The Real Reason We Lost Our Jobs to Robots

FeaturedThe Real Reason We Lost Our Jobs to Robots

The real reason we lost our jobs to robots is because our educational system trains our children to be parts of an 18th century world wide computer system that no longer exists.

This is why children in the 21st century still have nonsensical rules like “you can’t use a calculator on your math test” with the bizarre justification that “You won’t always have a calculator with you” just as they’re Snapchatting that exact absurd moment to their worldwide friends on a device which literally does a billion times more math than the room-sized computers that sent men to the moon. In school, you have to memorize to be able to do simple arithmetic, including long division in case you become a cog in the global human computer that was the great economic machine at the center of all human commercial activity.

Your handwriting must be uniform and precise. You must arrive on time and not leave before the specified time or else face penalties. Any human eccentric variation in these aspects could jam up the human computer and break the system. Thus, uniformity is valued and encouraged in this 18th century ideal of a young worker.

In the 18th century, preparing a population of replaceable computer parts for your global information network made a lot of sense. You needed to be able to find a part with legible handwriting and capable accounting skills to serve as your word processor or spreadsheet or to replace a broken part of your word processor or spreadsheet. In the old days, parts of your human computer could literally die. And you thought losing your iPhone pictures was bad. At least they’re still up in the cloud. Old Wentworth might be up in the cloud after losing his bout with Scarlet Fever, but you’re not getting your data back from him. However, we now have such things as actual computers which handle the tasks of global communication, commerce, and arithmetic far more reliably and cheaply.

We no longer need children to memorize capitals of states and countries so they can potentially serve as a shoddy version of Google Maps. We no longer need children to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which is not even on Google Maps, nor John F. Kennedy’s speech to serve as a living embodiment of an oral version of Wikipedia as if it were some Fahrenheit 451 dystopia where such information would be lost otherwise. Just now, I wasn’t sure how to spell dystopia, but a two second alt-tab to Google provided me the answer. Although such things are not important anymore, we still have spelling bees for children to exalt this useless skill. We’re told not to use the word “I” in our writing, because writing must be messages intended not for other humans, with senses of humor, but for the global computer made of humans. Never use the word “I” in your writing because you’re not expected to actually communicate with other humans. Your expectation is to communicate only to other parts of the machine which happens to be made up of anonymous humans. Soylent Computer is MADE OF PEOPLE! In fact, in your writing, the more you downplay and disregard that there is a human which is a computer part, the better it is for the computer. Soylent computer runs smoother and more consistently if emotions and human blather like love are left out entirely. Surely, this makes sense. I certainly agree with my 18th century intelligensia that my word processor and my spreadsheet are not made any better by allowing the CPU and internet connection to have human emotions. What a mess that would be.

The real reason we lost our jobs to robots and automation is because our educational system trains our children to be a shitty computer and far far better computers exist now. Instead of training our children to design and invent those robots, our educational system trains our children to BE those robots. Is it any surprise that shitty child robots grow up to be shitty adult robots who can’t compete against actual real and working robots? Is it any surprise that of the few children who can invent a robot to replace 1000 shitty human robots, that the one clever child who invents the robot makes 1000 times as money as those children would have made?

Income inequality, poverty, and joblessness all stem from one source: Computers advanced far faster at an exponential rate than innovation in our educational system. Our educational system was good for the 200 years in which global society used a Soylent Computer. But now that it’s clear that Soylent Computer is no longer needed, we need to change our educational system to reflect that profound change.

So, this is a call to everyone who can make change in the system. The system needs to change. And it must change fast. It’s changing far too slowly and the nation’s citizens are suffering for it for every moment we lag behind. Computers are still advancing exponentially. And the educational system is hardly even advancing linearly. It is static. It’s still stuck in the 18th century. The longer this remains the case, the more people who will be hurt by being born into this stagnant situation.

However, not all people of the earth will be born into this situation. There are many billions of people who, had they been born in the 18th century, would not have been born into an educational system which afforded them the potential to work at Soylent Computer. They would not have received the education to even be a cog in the human computer. They would not have participated in the world economy at any level.

People of China, of India, of Africa could have never participated in the global economy in the 18th century. Yet, now, going into the 21st century, they are not yoked as children into an 18th century rigid educational system. Instead, with no educational system at all, those nations and peoples are free to invent one which is suitable for the realities of the 21st century in which global communications and computers are ubiquitous.

Just as China did not have to build telegraph wires across their entire mountainous and difficult terrain to join the telecommunications revolution, future children of the world no longer have to endure the intermediate step of an antiquated educational system in order to participate in a dynamic and rapidly evolving world economy.

If America loses its dominance, it will be fast because the world moves so much faster now. The root cause will be because of its educational system. Just as in warfare where innovations such as rifling or camouflage or armored vehicles have a profound and upsetting effect on the nations which have met previous success with the status quo, the future of the global economy does not belong to the nations which adhere to the status quo, but instead adapt unrelentingly to the pace of change.

This is why conservatives, in the traditional sense of the word, as in “preserving the status quo”, are far more dangerous to the future of the United States than anyone dare thought, even in its current chaotic and turbulent state.

The pace of global change is so fast that you can put a man on the moon less than a hundred years after learning to fly and then subsequently land a probe on a comet in the same time as the first plane and landing on the moon. Being conservative and adverse to change in this situation is believing that the right shoes can win a footrace against a Ford Model T when the Tesla has already been invented. The man in the Tesla will beat your man with his best shoes on any day, often with heated seats and without touching the wheel.

The world is changing far far faster than the educational system. Even if we were to reverse this trend tomorrow, how much change would be necessary in order for it to make a difference? It would still be too slow. There are billions yet to be born in China and India into this new world economy. Your change to the educational system in the US would only affect millions in a few decades. Do the math. They taught you to do that, by hand, right? Now, do it. You didn’t. Because you know, like the future of the nation, someone else will do it for you, and more efficiently than by hand, at that. In two hundred years, how many billions will have been born into an educational system adapted to current conditions versus how many millions in the US born into an educational system still trying to figure itself out? Just going by the numbers, which system would be most likely to produce the most impactful citizens of the new world economy?

And conservatives want to keep out immigrants? If conservatives love this country, they would be advocating for the exact opposite immigration strategy. At the moment, the US still stands as a coveted nation for immigration. How long will this remain true? A hundred years, at best, given the current rate of progress of other nations and the stagnation of the US. And how does it benefit the US if it loses the status of the most preferred nation by the world’s intellectuals, the world’s most talented people, and the world’s most wealthy people? Easily within 100 years, which, given current advances, it will be within youlifetime if you’re only 10 or 20 years younger than me, the US will no longer hold the esteemed title of most coveted country for immigration. That will be the inflection point at which historians will be able to point to and say that this was the fall of the American empire. That will be the point in time, like the collapse of the Roman Empire, which will attract the most historian scrutiny. But lost in history will be the time and moment when the American empire had the means to change all of that. Perhaps, some historians will point to the election of Trump as the inflection point in which this inevitable turn of events hinged. But this problem is beyond Trump and beyond Clinton. Clinton may have been more tolerant of change than Trump, but she would not have been an advocate of radical change in the educational system since she was most definitely, a moderate, at best. No, the necessary change to alter future history is not anything any politician can realistically implement anyway. The systems of education and politics are too calcified to change faster than the rapid iteration of innovation in human economic activity. Even revolutions did not change the educational systems throughout society. A political revolution is about the maximal change possible in such systems and not all of it may have an immediate positive effect. So, how many revolutions per hundred years would be required to keep up with the relentless pace of change in technological innovation? A thousand per century? Ten thousand? The pace of technological innovation is ridiculous.

Systems such as education and politics which deal with people cannot keep up with the pace of technology. Thus, problems of loss of job skills and economic disenfranchisement will be the primary perennial problems of a post-scarcity world economy for humans. Computers and robots will be fine. But humans live in a wide logarithmic gap between geological scale and computer nanosecond scale. And their silly feelings will need to be assuaged to cope with post-post-modern life lest they cause societal problems with their emotions. Ironically, after being freed from being a human computer cog by real computers, human beings will still be encouraged to suppress their feelings in a world dominated by computers and robots simply because feelings and emotions and irrationality become the greatest threat to destroy a highly ordered and computerized world economy.

The crucial moment when we can still do something about this inevitable collision course with fate is now. Yet, nothing will be done and the events I have described will simply play out as it does in a heavily foreshadowed script. A single person is no longer enough to change history now that billions of people have the opportunity to join the world economy. The myth of the great person only works if there are only so few people in the world that their noble lineage can all be traced such that inevitably a single person with opportunity may arise from that small population of known nobility. The days of nobility are over, now that the opportunity to become great may be afforded to more people than only the nobility. The massive human crush of billions of middle class people will have their own revolution in nothing so dramatic as Marie Antoinette, but whose effects will have far-reaching worldwide consequences nonetheless.

April 9, 2017

Eu-Ming Lee

Featured

How I dropped Out of Society Into a Fourth Social Class

There are three social classes in America. I have chosen to be in none of them. This is not a choice normally available to people. Let me explain a little bit why I dropped out and how I’m basically classless now.

First, let me define the three classes.

There is a worker class who produces material goods. Then, secondly, there is a capitalist class who creates an organization to collect the surplus value of the workers after paying the workers. The market decides what the workers get paid. In America, we rely on the market to balance many things, and worker wages is one of these things. However, when only a single class (the capitalist class) competes in the market for workers, it is difficult for the workers to receive full value for the product of their work whose labor surplus is inevitably skimmed for profit by the capitalist class. What capitalists are competing for in “the market” is this labor surplus. However, competition for this surplus never causes the surplus to go to zero, otherwise, the capitalist has no incentive to start the company at all. Thus, by the very nature of the system of capitalism, it is guaranteed that the worker class can never receive the full total of their labors, for by nature, the capitalist must be incentivized by equity in order to risk his capital to receive the surplus.
The worker’s only choice is which capitalist they choose to skim their profits. Occasionally, workers may band together in a start-up company in hopes that their skills and labor allow them to become elevated to the capitalist class themselves. Ironically, such a gamble requires selling a significant share of their labor to the capitalist class in the form of equity to angel investors, venture capitalists, or Wall Street investors.

Aside from the worker class and the capitalist class, there is one other class that I am not a part of. That class is the incarcerated class. That is the class you fall into by design if you choose not to be a worker for the capitalist class. As a person who has chosen not to be in any of those three classes, I am constantly in danger of falling into the incarcerated class due the laws which rig it that way.

An example of a law which would put me into the incarcerated class is the law which bans sleeping in vehicles. Although you can eat in your vehicle or do just about anything else in your vehicle, many cities have outlawed sleeping in your vehicle because they don’t want homeless people living in their cars.

Our society purposely doesn’t want homeless people because they fall into a non-category of peoples who have rejected the rat-race of being a worker who has her surplus value skimmed by profiteering capitalists. Once you have decided you don’t need a home, then you certainly don’t need a job and thus you don’t need to enter the job market for various capitalists to choose how to exploit you. This is very bad for a society of capitalists. So, it is discouraged. And one way it is discouraged is to arrest you and fine you so that you remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and incarceration so that you will want to join the worker class to escape your spiraling predicament.

I have to be very careful while skirting the fringes of society not to accidentally fall into the incarcerated class. Once one tendril of poverty has grabbed you, it won’t let go until you are trapped in the incarcerated class. So far, I have managed to avoid it with previous wealth accumulated when I was a worker and by continually disguising myself as a “decent” worker class citizen.

Worker class people are afforded certain privileges in society that we take for granted, and I know how to act and present myself as a worker having been one myself for decades. Fortunately, many well-to-do technologists look poverty-stricken and disheveled; so a crazy homeless van dweller, a wealthy start-up app creator, and a math professor at Berkeley are indistinguishable to a police officer.
It is this guise of normalcy which affords my safety in society. It is not the laws which protect me. It is the disheveled appearance of my fellow Silicon Valley workers which affords me the most security.

Let me make this clear. It is not the laws which make me safe from imprisonment and harassment from police. It is my old CodeWarrior and OpenGL t-shirts from 10 years ago that allow me a disguise to slip past laws intended for homeless people. These old clothes are mostly still stored in my storage area. Ten years ago, I could not have known that they would serve me as a uniform of the worker class that I dropped out of and be as valuable as a literal license to participate in society.

There have been many times I have been told to move or threatened with a ticket or various anti-homeless measures that I have been able to thwart by convincing the police that I was “programming” or “visiting someone” in my obviously expensive van and then hastily moving away. I have had the privilege of select enforcement of the law because of the privilege or illusion of wealth, I am not ashamed to admit. I am truly sorry for the treatment that less wealthy citizens would receive due to these laws, but that is not something I am prepared to go to jail for and fight a civil liberties battle over at this point. Such a move would certainly put me into the incarceration class for good. And these laws will remain precisely because no one who is ever put into that legal position could afford to fight those laws.

One of the “solutions” to the homeless problem is to put people to work. I see this as problematic for various reasons. For one, some people may have chosen to drop out of the rigged game of workers and capitalists. I know that we in the worker class believe in the stigma of being homeless as being mentally ill or having substance abuse problems. I don’t know enough about the topic to determine whether this stigma is one of causation or correlation or whether the stigma serves more as a warning to the worker class to not become homeless and to keep maintaining a steady pace on the treadmill for their capitalist of choice.

For me, I tried to get out of the worker class by starting my own company and joining many various start ups. I didn’t quite succeed. I’m not sure I have what it takes to be a capitalist anyway. So, now, I’m adrift neither here nor there.

What I want to do is just create stories and experiences for people to enjoy using the skills that I’ve learned over a couple of decades. I think I can do that without spiraling into the incarcerated class.
But I’ve also chosen to do that without attempting to join the capitalist class or to beg them for help. This is not really a rational thing to do because what I would like to do requires resources beyond what I can muster myself.

And so, things are going slow. That’s okay. I don’t care about deadlines, and I don’t care about milestones, and I don’t care about making money. I’ll let things sort out on its own. Maybe I’ll make money, but I’m certainly not counting on it. And if I don’t count on it, I think I can properly enjoy the process of creating. I think the journey of creation is what matters to me now. Once I strip away all of the stress of starting a company that has to balance income with expenses and has to hit a market window and has to choose the right people, choose the right platform, and choose the right moment, I can truly enjoy what I always wanted to do when I first played Space Invaders in 1977 as a 7 year-old kid— to make his own game.

I only need to get back a fraction of the value of work that I put into my own game to make it worth my while. After all, I’m only getting paid a fraction of my value by any capitalist that’s making a profit anyway. So, for now, I’m not going to worry about what that fraction is going to be. I must accept that that fraction is exactly zero and go on doing what I want to do anyway. It’s not worth worrying about at this point. I’m too far from completion on any of the projects to even think that far ahead anyway.

And so I’m hoping there is a fourth social class in America that joins me. Perhaps there will be enough wealth from an automated and nearly workerless society that a fourth social class can emerge and can simply create art, literature, and entertainment while sustaining themselves with occasional gifts or purchases from the worker and capitalist classes.

This class, like me, will leverage the skills gained from years in the worker class to create novel things that could never be commercially successful enough for the capitalist class to want to exploit.

There are many small things too specific and niche and weird to ever be mass market and thus never be commercially viable to a capitalist class. Such things can be created by a mature post-worker artisan class simply because artisans love to create things and such crafts were not allowed to even be attempted when under the yoke of a capitalist.

And so that’s what I’m going to be doing— sometimes. I hope I can succeed, not so much to make money, but as to serve as an example to others that it is possible to be done. If freedom affords you this luxury, I hope you can take it as I have. I don’t think you have to be brave or anything to do this.

You have to realize that being in the worker class is merely a more comfy kind of incarcerated class. I think Fight Club touched on this a little bit. But you don’t have to be violent or disruptive to break free of the seeming stranglehold of the worker class. The prison is an illusion.

You can live just fine and be happy with less. You can be happy with your relationships without your things. It’s a matter of elevating your most important values to the top of the priority list and then shedding the rest. Once you’re accustomed to not dealing with the rest anyway, it becomes easy to focus on only the necessities.

It’s simpler and less complicated and more fun to focus only on what matters to you, even if it’s trivial or not understood by others. In fact, not being understood by others is what makes it special and enjoyable to you and only you. People might ask, “won’t you get tired of it?” I don’t think you can ever get tired of being a kid every day. Besides, if you miss any aspects of worker society, you can always put on a uniform and blend in and experience a taste every now and again.

Now, granted, I have built myself a bit of a cushion in finances in order to do this, and not everyone will have the same flexibility. But I think the fundamental concept is sound. We are really much more wealthy and capable than we think we are. We’re under an illusion that running out of money will result in homelessness or mental illness or substance abuse as if all of the latter were one thing.

I’m amazed at people who grow up poor but wind up having a huge number of kids anyway. Well, if they can do , then anybody who works in tech in Silicon Valley can also. People working tech jobs in Silicon Valley have a tremendous amount of wealth compared to people in other parts of the United States and other parts of the world. Yet, they’re always comparing themselves with each other and their neighbors which makes them feel poor.

So rather than bemoaning that you can’t buy a house in Silicon Valley, be grateful that you can do things that many people in the world cannot even begin to comprehend, like spending $5 for a cup of coffee and then not even finishing it.

Because wealth is relative like this, I have chosen to focus on how wealthy I am compared to the rest of America even though I’m not working, and to change my perspective on life to appreciate the luxuries that that wealth affords me. And what it really affords me is time. I can have time to do the things that I want to do without worrying about spiraling down into the incarcerated class. I see the danger in that for those who are closer to poverty. Perhaps I am skirting a bit close to the edge of poverty, but I have chosen to not be afraid of it and to be confident in my ability to stay out of the trap of poverty.

So, maybe for this part, you do have to be a little brave. If you or your family has fought hard to come out of poverty, I can see how this part would be scary. However, if you’ve made it into the worker class and saved up some money, have confidence in yourself that you can re-enter the worker class at some level if you so choose. It may be at a lower level than you were accustomed to, but just accept that that was part of the cost for chasing your dreams and experiencing real freedom in your life.

I understand. You don’t want to lose your place on the ladder. You’ve worked very hard to get to that rung and you don’t want to lose it, so you grip tightly. I get that. But don’t cling to the ladder just for the sake of the ladder’s position itself. Remember that you got to that rung for some reason. What was that reason? Do you still remember? You had something else you wanted to do and climbing that ladder was the way to achieve it. It’s not too late to try to achieve it. Even though you haven’t reached the top of the ladder, maybe you’ve reached a high enough rung that you can simply let go and try and achieve the original goal you had in mind. Climbing the ladder certainly wasn’t your only goal until you got onto the first rung, right? The ladder was meant to lead somewhere. Maybe you don’t need to climb the rest of the ladder to get there right now. That’s what is worth considering.

 

How to Survive the Impending Oligarchy Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Capitalism

Did I say impending oligarchy? I must be mistaken. I mean existing oligarchy. Well, whether you believe the United States is becoming or has become or will become an oligarchy is not the point of this article. The point of this article is to say, “Well, fuck it, we’re fucked. So how do we fucking unfuck ourselves?”

I’ve thought of a couple of ways, both of which I’ve tried with mild degrees of success. Way Number One is to follow with tiny footsteps in the giant footsteps of the giant capitalists ahead of you. What does this mean? This means that you find ways in which capitalists have exploited the law for their own gain and try to emulate their success to some small degree. After all, if someone is going to cheat by changing the rules to favor themselves, is it really wrong to crib from their answers?

Let me serve you an example! Did you know that some 9000 tax payers in the United States have accumulated over $5 million each in their IRA accounts? If they follow the rules of the IRA which limits contributions each year to $5500, then it would seem to reason that there are at least 9000 vampires in the United States who are over 900 years old! And one of them is Mitt Romney. I demand to see his birth certificate! He’s definitely a vampire!

Or perhaps there is a better explanation: We live in an oligarchy where the rules are bent for the extremely wealthy. Or maybe they simply have lawyers read the rules differently. If you want some ideas on how this is done, you can check out this Bloomberg article here. But you’d better act fast, because the anti-oligarchy minded Obama is onto this and has been working to close this particular loophole. In any case, some of those ideas might be doable for somewhat regular folks like you and me. We might own our own businesses or we might be a founder of a startup. The methods in the article are like doubling down 10 times in your own success.

Another way is a thing I stumbled into called HARP. Basically, due to the financial crisis caused unironically by our financial institutions, the US found itself in a recession. In order to stimulate the economy, the government decided that it would throw some liquidity into the gummed up economy in order to get the wheels of capitalism turning again. Greasing the wheels of the money machine, you might say. In layman’s terms, increasing liquidity means that they need to effectively print some cold hard cash and give it to people. If you want to understand why this needs to happen, I urge you to read Paul Krugman’s retelling of the baby-sitter co-op. It’s a lovely story which illustrates a liquidity crunch very effectively.

Usually, in a situation like this, the government would simply give the newly created money to the banks. This, mysteriously enough, is not called “giving money to banks” but is instead called increasing the supply of money. Now, if you’re anything like me, you too would like to increase your supply of money, but you have the inconvenient fact that you’re a person and not a bank and certainly not a person who owns a bank. This greatly hinders your efforts at increasing your supply of money by virtue of the Fed. (The Fed is a fancy capitalist insider’s way of saying The Federal Reserve Bank. If you’re going to follow in the giant footsteps of capitalists ahead of you, you should at least sound like them.)

In this unique situation in which the government needs to give out tons of money, but the institutions it normally gives it to were the cause of the problem in the first place (i.e. the banks), it then needs to give it out to people who won’t fuck shit up even more. And also, maybe punish the banks a little bit, too. But not too much. We’re a capitalistic oligarchy, not a socialist country, you Bernie Sanders loving fuck. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Why are you reading this if not to get your hands on that lovely free supply of money from the government? Socialists! Always trying to get the government to give you free money and you don’t realize that they’re already giving you money! (Well, not anybody… just people rich enough to afford a home. Sorry, renters! Maybe you guys should vote or something. Oh, also, I forgot. If you happen to own a struggling automobile manufacturer, you could also get some free money. But don’t worry about that. That money wasn’t really free. Haha! Government play joke on capitalists!)

Uhhh… where were we? Free money! That brings us back to HARP. What is HARP? Well, it’s a relief program for homeowners (hopefully you, though I know you kind of have to be a bazillionaire in Silicon Valley where I live to own a home). Basically, the whole housing market was artificially inflated by the bankers making money off of inventive new “financial instruments” which was basically writing so many I.O.U’s and insurance claims against bad I.O.U’s that they lost track of who was going to lose money. Some banks knew that they would lose money, but as long as they weren’t losing money at that moment, they were still making tons of money, so it was okay. Well, because the banks basically leeched tons of money out of the housing market, the government responded with HARP which is meant to even things out a bit with the homeowners and the bankers who robbed them.

Have you ever seen those click-bait ads that are like “Click here for this one trick which bankers don’t want you to know about!”? Well, that is literally HARP. You can literally only do HARP one time according to its rules. The bankers must offer you these loans if your house value is lower than what you owe on the house. Because basically, you might have thought you bought your house at a reasonable value. But due to banker shenanigans, it was actually way higher than it should have been. As a result of those shenanigans, the price plummeted thus leaving you in danger of forfeiting your house to… you guessed it: the bankers responsible for the shenanigans. So, the government decided to give those homeowners another chance to rewrite their mortgages at a better contract than originally signed. The banks would rather you forfeit your house, but the government is now looking over their shoulders, so they’re going to play by the rules rather than try any shenanigans, otherwise called irrational exuberance, by those in the know. Remember to walk the walk and talk the talk, little capitalist footstep-follower!

That’s an awesome deal! Here’s the rub. Not enough people actually qualified under those terms. So, they changed the terms. Rather than being underwater (i.e. you own more on the house than it’s worth), you needed some low equity value, less than 20%. Well, if you’re like me, you probably put 20% down and if the house value went down, you have less than 20% equity. Voila! You might qualify for HARP! Now sign up and force the banks to pay some institutional penance that is way too little for the shit-storm they caused, but still not bad considering we live in a capitalistic oligarchy!

So, in summary, we’ve examined a couple of ways of getting by in the post-oligarchy world.

1: Find an absurd thing a wealthy capitalist did and copy it.

2: Find a mistake that a capitalist institution made and be the beneficiary of its punishment.

Remember, little footstep followers, to be creative with the above two concepts. Capitalism is rich in absurd things you can do and also mistakes that need to get punished by the government! You are in a target rich environment! Now that we have the internet, it’s much easier to find out about these things and either copy their techniques or else take advantage of the rules meant to punish their irrational exuberance! Feel free to post some crazy things that you’ve seen capitalists do in the comments section. Happy hunting!

Stay tuned to next time for Way Number 2 Of How To Exploit Capitalism for My Own Gain: Or How I Enjoyed the Fruits of Capitalism Without Being Ground Up By Its Gears!

LARP on a Lark

On September 5th, I met a new friend at Pacificon and then later that night, I found out she was an alien. I almost didn’t meet this alien, and that would have been a shame, because it was a fun and unique experience.

It all started after I had finished an afternoon of playing board games at Pacificon, a yearly convention for board gamers, miniatures gamers, role playing gamers, and some small group of LARPers. I had wandered into the historical miniatures room which was a large room filled with large tables of awesome tank battles, infantry battles, airplane battles, and ship battles. I was admiring the detail on tiny plastic plumes of water splash that marked missed cannon shots in a giant fleet battle when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would be interested in LARPing.

My first thought was, “lol… no, not really.” I had preconceived notions of what LARPing was, and I figured it wasn’t for me. Maybe some of you have some preconceived notion of what LARPing is, too. Here’s a picture of LARPing from Wikipedia to give you a rough idea of what I might have gotten myself into.

Some serious LARPing!

I’m just not sure if I’m ready to run through the woods shouting “Magic Missile! Magic Missile! Magic Missile!” at other cosplayers.

“Well, we really need two more people to be able to start”, implored the LARP recruiter woman. Ah… what the hell, why not? Although I had a party to go to at 8pm and it was already 7pm, I said, “Sure, why not, I’ll give it a try.” She was so happy and grateful to find someone to complete their group. I forgot to ask, “Well, how long does this take? The schedule here says it’s going to take 5 hours. Is it really 5 hours?” “Yes, it could take 5 hours,” she responded. “Is that okay?”

Hmmm… That’s a good question. Do I want to commit 5 hours to doing something where I have no idea what it’s going to be or with whom, but must be committed in order to not let down some total strangers? That’s a lot of commitment for someone who just wants a sample taste of LARP.

I like trying new things, but I know that sometimes, not all things are for me. I tried going to a rave. Twice. I don’t dance. I’m terrible at it, and I’m terrible at learning how to dance. I tried to like it, but it really just bored me. I sat in a corner and started falling asleep. Someone came by and shined a light in my eyes and asked me if I was okay or if I had taken too much ecstasy. Umm… No, I’m just really bored and tired.

Dude, are you on ecstasy? No, man. I’m just super-sleepy all the time. Truth.

I think normally, I might not be open to 5 hours of random LARPing because there is a risk of wasting that time. But, being a Free Range Programmer who has already shed most of my expenses in order to buy time for myself, I suddenly found myself with a relative abundance of time. So, that changed the equation. So, yes. Yes, I would like to spend 5 hours with random strangers, playing a random game that I’ve never played before. That is exactly what I want!

But why not LARP? Why the reluctance in the first place? What is it about our adult lives that makes dressing up and pretending and being creative something to be ridiculed? Why wouldn’t I want to hang out with two dozen creative, passionate individuals, who can be theatrical, treacherous, insolent, arrogant, domineering, and all manner of interesting and engaging? I’ll bet you’ll never meet a friendlier group of backstabbing treacherous assassins as you would in a LARP.

I found that I like LARPers. Their subculture has a lot of the things I like in people— creative, open-minded, don’t take themselves too seriously, imaginative, silly, fun, and friendly and open to conversation. And young at heart.

I think getting old means you weigh the cost of time too much. You are reluctant to try new things because you think that it will be a waste of your time if it’s not “productive” or “entertaining” in some way. There is no room for adventure. What is adventure? Adventure is spending time which may be pleasant or may be unpleasant because you don’t know the outcome. Watching a movie is not an adventure, because you almost always know the outcome, especially of a Hollywood mainstream movie. So few of us actually seek an adventure because we cannot bear the burden of wasting time in our lives. Instead, we avoid adventure because of the potential unknown— I may not enjoy this activity and it is taking place in lieu of something that I know I would enjoy.

That is how you fall into patterns and routines. You are afraid of trying something you might like. You do only the things that you like over and over again. So, what I’ve learned is, that with the luxury of having an abundance of time is that I don’t have to be afraid of wasting my time on anything. If I keep a positive attitude, stay awake, and open my mind to new experiences, I can experience more of the world and discover what was already before me, but never knew existed.

This wonderful, creative community of people have already existed around me right here in San Jose. I’ve ignored or dismissed them as being too silly. How silly of me and how ignorant of me to have done that. I’m glad it wasn’t too late for me to not miss out on this unique and creative activity called LARPing!

PS – I will write about the specifics of that particular LARP in a different article. It did not involve dressing up or casting spells or anything like a fantasy role playing game. It was mostly conversations and diplomacy in a sort of live action theatre.