Category Archives: Career

Internet access – it’s all a load of fuss about nothing

Be honest, which household gadget could you live without? Would there be any impact upon your day to day life if you had no laptop? What about your phone or your vacuum cleaner?

When my two friends and I were choosing a flat to live in just after university, having a washing machine wasn’t one of the priorities. ‘The launderette’s just round the corner,’ we reasoned, when weeks later we were hand washing most of our clothes in the bathroom sink. The lady who ran the launderette was rather strict and we were a bit scared of her; she advised us on drying times for different clothing types and that was all a bit much.  ‘Hand washing saves money and water, too,’ we admirably reasoned.

Whatever their gadget of choice, I’m fairly sure that most people I know would rather lose quite a few household mod cons than lose their internet connection.  To work, communicate, find out information and keep ourselves entertained most of us rely on the internet on a daily basis.

Even the Lords are talking about its importance. A communications committee has raised concerns that the government’s obsession with rolling out speedy broadband overlooks those parts of the country which have little or no coverage at all.

Well, if you ask Ha-Joon Chang, the author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, those people in remote parts of Cumbria who each evening struggle to stream yesterday’s episode of Eastenders in a valiant attempt to keep in touch with what’s happening in the outside world don’t have it that bad after all.

I’m reading Chang’s book at the moment and really like the way that he challenges aspects of free-market capitalism which we don’t really question that much. I don’t always agree with him, but it’s refreshing to read a viewpoint which strays from the norm.

One of his chapters is: ‘The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has’.

He argues, first of all, that the development of internet-based communications hasn’t had as much impact on humankind as the invention of the telegram did. Chang uses the example of sending a 300 word message across the Atlantic. Sending a fax would take 10 seconds and an email two seconds. The invention of the telegraph, on the other hand, reduced the travel time of a message from the steamship’s best attempt, two weeks, to just eight minutes.

More interesting though, and linking to my (brilliant) anecdote about washing machines, is the social change which Chang attributes to the invention of the washing machine.

The time saved thanks to washing machines, according to Chang, has transformed the way that women live by enabling them to enter the labour market (as opposed to washing and ironing clothes by hand and the other lengthy domestic chores due to the lack of electrical appliances). It also meant that those women who were working were increasingly employed in non-domestic roles.

Brilliantly, this: ‘has definitely raised the status of women at home and in society, thus also reducing preference for male children and increasing investment in female education.’

Even better: ‘Even those educated women who choose to stay at home with their children [now] have higher status in the home, as they can make credible threats that they can support themselves should they choose to leave their partners.’

Leaving to one side the, ahem, blissful and limited family unit drawn here, and the fairly patronising overtones about the ‘status’ of women, is Chang making a valid point?

I do like this challenge to the presumed idea that the internet is the greatest progression that society has ever made. But I’m slightly bristling at the argument which places the realm of washing clothes so firmly with women, and that simplifies complex interpersonal processes such as divorce or workplace equality into such a linear process.

On an individual (and possibly selfish) level I’d rather be able to stream a documentary whilst emailing a friend than dry and iron my clothes in super-quick time. But, do we owe more to other technological inventions than we think?

No doubt, inventions such as the washing machine changed the way we all live. But, is there more to come from the telecommunications revolution in the future? And what about the social change which the internet has already brought about?

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The glass ceiling casts a long shadow

It would be naive to assume that those long-despised invisible barriers which push some to society’s top and others to its bottom have been broken. But for some reason the issue has come to a head this week in three different areas.

Alan Milburn attacked the ‘poison’ of our class system in a progress report on social mobility published this week. Many desirable professions are accused of recruiting a high proportion of privately educated staff and of choosing new recruits based on connections rather than purely merit, according to the report. Wheeling out the over-used glass ceiling analogy Milburn said: “The glass ceiling has been scratched but not broken.”

The BBC took a less touchy-feely approach in its publication of new research on women in the workplace. The stats on the proportion of women in top jobs are grim and the BBC did nothing to soften them with its winning headline: ‘Are women their own worst enemy when it comes to the top jobs?’. The report was perplexingly uncomplex for my liking; I’m not sure how many people have overcome their own ‘unconscious bias’ by being told to be more confident. Certainly it’s an essential ongoing debate, but some of the more constructive pointers, for example from Cherie Blair, were sidelined by the overbearing headline in my opinion.

Last of all, this week Plan B’s film Ill Manors premiered. It seemed canny that the film, focusing on social unrest and the dark side of east London’s society, was released so close to Milburn’s report Plan B has not admitted to any personal hopes of social change as a result of the film in some interviews.

The three approaches, one from politics, one from broadcasting and another from film, raise more questions than they answer. Perhaps the most important thing they remind us of is the depressing inequalities in the Britain of today. We need to talk about it, but we need to do something too.

Is it time for a career break?

What should you be considering if a career break is on your mind? And some questions I maybe should have thought about too…

It’s possibly a stupid idea, and the timing is only just a bit better than if we had decided to go in the winter of 2008 immediately post-crash. Yes, after a lot of talking, thinking and saving up, I have given in my notice at my job and we are leaving the UK for a round the world trip in November.

Why now? Deciding on the timing

I didn’t have a gap year before or after university which may explain the overwhelming desire do this trip.  Similarly, the stagnating world place seems to be encouraging this sort of reckless (sorry, well thought-out) behaviour as people either decide to step away from their current jobs, risking an unknown once they return, or starting to work for themselves in an effort to hold some sort of control over their own progress.

Sabbatical or Quit overall? How to approach your employer

It depends upon your position within your company, and your personal feelings about returning. Some companies will be willing to negotiate a sabbatical period of, say, six months. If this appeals, give it a go but don’t expect your employer to be overly enthusiastic in this sort of climate. The best scenario may be that you are able to use them as a contact in future so make sure you are on good terms.

What to do? Where to go?

My budget is tight so sadly a volunteering project is off the cards, I can’t go

Just the thought of it...

anywhere near the edge of anything above the height of your average front garden wall so it’s not going to anything ‘extreme’ in terms of jumping off stuff, and my negotiation skills leave something to be desired so our trip’s not going to be an exercise in wandering markets to purchase exotic furniture to furnish our [10 years in the] future house.

Probably the primary reason that we’ve gone for the route we have is for food, cities and landscapes, It probably started with us saying we really want to see Melbourne, San Francisco and NY and then ended up as it is.
Of course, others may have a slightly less chaotic approach. But there are myriad options which can include progressing your career even!

• Volunteering
• Teaching English abroad
• Learning another language
• Taking permanent work with a charity

It might be a bit of a leap of faith but, let’s face it, it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to get to a bungee jump…

Handicrafts? They ain’t so daft!

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get fidgety in my swivel chair; my arms ache and I’m craving a bit of natural light, or face-to-face conversation.

According to some mumblings, it isn’t just me. This week’s Stylist magazine features and article about The Life U-Turn, why some people are doing it and why it could split up long-established friendships as one friend reassesses previously shared career ambitions, life goals and social viewpoints (and other such trivial and insignificant factors).

The article claims that some women are reassessing the career goals which they previously made central for more ‘worthy’ work, which makes me think of living in the country and opening a farm, working for a charity or retraining as a nurse or teacher.

Studies, it seems, have shown that many of us need more than just cerebral work to keep us happy. And I agree completely.

For the past few months I’ve been going to a printed fabric class at my local college and it’s an activity that seems to have benefits beyond the two hours each week spent there. Not only does it provide a solid period of creativity, it also allows an outlet for other inspiration which all of us see each day of our lives, but which we fail to notice when we are so caught up in our routines.

Cutting out intricate paper patterns for screen prints on school nights certainly beats switching off in front of the television. And it’s incredibly absorbing.

Arts and crafts aren’t for everyone, and some would find my chosen activity painfully dull, humdrum and thrill free. But I wonder if we need to think again about how we treat our working lives; is the nine to five it? Or can we change our lives and work to encompass more?