Why empowr (Part 14)

by Johnny Cash on March 23, 2017

Why empowr (Part 14)


Hello everyone,

Together, we've been reading the Why empowr book, written by one of the empowr founders. 

If you're interested in why empowr was created, or want to know where it's headed, this is a good way to find out. 

Just joining the conversation? You can read the earlier parts here:  
Part 1:   Here
Part 2:   Here
Part 3:  Here
Part 4:  Here
Part 5:  Here
Part 6:  Here
Part 7:  Here
Part 8:  Here
Part 9:
  Here
Part 10: Here 
Part 11: Here  
Part 12: Here 
Part 13: Here  

As always, many thanks for your thoughtful comments that you left in the earlier parts; we're all reading your comments very carefully.

INEQUALITY AND POVERTY CREATE TERRIBLE GOVERNMENTS 

Historically, poverty and inequality have driven many countries into the hands of dictators and other very bad people. As people get so poor that they have little (or nothing) to lose, the appeal of charismatic leaders who promise better times starts to increase, regardless of the ideology those leaders espouse.

As a result, poverty and inequality have been the key causes behind many of history’s most violent revolutions and international conflicts. 

The economic collapse came swiftly and without warning. It seemed as if, almost overnight, the town’s bustling streets had been deserted. Where once you could find a merchant or a performer on every corner, suddenly there were just beggars or transients. As the wealth quickly drained from the city, areas of town that were once frequented by families took on a new, dangerous character. Only the bravest or most foolhardy residents willingly visited these new ghettos, and those who did made a point to keep their wits about them and their hands on their valuables, some even going so far as to arm themselves in a place where such precautions would have been cause for laughter only a year before.

The few businesses that managed to still stay open put bars over their windows to prevent vandals and robbers from breaking in during the dead of night and destroying or stealing what little was left. These ugly coal-black metal bars seemed to match perfectly the feeling of despair that clung to all other surfaces. While many of the remaining businesses tried to keep their prices as low as they could, often taking losses on their few sales, even the cheapest merchandise became less affordable for the city’s residents with each passing day. The owners of the handful of shops and booths still left open watched with hope as each rare pedestrian approached, only to hang their heads in all-too-familiar disappointment as each person inevitably passed them by.

 

Meanwhile, just outside the city limits, factories that had once employed thousands of citizens in jobs that allowed workers to provide for themselves and their families, stood idle, staffed only by a few local pigeons or the occasional migratory bird passing through on its journey to a faraway destination. The ports and docks that in better times had imported goods from distant lands were now occupied by only a few barnacled fishing boats.

The entire country seemed to be shriveling on the vine, as children went to bed hungry and previously happy couples fought tooth and nail over the smallest trivialities. Those unfortunate enough to be struck with serious illness either withered away in dark corners or took to the streets, hoping that somebody, anybody, would help them. Everywhere the air hung heavy with anger, frustration, and the raw desperation of broken humanity.

But, there was still hope to be found if one looked hard enough...

A man, decrying the old ways and talking about new, revolutionary ideas, was gaining a following. He knew who was to blame for the current destitute state of affairs. He’d seen how the others lived, in their giant houses with pets that ate better than most people. The stories of how the rich laughed at the regular folks and thought of them as less than human were difficult to believe, but how else could one explain how little they did to help the poor, sick, and starving?

 

As more and more people flocked to his banner, the man gained in power. No longer were his words shrugged off by those in control as just another petty annoyance. They began to fear him and his new ideas. They saw the new world he was trying to build, and it terrified them. Some of the few powerful factions not already marching to the man’s new tune tried to fight him, to hold back the rising tide, but it was already too late. The battles were bloody and vicious, but their outcome was never really in question.
 
The people had finally found hope, and no matter what it cost them or their country, they were going to chase that hope wherever it led them.

 

Learning From the Past

The story I’ve just told you has played out a thousand or more times over the course of human history, in one form or another. Sure, a number of details change, depending on which revolution or political collapse is being discussed, but, at the core of each scenario you found people who had grown tired of being unable to feed themselves or their children. As the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

I’ll give you a few examples from history. I’m sure you will recognize most of them.

A famously bad German painter was once in the position that only a few hundred people believed anything he said was worth listening to. The German people at the time were doing quite well, despite the onerous sanctions imposed on them by the victors of World War I, through the Treaty of Versailles.

Sure, their economy was dependent upon exporting manufactured goods to other countries, but, because the factories and businesses that made those goods were able to pay their workers a living wage, Germans had very little interest in a man with a strange mustache and a dime store philosophy filled with far too much hate and not nearly enough intelligence. They could feed their children, pay their rent, and even afford to take vacations to one of the many beautiful places in their country, so why put any stock in the rantings of a deluded madman?

But, after the Great Depression hit the United States and the unprecedented global recession it caused spread to Germany, things changed very quickly. All of a sudden, the madman’s arguments started to make more sense, and the hate that he spewed found a home in the hearts of Germans who felt betrayed by not only their countrymen, but by the entire world. Eventually, that madman (who you might have already guessed was Adolph Hitler) rose to power in large part because of the German peoples’ poverty. He went on to cause the most destructive war that our planet has ever seen and manipulated his countrymen into committing some of the worst atrocities in the history of humanity.

                 Why empowr (Part 14)

"World War II Casualties" Wikimedia Commons
 

Hitler’s story isn’t entirely unlike that of a young man who grew up is Russia’s Caucasus Mountains. Russian society at the time was dominated by a few elite groups and ruled with an iron fist by the Czars. These groups owned the vast majority of the farmland and nearly all the factories. The Russian peasants were paid poverty-level wages to toil away in factories and on farms, often for fourteen hours a day and typically without any weekend break. The rents most peasants paid for their land were outrageous, often forcing people who cultivated acres of land to go hungry just to afford to stay on their farms. On top of all this, for those stupid, angry, or hopeless enough to get out of line, floggings were a traditional form of punishment.

The poverty and inequality that pervaded Russian society led to a thriving Bolshevik movement which espoused the beliefs of the founder of Communism, Karl Marx. The young man I mentioned earlier was a part of this movement. Communist ideology offered the millions of Russians living in poverty some hope that, when assets and wealth were redistributed, their lives would improve. Many Russians’ lives were so terrible already that plenty of them thought they had very little to lose. Eventually, the Bolsheviks incited a rebellion that allowed them to take control over the entire country.

The story is complicated (as Russian stories often are), but the long and short of it is that the young man, Joseph Stalin, rose to power on the coattails of another famous man named Vladimir Lenin, who controlled the Bolshevik Communist movement. Once Lenin fell ill as the result of an assassination attempt, Stalin quickly rose to be the unquestioned leader of Russia, which was eventually called the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union’s prison camps (known as gulags) and secret police force (KGB) are famous to this day for their brutality and for the hundreds of thousands of Russian lives they destroyed. Stalin, after playing a critical role in the defeat of Hitler (his one-time ally) during World War II, put the Soviet Union at odds with the United States. This ultimately led to the Cold War, which resulted in the economic collapse of the Soviet Union and forced the U.S.’s national debt to skyrocket over the course of the conflict. The Cold War also took the world to the very brink of thermonuclear annihilation.

                Why empowr (Part 14)

      Why empowr (Part 14) 

History tends to move in cycles, which is why there’s an expression that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If you think of the rise of dictators as a brutal, tragic game, the playbook that aspiring dictators use is tried and true. Poverty and inequality are the arenas in which the game is played, and they facilitate its every step forward.

The Dictator Playbook

While there are often many nuances and subtleties to the game, its basic progression almost always follows five basic steps.

Step One: Poverty and inequality create an undemocratic state in which the bottom segments of a society don’t control enough wealth to provide for themselves, and they wield little to no political power so they cannot hope to affect any structural changes to the system they live under. This situation creates enough desperation and anger among everyday people that they become much more vulnerable to the lure of any political system other than the one that’s making their lives so miserable.

Step Two: A new, often charismatic leader connects with the poor and disenfranchised masses, convincing them that he truly feels their pain. Sometimes, this may even be true, as a number of dictators have started out from the lower classes, themselves. In any case, after the new leader convinces enough people that he understands how they feel, he gives them a target for their hate. Another group of people, another country, an ideology—it doesn’t really matter what it is, just so long as he can make an even mildly convincing argument that the target is the cause of most of the society’s ills.

Step Three: The leader takes power. This could be through an election or through some kind of revolution. The method of how our soon-to-be dictator rises to power isn’t as important as what he does once he gets there.

Step Four: Once in power, our budding dictator starts squashing all dissenting voices both outside of his own organization and within it. Think media censorship, purges, and the government takeover of all forms of mass communication.

                 Why empowr (Part 14)

Source: Reporters Without Borders: For Freedom of Information

 

Step Five: Once the fourth step is complete, our newly minted dictator extraordinaire ensures that there are no term limits that interfere with him ruling for long periods of time or he takes steps to cement his power to the point where any “elections” that do take place are complete farces. (North Korea is an example of the latter.) After a person or group of people reach the top of a government and make it so that almost no matter what happens, they will never have to worry about being removed from power, any hope of democratic or representative government dies a quick death.

You’ll remember in an earlier chapter when we talked about the fat, lazy company that can’t compete without having a monopoly because of how stagnant and inefficient it becomes. Well, that company parallels quite effectively the makeup and evolution of totalitarian regimes. As the people at the top consolidate their power further and further with each passing year, they get lazier and more reliant on their traditional way of doing things.

 

One difference is that, if they are ruthless enough, they can maintain a monopoly on governance that lasts for decades, no matter how badly they run things or how poor they make the majority of the people they “govern.” Eventually, poverty and inequality in dictator-run countries do tend to become bad enough that there’s another, often bloodier, revolution and the process begins all over again.

This self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and non-democracy, which my team and I call “the Poverty Loop,” is one of the primary reasons we created empowr. Later in this book we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how empowr is designed to short circuit the Poverty Loop by attacking poverty head on, but, for the time being, suffice it to say that we believe if we can help nip poverty and inequality in the bud—while also delivering a functional democracy via the Internet—we can play at least a small role in preventing a lot of pretty awful stuff from happening across the world.

Throughout history, nearly every single time that any government appears where the leaders are not regularly replaced through nonviolent means, corruption starts to grow, and bad things happen. There are even world leaders today who have risen to power based on the poverty and desperation of their constituents; many have already taken steps to quash dissent. Trust me when I say things won’t end well if they aren’t regularly replaced with new, democratically elected representatives. This can even happen in really great countries that have leaders who genuinely want the best for their nation and their people.

One example of a country that is not heading in the right direction despite the quality of both its leadership and its people is China. With China set to become the world’s largest economy and with many first-world democracies in crisis, a number of other countries may be lured into following China’s lead, politically. Since China will be looking to secure its sphere of influence over the next few decades, many global leaders are concerned that we may be heading toward another Cold War, this time with China pitted against Europe and the United States.

 

That said, let’s address why the Chinese political and economic models are not set up to succeed in the long term.

 

Hello empowr citizens,

Several months ago we discussed how the empowr engineers would be working diligently to build a series of features that would help take out the majority of the friction from buying and selling in the empowr marketplace in order to further accelerate the growth of the empowr economy.

 

Today, I’m excited to introduce the launch of the first feature in that series - something we’re calling ”Photo bidding”.


What is “Photo bidding”?

Photo bidding is the ability to start an auction by simply clicking on something in a photo!

Just take a photo of anything you think others might be interested in purchasing.

From those clothes you’re no longer using…

…to that group photo with your buddies from high school.

Or even that messy garage that you’ve been meaning to clean out.

By posting photos, of course you’ll still earn by posting, but now you can even receive bids on the things shown within the photo. The more items in the photo, the more possibilities are opened for you.

 Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

Yes – it’s as easy as it sounds! You simply take a picture, post it, and the community can immediately start bidding on items in it. That’s it!  You don’t need to do anything else before the bidding can start, and you can find out what the community is willing to pay!

 

Bidding with “Photo bidding”

While going through your circle of trust, as you see photos of items that you might be interested in purchasing, you can bid on the items.

To place a bid, simply click the “Bid $1” link (below the photo) and then, using your mouse, click the item in the photo you’d like to bid on.  

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

As soon as you click on the item, a green price tag pointing at the item will be shown: 

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”  

 

Below the photo, you’ll have the option to “Drag to Adjust” the photo…and give the item (that you’re bidding on) a title that clearly describes it:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

As soon as you place your bid, a 7-day auction with a starting price of $1 will begin

 

Now that you started the auction, others can place their bids on the item too, by clicking the blue “Place your bid” button below the photo…

… OR by simply clicking the green price tag.

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

As you visit people’s profiles and close loops, when you see a photo that already has bids on it…

… you can bid on as many existing auctions as you’d like – just click the green price tag in the photo…

… or click the “Place your bid” button...

… or click “Bid $1” to start a new auction (if the item you want to purchase doesn’t already have a live auction on it).

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

If you’d like to see other listing details that the seller may have added, simply click “Details”…

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

 … and you’ll see everything related to the item (including remaining auction time, current bids, item description if the seller’s added any, and shipping details). You can also check out the seller’s feedback rating before you choose to bid on anything.


Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

If a seller has confirmed a listing, a blue check mark will go next to the title of the listing, as well as at the top of the price tag inside of the photo (we’ll discuss “confirmed” listings shortly).

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

Do you see multiple items within the photo that you’d like to purchase? No problem!

You can bid on as many items as you like!

 Are you having second thoughts about a bid that you’ve placed?  Don’t worry, as the high bidder, you can cancel your bid within 24 hours after the seller has confirmed that they do, in fact, wish to sell the item.  

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

And if the seller cancels the auction, you (and any other bidders) will have your bids returned to your balance. 

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

 What do the different tags in the photo mean? 

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

A green tag placed on an item in the photo means the item is currently being auctioned.  Feel free to bid on the item by simply clicking on the green tag!

A yellow tag on an item in a photo means that the auction currently has less than 24 hours remaining. So, hurry and bid if you’re interested in purchasing the item!

A red tag on an item in the photo means that the item has been rejected by the seller (or marketplace moderators) and is not something that will be available for bidding.

A blue tag on an item in the photos means that the item has sold and is no longer available for bidding.

 

Selling with “photo bidding”

Selling things with photo bidding is just as easy and requires little effort on your part - all you need to do is upload photos of things you might want to sell, and you’ll be notified as soon as someone places a bid. 

(Note: for your photos to allow photo bidding, they must be uploaded as a single photo. Photo bidding does not work on group photos.)

By visiting your  “I’m Selling” page, you can view the auctions that have started on your photos in the tab "Photo bidding awaiting your review", and decide whether to cancel the auction or “confirm” it.  

“Confirming” an auction, simply means that you’ve agreed that an item that has bids on it, is something that you may be interested in selling. 

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

To “confirm a listing”, click “Actions” dropdown on the item you’re interested in selling:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

You can adjust the photo and give the item a better name.

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

Then, add up to 4 additional photos of the item, select a marketplace category, and make any auction setting adjustments (including the Reserve Price – which indicates the least amount you would be willing to accept for it).

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

·         Note: To keep it simple, all photo bidding listings are also listed as "FREE Shipping" - as a seller you will want to incorporate your shipping cost into your reserve price.

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

When you click “save” you’ll be brought to the confirmation page where you can decide to save your listing for your later, or confirm the listing.


Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

If you’d like to save your selected settings for later, just click “Save (don’t confirm yet)”.  You can confirm the listing at any time by revisiting your “I’m Selling” page.

If you’re ready to confirm the listing, select “Confirm”.

 

Once the listing has been confirmed, you’ll receive credit towards your daily listing goal just as if you had created a new marketplace listing.

From there, everything is the same as you’re already accustomed to:

When the auction ends and the item sells, you’ll work with your buyer to successfully ship the item to them and will receive your earnings once the item is marked as “Item Received”.

Don’t want to sell the item? That’s fine too! Simply do nothing after receiving bids (IE: Don’t confirm the listing) and the auction will automatically cancel when the time is up. 

If you’ve confirmed your listing, but don’t sell it because the bidder cancelled OR the reserve was not met, we will relist the item as a marketplace listing for you automatically once the auction ends.

 

Photo Bidding moderation

Once a Photo Bidding listing has been confirmed by the seller, it will then be moderated by the seller’s Success Coach.

If the listing is rejected in moderation, it will:

  • Negatively affect the seller’s marketplace approval score for the seller (just like all listings currently do)
  • Remove the listing from the marketplace
  • Remove the daily goal listing credit
  • A red tag will be displayed on the item in the photo

Photo bidding should only be used to buy and sell actual products.  Any listings that are in violation of the empowr marketplace listing guidelines will be rejected, and will negatively affect the seller’s ability to have his/her listings auto-approved.

 

How does photo bidding affect your Daily Goal? 

When you’re the first to bid on an item in a photo, you’ll get Daily Goal and Trust flow credit in the amount 6 shares. (In this manner, citizens are rewarded for finding useful things to bid on and starting an auction).

For a photo bid that you place where you are not the initial bidder, you’ll receive credit for 3 shares.

You’ll also be granted an additional credit of 1 bid towards your Daily Goal within 24 hours after the seller completes their listing. (In this manner, citizens are further rewarded for bidding on things that the seller truly wants to sell).

Once a listing has been completed by the seller, it operates just like a normal listing – meaning you can bid on it like a regular listing and will immediately receive 1 bid credit towards your “closing the loop” and your Daily Goals, just like you do with existing auctions.

 

Even more benefits

Not only is photo bidding extremely easy for both buyers and sellers, but it also saves both parties time:

Sellers no longer need to fill in all the details of an item before finding out what the community would be willing to pay for it…

Sellers can simply sit back and watch all of those bids come in from their photo without ever being committed to actually selling anything…

… and only Confirm it when they see the item getting momentum.

AND buyers can hit their Daily Goals faster since 1 photo bid is worth much more than a bid on a regular marketplace listing (because photo bidding also provides 6 or 3 share credits, as described above, in addition to 1 bid credit after the listing has been Confirmed by the seller).

As mentioned above, as a seller, you might want to take just a few seconds to adjust the item's name or the target area in the photo, to make everything more clear and attract more bidders and higher prices.

 

Only bid on things that make sense

In the photo below, notice that bidding on a “Sunrise” is not something that makes sense, since a sunrise is not something that a seller is actually able to deliver to anyone:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

If this should happen, what Stephanie (the owner of the photo) could do is “turn photo bidding OFF” for that item in the photo:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”


The consequences of “photo bidding spam”

When a seller indicates that the item is not something that should have been bid on, specifically saying that the item is not something that can be bought or sold…

… everyone that had bid on that item in the photo is temporarily suspended from photo bidding. (A first suspension lasts only 2 hours, and each additional suspension lasts for a longer period of time).

So, as a matter of good community etiquette, please don’t bid on things (like sunrises, people, famous buildings, bridges and other things that the seller obviously cannot sell). 

If you bid on things that obviously cannot be sold, you’re creating unnecessary work for the seller, and the system takes note of that – suspending you for longer and longer periods until you’re completely unable to photo bid.

Of course, feel free to bid as much as you like on items that appear to be things the owner of the photo might own, and may have the ability or desire to sell.

 

Photo bidding is optional, but we highly recommend that sellers keep their photo bidding settings ON so that they’re giving themselves the opportunity for many more potential sales (without any effort)!

 

If you wish to turn photo bidding OFF at any time, simply visit your account settings.

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

You can also turn off photo bidding for any single photo that you’ve posted, by clicking the dropdown menu and choosing to turn it OFF:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

Let’s start photo bidding!

And that’s everything you need to know about photo bidding!

This feature is now live for Red Star Power Users and above, and should be available to everyone within the next several hours.

Be on the lookout very soon for even more features that should help further accelerate the empowr marketplace and economy.

 

My prediction

Based on the number of features currently being worked on by the empowr engineers, I predict that next month, April, together we will set a new record for the number of new, really important (game-changing) features launched by empowr!

In fact, JC will be making a very important announcement about those features in just a couple of weeks, starting with a strategic discussion about where the world is headed, aided by technology…

… and how the new upcoming features (all of which have been requested by you, our community)…

…will take us into that new world, while simultaneously attacking head-on almost all of the “pain points” you’ve discussed with us, including:

 

Eliminating the hassle of packaging and shipping

When you sell something, you need to find a box, and then make the time to go to the post office.

We’re working on a solution so you don’t have to do that anymore.

 

Eliminating the cost of shipping

When you sell something, you have to go out-of-pocket to pay for shipping.

We’re working on a solution to eliminate that out-of-pocket cost for you.

 

Earn much more revenue for your products

Imagine being able to earn over and over again, using the same product.

We’re working on a solution for you to earn recurring revenue from the things you list, as opposed to sell each item once and it’s gone forever.

 

Don’t have products to sell?

We’re getting ready to unleash Services, so you don’t have to just sell products to earn AMCO cash outs.

 

Eliminate the hassle of listing Services

As soon as you can earn cash outs from Services, you’ll want to eliminate the hassle of listing a service.

See a service that someone else is offering – that you think you can offer too?

With only one single click, now you’re offering it too.

 

Much larger variety of products available to you (as a buyer)

Imagine having ten, fifty or even one hundred times the variety of products for you to access, as a buyer, in the empowr marketplace.

We’ve got a solution in the works to make that happen.

 

Much lower cost of products you want

At the same time, imagine the cost of accessing the products you want dropping by as much as 80, 90 or even 95%?

Believe it or not, a solution that will do just that is in the works for you.

 

Literally hundreds of new ways for you to earn

Now imagine hundreds of new ways for you to earn.

With the launch of our app platform, developers will be able to dream up new ways, and compete with each other to bring you new ways to earn.

 

Making it easier to learn

Let’s face it, empowr is complicated. We’re working on solutions to make it easier for the newest citizens to learn and get going.

 

Making it easier to invite your friends

Simply take a photo of a friend, and let the community start bidding on her shirt, his bike, her old cell phone.

What better way for your friend to get introduced to empowr than to see its members wanting to help them earn, even before they’ve joined?

 

Making it more efficient to teach

A number of tools are in the works to make success coaches more efficient and capable of helping their students.

 

Less frustration with empowr’s decisions

Along with our president continuing to be elected by you, with think enabling you to elect your local leaders is the way to go.

Your local leaders need to be able to modify the platform in all the ways that matter to you.

 

And of course all the above is happening simultaneously to all the other issues, bugs and improvements you are reporting on a daily basis.

As I mentioned, JC will be telling you all about those features in just a few weeks from now!

In the meantime, thanks for being so committed to the mission, for your continued belief in your fellow community members (success coaches, employees and citizens) and for working so hard to build the empowr economy!

 

And as always, like with any new product feature launch, please expect that there will be bugs and issues. If you come across any, please report them by clicking the top right corner of any page:

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

If you're the first to report it, you'll even earn $20. Please be sure to be as detailed as possible so that we can resolve any issues quickly.

Now Launching: “Photo Bidding”

 

Any questions? We’re here for you.

Your president,
Brian

Why empowr (Part 13)

by Johnny Cash on March 12, 2017

Why empowr (Part 13)


Hello everyone,

Together, we've been reading the Why empowr book, written by one of the empowr founders. 

If you're interested in why empowr was created, or want to know where it's headed, this is a good way to find out. 

Just joining the conversation? You can read the earlier parts here:  
Part 1:   Here
Part 2:   Here
Part 3:  Here
Part 4:  Here
Part 5:  Here
Part 6:  Here
Part 7:  Here
Part 8:  Here
Part 9:
  Here
Part 10: Here 
Part 11: Here 
Part 12: Here 

As always, many thanks for your thoughtful comments that you left in the earlier parts; we're all reading your comments very carefully.


The world's experiencing problems
that threaten humanity's future
 

Yet, as a result of setbacks with democracy, education, and technology, many countries are being governed very ineffectively, and voters are either too uneducated or too worried about providing for their families to do anything about it. This is making it much harder for the world community to effectuate the changes that are needed to avoid catastrophe.

Between climate change, terrorism, technological unemployment, pandemics, economic collapses, natural disasters, and growing first-world inequality, there are some very serious issues facing our species that require equally serious solutions. 

 

So, to summarize the bad news covered in the first half of this book:

      First-world democracies are being hijacked by special interests and big money;

      Educational systems are leaving students woefully unprepared to participate in the modern, global economy where only highly skilled labor jobs matter, as software and automation replace low skill jobs;

      Network technologies are making it much easier for single corporations to rapidly take over entire industries and form job destroying monopolies;

      To add insult to injury, each structural problem is making the others even worse, leaving the human race completely unequipped to face the many complex threats facing humanity.

 

I understand if you winced a little while reading all that; it wasn’t particularly fun writing it, either. That said, in the interest of clarity, I’d like to elaborate just a little on these points before moving forward to examine what we believe are the most dangerous global problems. I promise I’ll make it fast.

First, the hijacking of democracy has left the governments of many influential countries unable or unwilling to respond to the worldwide issues humanity must deal with. As a species, we’re facing challenges that very clearly require visionary leadership and innovative thinking to address them comprehensively.

At the same time, because of the erosion of democracy in leading countries such as the United States, the governments that would be most able to push forward international efforts to meet these global challenges are being held back by utterly dysfunctional political systems. As the world watches this dysfunction unfold, global enthusiasm for democracy wanes, and other more dangerous forms of government (which we’ll discuss later) become more appealing. This puts humanity in danger of backsliding.

               Why empowr (Part 13)

Meanwhile, many educational systems are failing to give students the skills they need to succeed in the post-industrial workforce and become productive members of society.

Even as secondary and postsecondary education becomes more important to prosperity, underfunded schools are forced to hire teachers from the bottom half of graduating classes. Those teachers go on to inadequately educate their students, many of whom eventually go on to become the next generation of teachers. As this happens, a “dumbification cycle” is created which produces consistently less capable graduates each time the cycle repeats. Consequently, students around the world are expressing their frustration with schools they see as having wasted years of their life, actually sabotaging their chances of success rather than enhancing them.

               Why empowr (Part 13) 

Next, while democracy and education falter, the Network Effect threatens to create behemoth global corporations that monopolize entire fields. As these tech-heavy companies evolve, they shed their human assets in favor of more efficient robotic workers. This leads to unemployment, which shrinks the middle class, concentrating wealth and political power at the top to an even greater degree.

               Why empowr (Part 13) 

These social, political, and economic structural problems are putting many of the world’s most powerful countries in a position where they aren’t equipped to deal with important crises, e.g., climate change, government shutdowns, the expansion of international terror networks, and the global spread of drug resistant diseases, to name but a few.

There are other examples:

      We are still exploring new fossil fuel resources even though our top scientists tell us that our burning of the many fossil fuels we have already extracted will cause irreversible global catastrophe.

      Major political parties across the world are becoming more polarized each year, as each election cycle pushes them further away from the center.

      Rather than find ways to properly integrate disaffected segments of society, many countries are choosing to go down dangerous, authoritarian paths in order to feel secure against global terror.

      Despite their role in creating superbugs, antibiotics are still one of the most over-prescribed medications in the world, leading to more resilient and deadly diseases every year.

 

And, while all the problems discussed in this chapter are real and require serious attention, there are three core problems that worry us, at empowr, the most (and for which we’ve spent the last decade and a half working on solutions):

      Poverty and inequality

      Terrorism and extremism; and

      The backsliding and destruction of democracy.


The growing dangers of poverty and inequality

At first glance, statistics show that poverty and inequality may be problems that are shrinking at a rapid rate. However, in large part because of China’s unsustainable economic growth, assessing either statistic on a global level is misleading.

The fact is that inequality in industrialized nations grows worse every year, and, when China is excluded from measures of global poverty, the problem seems barely to have been addressed by some of the world’s poorest regions.

This should concern everybody because both issues, historically, have had some very nasty consequences. 

 

In recent years, leaders around the world have been patting themselves on the back over the perceived progress in the global fight against poverty. And, to their credit, a few aspects of worldwide poverty are being addressed in some noteworthy ways: for example, the global childhood mortality rate has fallen by nearly 50% since 1990; pregnant women in many poorer countries are receiving improved prenatal care. On the surface, even the overarching problem of global poverty itself appears to have been addressed meaningfully in the past two decades, with the poverty rate falling 25%-30% since 1981.

Unfortunately, a more detailed examination of the poverty numbers shows that China accounts for the vast majority of the reduction in global poverty. This is largely due to the huge trade surplus China has been running for the past decade, with industrialized nations pumping tens of billions of dollars into its economy every year.

Without China, improvements in global poverty have been mediocre at best, with only a dismal 5%-10% reduction over the course of the past two decades contrasted with huge advancements in technology and the continued march of globalization. Adding insult to injury, in a number of critical regions, the number of people living in poverty has actually increased in recent years, with sub-Saharan Africa being among the most worrisome.

              Why empowr (Part 13)

Worse, as I’ll discuss in greater detail later on, China’s current economic model is simply not sustainable in the long term. The impact that the shrinking of China’s trade surplus will have within its own borders and on the global poverty numbers is not certain. But, as democratic reforms are slowly rolled back within that country, as income inequality grows (now even exceeding U.S. numbers), as a monstrous real estate bubble prepares to burst, and as some minority populations become further disenfranchised every year, many global authorities have begun to express a great deal of concern.

 

Inequality is a growing problem for the world's most powerful and influential nations

Even though inequality has been “reduced” on a global level, rising rates of inequality in the world’s most powerful countries threaten everything from the effectiveness and desirability of democracy to the very stability of the global economy. Worldwide inequality has fallen as wealth from industrialized nations and their post-industrial economies has been pumped into developing countries, due in large part to the availability of cheap manufacturing labor within those countries. Despite this phenomenon, many first-world nations are being forced to come to terms with the issues created by increased economic inequality within their own borders.

The United States is perhaps the best example of the threat posed by this growing first-world inequality. The percentage of national wealth controlled by the top 1% of American society has skyrocketed since 1980. While the share of U.S. income going to the top 1% of earners has jumped over the past half century, America’s middle-class has seen its income growth stagnate, and some of the poorest segments of society have seen their standards of living actually fall. Currently, over 45 million Americans and nearly one out of every five American children live in poverty.

              Why empowr (Part 13)

This doesn’t just pose an enormous credibility and public relations problem for a country that has been selling the American Dream to the world for the past century. As inequality grows, so do a number of very severe problems, such as declining social mobility, decreased political stability, a less healthy population, reduced child well-being, increased prevalence of mental illness, rising prison populations, and lower educational scores, to name just a few. The damage that inequality is causing to the very fabric of society in a number of industrialized nations comes as no surprise to many historians and prominent public figures who, for years, have been warning of the dangers that inequality poses to our world.

The upshot of these two growing problems is that the gains that have been made in first-world nations since the end of World War II are being threatened by the very issues they committed to addressing in other developing and third-world nations back in the 1990s. The irony of this situation could be humorous, if not for the fact that poverty and inequality have led to revolutions or even worse, over the course of human history.

Why empowr (Part 12)

by Johnny Cash on March 05, 2017

Why empowr (Part 12)


Hello everyone,

Together, we've been reading the Why empowr book, written by one of the empowr founders. 

If you're interested in why empowr was created, or want to know where it's headed, this is a good way to find out. 

Just joining the conversation? You can read the earlier parts here:  
Part 1:   Here
Part 2:   Here
Part 3:  Here
Part 4:  Here
Part 5:  Here
Part 6:  Here
Part 7:  Here
Part 8:  Here
Part 9:
  Here
Part 10: Here 
Part 11: Here  

As always, many thanks for your thoughtful comments that you left in the earlier parts; we're all reading your comments very carefully.

 

The Dark Side of Network Technology

 

The free exchange of information that network technology has brought about has also led to a winner-take-all marketplace where the first business to effectively leverage the cloud by going online and taking advantage of “The Network Effect” ends up dominating each field. This has already created huge, shockingly powerful monopolies that stifle competition and innovation in addition to reduce the number of jobs available in a given field.
 

In the future, as more businesses become fully networked, it is likely that each major category of business will end up utterly controlled by one monstrously influential global corporation. This in turn will concentrate obscene wealth and political power in the hands of a small, elite group, while leaving huge swaths of humanity unemployed and disenfranchised. Unless... 

 

Five months.

That’s all it took to block an industry giant from gaining control of the entire Japanese market.

Yahoo had lusted after the Japanese auction market for a long time, while planning its strategy of attack. Despite a great deal of skepticism on whether the Japanese would even be interested in online auctions, Yahoo assigned four of their best people to develop the site. At the same time, the leading force in the online auction industry, eBay, was also plotting its entry into the Japanese market. As the development teams in each company worked at a feverish pace, everybody knew that the first player on the scene would have a distinct advantage.

In September 1999, Yahoo Japan launched its auction site, beating eBay to the market by only five months. This advantage, combined with marketing tactics that skillfully targeted new Japanese users, resulted in Yahoo Japan’s essentially completely shutting eBay out of the Japanese market and laying claim to the tens of millions of dollars in revenue that the market produced each year. When the CEO of Yahoo Japan, Masahiro Inoue, was asked why being first to the market was so critical, he answered, “We knew catching up with a front-runner is hard because, in auctions, more buyers bring more sellers.”

The principal that Mr. Inoue stated above, often referred to as the “first-mover advantage,” is one that applies far beyond the online auction market. Being the first to successfully enter a market has always been important to business. But with the introduction of network technology, the importance of being the “first mover” has been elevated to existential levels for businesses.

This is to a large degree a result of the fact that Mr. Inoue states very clearly: more buyers bring more sellers who, in turn, attract more buyers, creating an upward-accelerating phenomenon that means, within only a few months, competitors to that first-mover platform find it nearly impossible to enter the market or survive. Whether discussing online auctions or any other online business, the principle remains the same.

Network technology amplifies the first-mover advantage through something called “The Network Effect.” I can feel readers’ eyes glossing over as I type this, so let me assure you up front that I’m going to keep this explanation as short and sweet as possible.

The Network Effect (also called the Law of Telecosm) essentially states that as more “nodes” (or users) connect to a network, the value of the network (to its customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders) goes up exponentially as opposed to linearly:

              Why empowr (Part 12)

 

Think of it like this: If, at one point, you owned the only telephone in the world, it would be pretty much useless because there would be nobody else to talk to. But when somebody else gets a telephone, all of a sudden your phone is worth a whole hell of a lot more, because now you have somebody to talk to (other than yourself). As more people and businesses get phones, the value of having a phone goes up, as does the value of the entire telephone network. Eventually, everybody wants and needs a telephone, because there are so many people and businesses to talk to. Like with any type of network, as each new person connects to the network, the value provided by the network goes up exponentially, not linearly.

I’ll give one more quick example, just to make sure you understand. If you already get it (or just plain don’t care), feel free to skip it.

Way back in the days when the operating system field wasn’t completely dominated by the kingdoms of Microsoft and Apple, International Business Machines (IBM) was contending with Microsoft in the personal computer operating system market. Having once been partners on the development of a new operating system called OS/2, the competition between the two companies was particularly fierce. While Microsoft and its operating system, Windows, enjoyed a number of advantages over IBM and OS/2, two key factors led primarily to Microsoft ultimately winning the war:

1.     Microsoft got Windows preloaded on many thousands of personal computers. This put Windows at a distinct advantage over IBM’s OS/2, which had to be purchased separately. 

2.     Because of that, many more software developers began to create programs for Microsoft’s Windows operating system. This meant that users who had Windows gained access to a much greater variety of programs. 

If you look at the two factors individually, they each appear important but not necessarily critical. However, if you put them together, you see how powerful a combination they make: Developers wanted their programs to be bought by as many consumers as possible, and since computers were coming preloaded with Windows, it made more sense for developers to design their programs for Windows machines.

And consumers wanted to be able to use as many programs as possible, so it made sense for them to choose Windows because it had more programs built for it.

The operating system with more programs (Windows) attracted more consumers; and the one with more consumers (Windows) attracted more developers and programs.

Fast forward a couple of decades, through many repeats of this cycle, and now almost nobody knows what OS/2 is or was, but nearly everybody who has ever used a computer knows about Microsoft Windows.

Now, let’s move on to why network technology poses such a frightening long-term threat to humanity.

As more and more companies in every imaginable industry hook up to the Internet and their business models continue to take more advantage of network technologies, the Network Effect becomes a bigger factor in their industry.

At first, when a business begins to experience the Network Effect, it sees increased growth in the value it can provide to customers. This draws more and more customers to the business which, of course, increases revenues. As revenues go through the roof and the business is able to control an increasingly larger share of its market, smart investors in the industry start to see the writing on the wall and begin to divest from its competitors, investing exclusively in the inevitable champion of the winner-takes-all game that’s been set in motion. The value of the networked company continues to increase by leaps and bounds, giving it even more resources, which enable it to provide even more value to customers and take over an even greater share of customers, profits, investors, suppliers and other limited industry resources.

As the business that first leverages the Network Effect takes off into the stratosphere, its competitors soon become unable to raise money because nobody wants to buy their stock. Even worse, it gets harder for competitors to acquire new customers because they can’t provide anywhere near the same value that the fully networked business is able to give. The competitors’ stock prices plummet, they are forced to lay off many employees, and, eventually, each competitor goes out of business, turning the most networked company into a monopoly.

Without competitive pressures pushing them to innovate, monopolies stop progressing. Their products and services remain the same for longer and longer periods. To make their shareholders happy, they easily generate higher and higher profits by incrementally increasing the prices of their stale products and services, which they can easily do because customers have nowhere else to go. Slowly but surely, the entire category of business they dominate stagnates.

While consumers often benefit from the incredible value monopolies initially provide, in the end almost everybody suffers from monopolization. Society misses out on all the product selection, quality, and value that would have existed in a more competitive arena.

Even more importantly, the gradual disappearance of competitors and their associated partners, vendors, and supporting ecosystem means fewer people are required to operate the less robust industry.

Going forward, as all companies continue their rush toward adopting network technologies in order to exploit the Network Effect and win their industry’s coveted monopoly position (before their competitors do), one industry category after another will become dominated by Goliath monopolies, creating more unemployment and underemployment (where people are forced to take low-paying jobs they don’t want).

The Scariest Category of All

One specific industry category that’s creating more unemployment and misery is that of the pure web tech giants. They are taking greatest advantage of the Network Effect because they are nothing if not giant networks. These are the web and social media companies that we’re all quite familiar with: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest, to name just a few. Google falls under that category, too, because its primary business model is simply a network scheme that brings together businesses looking for customers with customers searching for the things those businesses offer.

As these web models first evolved, consumers, in their haste to take advantage of the services these companies offer, basically failed to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Your entire business model depends on the relationships, communications, and/or searching activity of me and others like me… So where’s my share?” The result is what I like to call the Great Disappearing Act—in that, massive amounts of society’s productivity, progress, innovation, and value are being exchanged for something worth much less.

For those of you who like numbers, let’s take a look at what’s been happening in America, as an example:

The United States, as a nation, spends the equivalent of twelve million work years (a work year is 52 forty-hour work weeks per year) on social media annually, the equivalent of over $300 billion dollars at the average U.S. person’s salary level of $24,000. So, Americans are giving up $300 billion dollars’ worth of their time and receiving virtually nothing of monetary value in exchange. Facebook, the social network that receives most of that time, generated $1.83 billion from its U.S. users in the fourth quarter of 2014.[v] That means that, in America alone, each year we’re exchanging the majority of $300 billion worth of our time for about $7 billion in revenues for Facebook—a disappearing act of 97% for society as a whole.

Extractive vs. Inclusive Economics

One of the many geniuses that has advised empowr, M.I.T.’s professor of economics and one of the ten most cited economists in the world, Daron Acemoglu[vi], wrote a bestselling book titled Why Nations Fail, in which he discusses how most countries were originally set up to extract as much money from their economies as possible for the benefit of a few elite people at the top, leading those nations to fail economically. That’s called extractive economics.

On the other hand, the nations that succeed economically are the ones that figure out how to be inclusive, meaning their policies and institutions are organized in a way to ensure that any value taken out of economies, such as taxes, are intelligently put back into the economy in ways that help further grow their economies and help their people improve their lives.

Many nations, such as Argentina, Peru and Mexico, were originally built by settlers who arrived from more developed countries with a goal of extracting as much value as possible from these new lands, and who turned the locals into slaves, using force to extract natural resources and send those resources back to the kingdoms that financed their missions. Those extractive approaches to economics resulted in widespread misery, economic failure, and cultural norms that, in many cases, still continue to this day.

In many ways, this is what is happening on the web today. In other words, Facebook’s $7 billion in annual revenues (generated from its U.S. territory) and associated profits—generated from nearly $300 billions’ worth of American’s time—ends up going to a tiny number of Facebook’s major shareholders and a small number employees (relative to its user base; only 7,200 employees as of early 2015[vii]). This is exactly the definition of extractive economics, and, as those numbers clearly illustrate, it’s having a damaging effect on the economy of the United States as well as every country in which Facebook operates. And it’s something that must change, or the world will end up in a very bad place soon, as we’ll discuss in the next chapter. (Addressing this problem was a primary reason that empowr was created. Details on exactly how empowr will help, in the chapter titled “Strategically Leveraging the Network Effect.”

“Now, hold on,” some of you will say. “Society benefits from the services that Facebook, Google, and other networks offer to their users for free.”

I agree. But I argue that the economic value of the services offered by these companies for free to their users, pales in relative economic value to that which society loses in the process, as measured, for example, by the $300 billion of worker time that disappeared in the marketplace. In addition, there are no taxes collected on free services; therefore, funding for schools, roads, and other government services disappeared along with all that economic value.

Today’s social networks rate very low in Overall Labor Effectiveness (OLE), a key performance indicator that measures the utilization, performance, and quality of any workforce and its impact on productivity.

If the economic model of current social networks worked well from a macroeconomic perspective, each dollar’s worth of worker time consumed by the network would translate into something greater than one dollar in economic output. And, of course, that output could be taxed, bringing back more to society as a whole.

The good news is that capitalism is great at motivating people to figure out what the best uses of scarce resources are. And that’s why it’s only a matter of time until someone presents a better model than Facebook’s, which sets the bar quite low since it takes each dollar’s worth of labor and shrinks it into a mere three pennies.

At empowr, we’ve taken another approach, and that’s to first carefully study history to discover what happened over centuries within countries, which are the original large social networks, of course.

What we learned from our research and then spent the next fifteen years attempting to implement is the idea of offering an inclusive alternative to users. When America declared its independence and later collected taxes from citizens, those revenues belonged to its citizens, not to a small number of kings, lords, and knights (as was the case in Great Britain, for example). In other words, tax revenues were spent to build roads and bridges, educate citizens, and protect them—all things that helped average everyday citizens to increase their economic output. The result of this inclusive approach (as opposed to an extractive approach) was that America’s share of global GDP shot up more than thirty-fold—from a fraction of 1% to nearly 30%—in just over a single century: 

               Why empowr (Part 12)

 

Finally, some of you will argue that what people are doing on Facebook should not be viewed as work; rather it’s all just communication—or even entertainment, just like watching TV or listening to the radio.

But is there really any question about whether watching TV for hours each day is good (or ended up being good) for individuals or society as a whole? There’s a very simple but strong correlation that can be drawn between when TV started to take up hours of people’s time each day, and when society started getting dumber, less knowledgeable, and less productive, but let’s not go there right now.

Instead, close your eyes and imagine for a moment that with the help of some new technology, we could turn that very same communication and entertainment into actual economically productive activities—converting each dollar worth of time spent in the platform into something greater than a dollar in economic output—creating opportunity for individuals and progress for society. If that could be accomplished without any loss of communication or entertainment value, would you consider it an important advancement?


Building the world's first inclusive online economy

If corporations can figure out how to be inclusive as opposed to extractive, not only will their customers love them like never before (resulting in more loyal customers who spend more money with them per customer), but they’ll also end up making more profits for their shareholders in the long run—much in the same way that the United States now boasts the largest number of billionaires in the world, and why the U.S. government is the most powerful and wealthiest organization in the world, even though it spends all the tax money it collects on serving its citizens.

Being inclusive as a corporation is much harder than it sounds. First, company shareholders have to be convinced that giving back profits to customers is a sound business decision (for them). empowr decided early on to not bring in investors. Yes, that resulted in varying levels of poverty and misery for about 1,000 employees who (because they believed in empowr’s mission) left high paying jobs to work for little or no pay for some or all of the fifteen years it took to develop the empowr platform. As a result of their sacrifices, empowr is now in the incredibly unique position to adopt an inclusive approach to its economics and distribute its profits to its customers, because it has no Wall Street shareholders or venture capitalists to convince.

Without a doubt, other companies that want to take the same inclusive approach will have a much harder time convincing their stakeholders (shareholders, investors, and board members) to go along. The upshot is that, by being the first to do this, empowr hopes to provide a real live example that other companies can show their investors when they, too, set out to win the argument that inclusive approaches will not only attract more loyal customers and revenues but will ultimately lead to higher profits for shareholders in the long run—in the same way that inclusive countries ultimately created more wealth for everyone involved, including normal citizens AND wealthy stakeholders.

In addition to the hurdles presented by company shareholders, giving back profits to customers requires many new inventions and technologies that can accomplish everything from effectively distributing money to customers, to blocking fraudsters looking to take advantage of those distributions. Luckily, empowr has spent the last fifteen years building virtually all of the required technologies, techniques and know-how, and we intend to give all of these to companies of all types, sizes and industries. We’ll discuss this later in this book.

To be clear, Facebook and Google are hardly alone out there as pure network plays that are effectively killing the economy. Skype (with only 500 employees; 2010) is putting massive phone companies (and their employees) out in the cold, as is Automattic/WordPress (322 employees), WhatsApp (55 employees), Mozilla (1,000 employees), Tumblr (271), Twitter (3900 around the world), Opera Software (1,029), Canonical (500 in 30+ countries), Wikimedia/Wikipedia (250), and Craigslist—which has almost single-handedly put newspapers out of business—has a mere 40-some employees in San Francisco.

In the grand scheme of things, the Internet’s Network Effect is just getting started but is already causing mass unemployment, and that’s on top of unemployment caused by automation coming in to replace workers, such as the ways that software and search engines are replacing travel agents, phone operators, video-rental and record store employees.

Or look at what happened in Detroit, Michigan, where assembly line robots and other forms of automation replaced autoworkers in the car, truck, and automotive parts plants once thriving in the 1950s and ‘60s.

               Why empowr (Part 12) 

Eric Byrnjolfsson, another well-respected American author and academic from M.I.T., described in his book, Race Against the Machine, an exchange between Ford CEO Henry Ford II and United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther, as they toured a heavily automated automobile factory.

“Ford jokingly jabs at Reuther: “Walter, how are you going to get these robots to pay UAW dues?” Not missing a beat, Reuther responds: “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”

 

The result of all of this is that society’s jobs (that people actually want) are disappearing en masse on the one hand, while, on the other hand, a huge amount of wealth is moving to the tiny, elite parts of society comprised of either owners or essential and highly skilled employees of category-killing monopolies—leading to mass technological unemployment.

             Why empowr (Part 12)

In the coming years, nearly every majoyr industry will become very highly networked and automated

To get an idea of the effect that automation and the Network Effect have already had on your life and on the world, let’s play a little game. Bear with me: I promise I won’t take too long to get to the point.

Think of the last time you bought any type of music. Chances are that many of you either haven’t bought music in a very long time or, if you did, it was purchased or rented through one of the giant online music platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes.

Next, try and remember when you last purchased a book and where you purchased it. While there are still plenty of places to purchase books, for the time being, the dominant force in the industry, Amazon, is growing larger and more monopolistic every year.

How about the last time you searched for information? As discussed elsewhere in this book, you probably didn’t grab a dictionary or a sports almanac. You almost certainly didn’t go to your favorite shelf full of encyclopedias or head to your local library. I would bet good money that you probably “Googled” it.

Or think of the last time you watched a movie or a show on anything other than a television. It was likely Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. You may have even been extra sneaky and watched your movie or show on one of the many illegal sites that new technology has given the ability to broadcast pirated videos across the globe mere hours after they air.

The upshot of all of this is that, in every single scenario above, thousands upon thousands of jobs are being made either obsolete or much less important each year, as technology does more of the work in each industry. With each of the business models above, musicians, writers, website creators, telephone operators, truck drivers, movie creators, and the other everyday people who work in each of those industries receive a smaller share of the profits as time goes by.

As all services eventually become more and more digitized, the owners of the networks (and the servers that run the algorithms) end up with a frightening level of control over their particular industries. And every week, they quietly tweak their algorithms to ensure that, gradually, the vast majority of the revenue their industry produces goes right into their pockets.

We won’t have to wait long to see the next generation of technological unemployment. A report from the University of Oxford recently predicted over a 90% chance that fast food workers will be replaced by machines in relatively short order. Another example is that, thanks in large part to websites like Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia, over 38,000 travel agent jobs have disappeared since 2002.

Even soldiers and police officers may someday soon have their jobs taken over by machines. Professionals aren’t safe from being automated into obsolescence or irrelevance, either. Legendary tech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla (someone who was early to understand some of empowr’s promise and goals, as evidenced by his repeated aggressive attempts to buy a piece of empowr) predicts that, in short order, 80% of what doctors currently do will be replaced by robots.

And those are just a few examples. Because of growing technological unemployment and the rapid monopolization of entire industries due to the Network Effect along with deteriorating educational systems and dysfunctional governments, the world is facing some huge challenges and will, undoubtedly, face even bigger challenges in the near future. So, to be perfectly honest, as it stands now, things look pretty grim.

Even “grim” might be a bit too sugar-coated, so I’ll just call it like I see it, instead.

Why empowr (Part 11)

by Johnny Cash on March 03, 2017

Why empowr (Part 11)


Hello everyone,

Together, we've been reading the Why empowr book, written by one of the empowr founders. 

If you're interested in why empowr was created, or want to know where it's headed, this is a good way to find out. 

Just joining the conversation? You can read the earlier parts here:  
Part 1:   Here
Part 2:   Here
Part 3:  Here
Part 4:  Here
Part 5:  Here
Part 6:  Here
Part 7:  Here
Part 8:  Here
Part 9:
  Here
Part 10: Here 

 

As always, many thanks for your thoughtful comments that you left in the earlier parts; we're all reading your comments very carefully.

Network Technology changed the world

As companies and entire industries have gone online, the world has become a much smaller, more efficient place. Tasks that only a couple of decades ago would have taken hours to complete now take a matter of minutes or even seconds. This increased efficiency has made people’s lives safer, longer, more productive, and, in many ways, more enjoyable.

In addition to all these positive effects, network technology has allowed information to be shared at nearly unimaginable speeds. This free exchange of information is leading to technological advancements that are drastically improving nearly every aspect of our lives. 

 

There are plenty of people around today who remember a time when international calls were a luxury reserved for special occasions. Back in the mid-20th century, making an international call was a bit of an ordeal. First, you had to leave your nice, warm house and proceed to a telephone office. Once there, you had to grab a card and wait for a phone booth to open up. After that, you had to wait for the operator to connect you to whomever you were calling.

From all accounts, the phone call itself was like shouting into a cave, with your own voice often reverberating back at you from the telephone speaker like a flock of angry bats. The person on the other end of the line was typically so difficult to hear that callers often joked that every long distance phone conversation took place twice in one call, as nearly every sentence had to be repeated at least once.

On top of all this, chances are that the phone company operator was listening in occasionally during the call, so they could disconnect you when the phone call was over. (The grandmother of one of my friends worked as an international switchboard operator, and he says that she has fantastic stories about some of the phone calls she listened to over the years.) Finally, when the call ended, you left your booth and paid a very hefty fee for each minute you’d been on the phone.

Nowadays, there are many different ways to have an international conversation with a friend from the comfort of your couch, using your very own smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can chat with your friend using one of the numerous chat services like Google Talk or Facebook chat, text your buddy instantly using the text feature included on every phone since the 90s, call your friend using your phone’s regular dialing feature, or even use Skype, Google Voice, or any of the other freely available VOIP international calling services.

In addition to having your pick of services, you can also have every one of these conversations with little to no call interference and nobody listening in (except for maybe the United States’ and/or your own country’s National Security Agency). Best of all, many international calls can be made completely free of charge. International calls are just one small example of how network technology has changed an industry. Here are a few more examples that come to mind.

Networked Technologies are Optimizing Humanity

Think back to a time before Google, if you can. Imagine that you needed to find a piece of information. This information could have been an answer to a question about the world or perhaps the name and location of a store that carried a product you needed. Chances are that, to answer the question, you had to consult an encyclopedia or do something really drastic, like ask another human being. To find the store, you might have checked the local phone book.

Now, think about trying to find absolutely any information, product, or service today. Where would you go first? Personally, I’d type whatever it is that I’m looking for into the built-in search box on my internet browser, and Google would probably find exactly what I’m looking for and put it on the very first search page. This process gets more efficient every day since Google’s algorithms and access to content are second to none. Consequently, a search that would have taken minutes twenty years ago (or even hours, for harder to answer questions and harder to find products) is now completed in a matter of seconds with a much higher chance of success.

Next, let’s think about how you used to buy books (and many other items frequently purchased, nowadays). If your friend told you about a really great book by their favorite author and said that you absolutely had to read it, where would you go to get it? Well, if you were particularly frugal, you might go down to the public library and see if the book was available to check out.

Otherwise, if you wanted to buy the book for yourself, you would have to call the local bookstores to see who had it in stock and then go to purchase it. Alternatively, if, after all this calling around, none of the local book stores had it, you’d have to ask them to order it. This process sometimes took weeks, depending on the popularity of the book. Once the book arrived, they’d call you, and you’d have to drive down to the bookstore to pick it up.

If you want to buy a book today (almost regardless of how hard it is to find), all you need to do is type its name into the search box on Amazon’s website, buy the book online, and, if you’re an Amazon Prime member (which you should be; it’s a great service), you’ll probably have it delivered right to your door within a couple of days or be able to download it instantly to a digital device of your choosing (my personal preference). Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll still probably get your book delivered to you in less than a week.

Am I starting to paint a picture for you of how much things have actually changed? Great. Then one more example for good measure won’t hurt. I promise it will be an interesting one.

Let’s say, twenty years ago, you wanted to have a big party one weekend. Imagine that you hadn’t seen a bunch of your friends in a very long time, so you decided to invite all of them to this party and make it a really fancy affair: catering, open bar (because you’re classy like that), the whole nine yards. First, you’d have to figure out which of your friends you actually liked enough to invite to your awesome party. You might search through your contact book and find the people you most wanted to see. After that, you’d search the yellow pages for a venue, call around town to find the right caterer, and then put together invitations and mail them out. If you were lucky or really efficient, preparing for your party would probably end up, at the very least, taking a couple of days.

Now, imagine the exact same party today. You invite all your Facebook friends from your “People I Actually Like” list with a few clicks; search Yelp for a caterer; find and reserve the best venue on Google; and the entire process could be over in a matter of minutes. I’ve already covered Google a bit, but no discussion of how network technology has changed our lives would be complete without touching on the dominant social media platform of our time… Facebook.

While people like to complain about Facebook, sometimes for valid reasons, nobody can argue that it hasn’t revolutionized how people build and maintain their network of friends. It’s even redefined the word “friend.” (A common question today being, “Is he just your Facebook friend or your real-life friend?”) And, despite complaints, a lot folks’ lives have been changed for the better because they are a part of Facebook.

In any case, the real point of this last scenario is to show how an activity that, just a few years ago, would have taken a lot of time and energy to complete could possibly take you just minutes to throw together today. Now, multiply all that saved time billions of times over by the many millions of different people who repeatedly use these services, and you start to get an idea of how big an impact network technology has had across the globe.

Finally, look at everything I’ve written about in this chapter. Twenty years ago, to accomplish all the tasks mentioned, you would have needed an encyclopedia set, a phone book, a clunky old non-portable telephone, transportation to visit physical locations, and a ton of patience. Now, consider how every single thing discussed above can be taken care of from the computer in your home today or on the smartphone in your pocket. And none of these stories even touch on the astonishing benefits that network technology has given to research and development, and has given in support of new technologies across every single profession and field.

To wrap up this chapter, I’ll ask you to think about one more thing and then I swear, I’ll move on. All the stuff we’ve talked about so far has pertained primarily to information-oriented tasks, services, and businesses. At the very least, all the physical items being looked for were small and portable. This lack of physical collateral means that a lot of the businesses discussed were either made in the Internet “cloud” or changed fairly easily to leverage the benefits of the cloud.

But, as network technology has evolved, even businesses with significant physical collateral like hotels, taxi services, and airlines (to name just a few) have started to move the majority of their business online to take advantage of the cloud. This trend will someday result in every single product and service that people want being delivered to a physical location of their choosing, based on a request they make from an electronic device they carry with them probably twenty-four hours a day. The future sounds great, right? A utopia where every person gets whatever they want, whenever they want it?

Well, unfortunately, this is the part where I burst everyone's bubble and talk about the real, imminent, genuinely scary dangers network technology poses to our world, and the highly quantifiable (and accelerating) destruction it’s causing.

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