Friday, September 26, 2008

Good Will... Gathering?

One of the best rants in movie history is, I believe, the one that Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) lets rip on a recruiter from the NSA. Partly I love it because it's delivered in the wonderful South Boston (Southie) accent that so many of my friends' parents and older brothers had from the old neighborhood. Partly it's because it's a wicked rant:
Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area," 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

It's a beautiful rant, and delivered, apparently, in one breath.

I've written before on my thoughts about hunting vs. gathering mentalities. Here's the quick version, in bullet point format because you just had to wade through a huge chunk of text and bullets will liven things up:

  • The two main types of early human productivity focused on hunting and gathering. We're anthropologically bent towards them.

  • Hunting requires more "fluid" skills, gathering more "directed" skills. Neither is better or worse, per se, they are just different.

  • The development of agriculture took gathering to a new level. Farming is, essentially, controlled gathering. You gather the crops and animals you want into your space, and then work on them there. It is, to my thinking, meta-gathering.

  • The industrial revolution did to other jobs what farming did for food. It took jobs (blacksmith, for example) that required many different skills and broke them apart... "farmed" them out to many specific workers, shops and industries. You no longer had one guy making nails, hoes, rakes, plows, etc. You had one guy who made the one part that went into the one slot on the one product.

  • The computer is a general tool; it allows one person to, once again, do many things.

  • The Internet is a "hunt based" tool. It relies more on one's ability to search, connect, add, comment, develop, etc. than it does on one particular skill. Ask yourself this: what would it mean to say, "He's an expert at the Internet." It's a ridiculous phrase.

  • Web skills and the ability to integrate them with other computer-based tools are turning us from gatherers (do the one thing, in the one place, over and over) into hunters (be flexible and fluid, concentrate on goals rather than steps, etc.)

There's a PhD thesis in there somewhere, I'm sure. Just not for me to write.

All of this apropos a Seth Godin piece on change, by way of Stephen's Lighthouse. Seth's main point can be summed up by this quote:
Oh, there's one other thing: As we've turned human beings into competent components of the giant network known as American business, we've also erected huge barriers to change. In fact, competence is the enemy of change! Competent people resist change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That's who they are, and sometimes that's all they've got. No wonder they're not in a hurry to rock the boat.

I would agree... except for one caveat. I believe that competent gathering is the enemy of change, whereas competent hunting is always ready for change and, in fact, lusts for it.

Set is right that "competent components" are reluctant to change. Why? If someone eliminates the square hole, and your job is to put the square peg in that sucka... game over. On the other hand, if your role involves leveraging skills that are more fluid -- find, connect, describe, convince, improve, direct -- you love change. Why? Because change is what you are trying to accomplish in a hunt. You seek to change the status quo (being hungry, let's say), not through a well developed system of activities that anyone can accomplish. You seek change through the skills and abilities of you and your hunting party. You don't know what you'll find when you go out... but you know you want to kill and eat it.

Again... I'm not knocking gathering/gardening/farming/factory skills. They are hugely efficient for feeding millions of people, manufacturing huge tons of similar items, etc.

I'm just saying that hunting is coming back. And Mr. Will Hunting is right... we don't want to be cogs in a giant, frightening machine that takes our individual work and accumulates it into something beyond our ken. We want to know, do, feel, connect, befriend, share, create, evaluate and reject. Why?

Hunting is simply more fun.

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