The Most Important Career Choice You Will Ever Make
On 8 April 2016, at the height of the US Presidential election, with debate raging on Trump’s tax returns, Hilary’s crooked emails, Russian interference in the democratic process, race relations, Obamacare, fake news, the future of the US and, indeed, the future of the entire western world, 3 million people chose to watch a live 45-minute broadcast of two American reporters wrapping rubber bands around a water melon. The reporters wanted to see how many rubber bands could be placed around the water melon before it exploded. The answer was 686.
At the height of the broadcast, 800,000 viewers watched anxiously as the fate of the water melon unfolded. One viewer commented: ‘I have been watching you guys put rubber bands around a water melon for 40-minutes. What am I doing with my life?’
Recordings were shown on ‘The Tonight Show,’ the most popular US prime time TV programme. Millions of people have since watched the video (see ‘The Exploding Water Melon Stunt:’ Wikipedia). The stunt was, in fact, a repeat of one carried out by ‘The slo Mo Guys,’ in 2012; their video has been watched an impressive 17 million times on YouTube.
‘There are, of course good evolutionary reasons for our inability as a species, to take our eyes off something that is likely to explode,’ writes Oliver Burkeman, ‘but the poor water melon threatened no-one, except possibly the two reporters.’ (‘ The New Philosopher:’ January 2019).
Presumably, the people watching have kids, mortgages, bosses or homework and exams to think about. But for a small part of their lives, they chose to watch an exploding water melon.
We are now entering the final throws of another US election campaign. Life has changed. No-one knows, for example, whether workers will return to their offices, which could have dramatic impacts on work. Citigroup has told its employees to expect a slow transition, with many employees staying out of the office until next year. Jack Dorsey, the C.E.O. of Twitter, went further, announcing that those whose jobs didn’t require a physical presence would be allowed to work from home indefinitely. ‘I don’t think we will go back.’
Office work seems on the brink of a profound shift.
Some envisage more radical departures. In his book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek,’ Tim Ferris suggests that workers aggressively negotiate home-work agreements with their employers and then move to parts of the world where the cost of living is low. (‘Argentina is experiencing a currency crisis, and so could be a good spot for such “geo-arbitrage,’ Ferriss writes).
Unsupervised by bosses, these ultra-home workers could do their jobs in highly efficient bursts. Instead of commuting into crowded cities, white-collar workers would soon relocate to cheaper out of town areas; enjoying flexible schedules, picking up their kids from school and sitting down for family dinners after a productive day at home.
But it doesn’t work that way. And there are dangers.
Research conducted by The Centre for Future Work in May 2020 indicates that 4 million Australian workers have the capacity to work from home. The figure will be higher given recent events. The Director of the Centre Jim Stanford, had been working from home for two months when he wrote:
‘It’s driving me crazy. You know I’m very fortunate – I’ve a comfortable apartment, I have a desk that I can use as a kind of quasi office and I’m in a safe and loving family environment. And despite all that, to tell you the truth, it’s horrible. I miss the human interaction and I find it stressful.’ (‘The Guardian, Australia’ 7 May 2020).
Research conducted by ‘INC’ in October 2019, found:
Home workers spend an average of 1.4 more days every month working, or 16.8 more days every year and
Home workers spend an average 10-minutes each hour online than those in the office.
We live in an ‘attention economy’ where the most valuable assets are the eyes and minds of web users. Paid for by advertisers, determined to find even more precisely targeted consumers.
More home working, more time online, isolation, lack of human contact and boredom present a golden opportunity for the tech companies to capture our attention - to their platforms and recommendations. Behind the scenes, algorithms endlessly tailor browsing experiences. Learning how to capture attention, they’ve become so devastatingly effective that we barely think of what’s happening and the impact.
Tim Wilson Williams argues that ‘when a player in the attention economy succeeds in capturing your attention, they’re determining, in some small way, how you live your life. You pay with all the things you could have attended to, but didn’t: all the goals you didn’t pursue, all the ‘possible’ you could have been, had you attended to those other things. Attention is paid for in possible future opportunities.’ (‘The Attention Economy’).
We all have a painfully short time to develop the careers we deserve. Where you direct your attention will determine the results you achieve. Your career can be full of meaningful relationships, absorbing work and personal growth – or it can be full of exploding water melons.
The choice is yours.
(For those choosing the second option, the highlights of the two reporters and the water melon are here):