myself get out of the house more. With all the work I have been pretty closed up in my apartment for days on end, only venturing out here and there, or to the basement of my building occasionally to hit the gym or do laundry. I am lucky that the work itself has been quite interesting and I have learned a lot of new design and programming tricks in the past few months. The blog should kick into high gear when I am travelling in a few weeks (as it always does), stay tuned.
I had a dermatologist appointment this morning down in TriBeCa. Given the time of day (this is rush hour) the subway was somewhat full of people on their way to work. And when I got off and walked to the dr’s office, I was confronted by a wall of dark coats, pants and skirts, making their way in plodding unison towards their various work stations. It was not unlike a scene from that old great silent film, Metropolis, and it was more than the winter season being upon us that gave me a chill. There are of course positives and negatives to any career choice, but seeing this army of similarly dressed, grey faced people, marching in zombie like steps towards the office, I felt very grateful indeed for the flexibility my work environment affords me.
As I have gotten better at what I do, I have gotten faster as well. The same type of complex website that took me 40 hours to accomplish 3 years ago, I can now do in 20 or less. I have only raised my rates about 25% in that time, so people actually are getting websites for a lot less money from me these days. And yet, people balk at an hourly wage that they consider to be too high. I am considering starting to quote project fees (which I hate to do) instead of hourly estimates, because then people can imagine hundreds of hours going into their project, whether it is true or not. This is the problem of bean counting, and I have been fighting against it my whole life. The quality of a project is almost completely divorced from the amount of time one puts into it, but people are loathe to understand that, mostly because they don’t have the intellectual tools at their disposal to evaluate quality. Hours are a fixed value that they can measure. In their head, more hours = more work = better product. People love the illusion of quantifiable results. But they are just that alas, an illusion. The crappiest designer in the world can spend 500 hours on something that won’t look as good as the best will produce in 5 hours. If the cost of the crappiest designer is $10 per hour and the cost of the best is $100, you just saved $4500 by hiring the best.
7 active projects. 5 pending projects. 10 project proposals (several of which are bound to be accepted). This is no way to live. It is definitely time to raise rates, or I will go insane. The only thing holding me back has been my fear that the work will dry up, but I can’t go on like this and I suppose I could always lower rates when times are tough to stimulate further demand. And with the exception of one large project, none of these lend themselves to outsourcing at all, they are too small. The time it would take me to explain what I need done would only be marginally less than the time it would take me to do them myself. Is this all the result of the economy getting better? Of word getting out about my skills and work? Dumb luck? Or a mix of everything?