Confessions of a Geek: No iPad, No Kindle, No iTunes

Erica and Winston in front of books
Me and Winston, my cat, in front of some of my books.
I didn’t order an iPad. I don’t have a Kindle or Sony e-Reader. I don’t buy TV or music off iTunes. I still trudge every week to the comic book shop to pick up my weekly stack. I still frequent used book stores to collect whatever trashy vampire book I’m reading next or cookbook I want to pillage for recipes. I still buy CDs and pay for my favorite shows on DVD. I still have freaking vinyl records.

Admittedly, I have a love for books — yes, the physical form in my hand. They never run low on batteries and only cost you page wrinkling or under $20 to replace when you drop them in the bathtub. However, I wouldn’t mind giving up my CDs and DVDs for digital copies. If for no other reason, I’d have more shelf space for books. (Oh, yes, I am that girl, the one you never want to volunteer to help move.) I’ll admit to owning an iPod, and how it’s much more convenient to have 128 GB of music at my fingertips when I need to tune out at work.

I don’t own an iPad or Kindle and I don’t buy from iTunes because of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

I don’t like the idea that Amazon could hit the kill switch on a book I paid money for. Same with iTunes. And how many generally technologically savvy friends have I had who’ve killed all the music on their iPods due to syncing issues related to DRM. I’ve also had several tell me that every CD they buy off iTunes, they immediately burn to a disc, which rather defeats the point of digital copies. The iPad premiered with a Marvel Comic Book app. It looks very slick. Besides some issues I have with pricing, how do I know these comics aren’t going to disappear when Marvel decides I can’t own them anymore?

Amazon tells the consumer how many times s/he can share books to different devices and with other Kindle owners. Marvel doesn’t allow sharing, unless you want someone to borrow your $500 iPad. iPods are set from the factory to wipe their entire harddrives when hooked up to a different computer.

I think I’ll keep my books, my CDs, my DVDs, and yes, my vinyl records until someone sorts out this DRM issue in a way that’s pro-consumer, not pro-corporation. I’m okay with being old fashioned here.

Save the Earth: Greenwashing or Going Green?

KermitThese days being Green sells. This makes me happy, moreover, this makes my inner nine-year-old happy who was campaigning to save the whales on the local news long before it was cool. However, as Kermit pointed out, being Green isn’t easy, and sometimes, it might not be as profitable as shareholders demand that it be. Especially since being Green has become lumped in with better labor practices and company ethics.

Say I decided that I wanted to start mass selling warming cat beds, I would need:

1. Investors to fund my project
2. Materials to make my cat beds out of
3. A design team to create the product
4. A marketing team to create the packaging and branding messages
5. A factory to produce the product
6. A factory to produce the packaging
7. A warehouse to store my packaged cat beds
8. Shipping to get cat beds to warehouse and then to stores/customers
9. Stores and web site to sell them in

(Okay, I’m sure I forgot something. But this is simplified.)

So, let’s say I make my cat beds out of 100% organic cotton and use an energy saving method to warm the beds. Great, my cat beds are Green, right?

Wrong, when they travel really inefficiently by jet from my factory in China because I have to meet deadlines. Wrong, when I use non-recyclable new plastics in packaging. Wrong, when I mass market them at Wal-Mart and pay my own design team substandard wages so they have to work at Wal-Mart selling my cat beds on the weekends to supplement their income.

While this is a massive simplification of how hard going Green actually is, it’s not an uncommon practice for companies to say they’re Green and then leave some pretty big carbon footprints in other areas or with other products. This is also known as Greenwashing and it all comes down to how much money a company can make by advertising it as Green.

Though my cat warming beds are trying to Green and hopefully getting incentives to become Green in other areas besides materials, they aren’t quite there yet. They aren’t completely Greenwashing, but the packaging needs to be clear that the materials in the product and it’s function are Green while the rest of it may not be.

Traditionally, Greenwashing was associate with more blatant profit mongering or anti-environmental acts being passed off as Green. However, there’s been a move these days to say, “Hey, but what about…” And sites like GoodGuide have popped up to help the prosumer make a decision about how truly Green a product is. Because alone we don’t have the resources to figure it out, but together, we can stand up and say that while being Green isn’t easy, it’s time to start.

Prosumer Presidential Matchmaking: Taxes

In my political matchmaking quest, I’ve found this graph from The Washington Post to be helpful about learning where I fall in McCain’s vs. Obama’s tax plans.

McCain v Obama on taxes

Personally, I fall into the $37k-66k. I kind of like this idea that I could almost buy a full-equipped new laptop with my tax return from Obama. McCain only gets me another iPod. Once a techie, always a techie.

Personal Accountability Starts with Education

I’m a news junkie. Okay, I’m an NPR-listening and blog-reading junkie. I’ve been listening and reading many different commentaries on the collapsing financial structure. I probably shouldn’t be. I think it’s adversely affecting my mood. (Also I really hate the term personal accountability because it sounds like I don’t think that anyone else should be doing anything to help out. Which…just read on.)

One of the most interesting segments I heard on my local NPR affiliate was a segment where people where asked if the federal government should be bailing out these major financial institutions. Most the people who spoke were angry and said that the CEOs should reap what they’ve sown all these years.

Of course, that’s nice and dandy, except for most people don’t realize how much they could be personally screwed over if the institutions failed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for better regulations. I am all for better watchdog groups. I am all for prosecuting CEOs and others who’ve knowingly practiced predatory lending or broke the law in other ways. I do not think they should get huge severance packages that could feed me for the rest of my life.

The base question is Who thought it would be a good idea to run the economy on debt?

A lot of people have some finger-pointing, whether it’s Alan Greenspan, the Bush administration, greedy CEOs, bad auditors, home owners who took loans they couldn’t repay, etc.

One argument I’ve seen less of is how to make this stop from every happening again, and that, I believe, lies in personal financial education. Wall Street and a debt-filled, but bailing-us-out US government are no role models when it comes to finances. And, as a Gen-Y-er, neither are, for the most part, my parents and their fellow Baby Boomers who are currently by-in-large the movers and the shakers of this depressed economy.

Why isn’t there a required Personal Finance and Basic Accounting class for every high school graduate? You don’t just *know* how to set-up a bank account or get a mortgage. You aren’t born knowing how to buy stocks (like that dreadful commercial would like you to think) or invest in a sensible 401k. You don’t intrinsically know how to balance a checkbook.

I grew up with something of a home field advantage. Pre-divorce, my mother did all the accounting for the family business, and I helped her out since I was old enough to stuff envelopes and lick stamps. But even I was in for something of a shock when post-college graduation, I had a degree, about $700 to my name, needed a new place to live with my new roomie, and needed a job. Before my first paycheck, I almost didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford the gas to get to work. Granted, my family and friends were not going to be me starve or be homeless. It was a rough summer, but I did it and was even able to start saving money once my paychecks started.

But not all of us have the know-how to pull ourselves up by the financial bootstraps. A lot of us end up getting loans we can’t afford, end up defaulting, end up filling for bankruptcy, etc. Not to mention all the personal emotional and relationship consequences money can cause.

Currently, things are tight financially at Casa della Erica. Jason and I recently moved, and it was Jason’s birthday and someone (me) went a little over the top with buying him presents. We’ll weather the storm and we know that now is not the time to spend extra money at the comic store or go out to eat. What we’re not going to do is spend money we don’t have. I know I have miles to go when it comes to preparing for my future financially.

If we the people learn how to budget, learn how to search for the best loan options when we need one, etc., then maybe we’ll teach a new generation to have a better relationship with money. We don’t have to financial experts, but we did need to learn the basics and how to tell an expert from a phony when it comes to things we don’t know about. Or as Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” And maybe then we’ll have a stable economy and a better relationship with each other and our world.

And for our stability and money’s sake, make Suze Orman required reading.

“At Least I Don’t Beat You.” Making a Prosumer Workplace

Growing up, my father was not always the nicest person and had a tendency to be emotionally abusive. I was an ornery child who liked to point out this behavior when it happened, or at least, complain about it to my mother. And while these are issues, I’ve dealt with, one thing always sticks in the back of my mind after all these years: the bad parenting excuse was always, “At least I don’t beat you.” Beating was held up as the worst and most unforgivable action a parent could do to a child, and since I was never beaten (we’re talking severe beatings, not light spankings), I was lucky to have such a wonderful father unlike other children.

(Granted, part of the dealing with the issues and growing up, was realizing that my paternal grandparents were likely Old Testament “spare the rod, spoil the child” folks and believers that no one should tell parents what they can and can’t do with their children. My grandfather died when I was very young and grandmother mostly made pancakes and let me run around in her backyard when I was a child. The spoils of being the grandchild and born in the ’80s, instead their child of the ’50s.)

What does this have to do with the workplace and being a prosumer? And why do I believe that being a prosumer when it comes to your career is helpful for your long-term career satisfaction and our economic well-being?

It’s that I’ve come to the realization since entering the workforce, between jobs I’ve had and jobs I’ve been a candidate for, that many workplaces employ the policy of “At least I don’t beat you” when it comes to taking care of their employees, whether it be workplace conditions, salaries, benefits, or policies. Only it’s called “At least you have a job” or “At least you have health insurance even if you have to pay for part of it and go to our doctors only” or “At least you can wear jeans on Friday.”

Okay, I completely get it that our economy is in the toliet, but that’s no excuse and is certainly not going to keep employees at bay. Especially in an age when they google how much a public company’s CEO makes in a year or can do a little digging on privately-held companies. Like how the CEO’s, of the parent company I work for, total cash compensation for 2007 was $4.8 million and that’s not including stocks and other compensation. Even as a prosumer and someone who strives to contribute meaning the world, it still does feel like a kick in the stomach when, after some simple math, including “raise” adjustments based on those given this year, I find out that if I keep going on this job track, I will never make that much money in my entire life. (I simply use myself as an example since I don’t have others’ information, but use it as an example of a common workplace practice in large corporations. Certainly, Wal-Mart greeters make negative pennies compared to Sam Walton.)

Sometimes, I think while that much money would be nice, I know it wouldn’t make me happy. Researchers suggest that $40k a year, having romance, and a social life is the baseline for happiness and anymore does not really increase it. I would also add that it’s probably an average America salary baseline and that you should adjust for cost of living in your area. For example, NYC, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, etc. are going to be a lot higher. Freedom Ideas argues that money is only 1/3 of our happiness. I really like this article in that it talks about ideals that I would consider part of being a prosumer in the workplace, including doing what you love for living.

Okay, sometimes, a job is a job and you need it to pay the rent and live. Sometimes a job is a stepping stone into a better job: all for the experience. But never let a job make you believe that you aren’t worth it and that they’re a good company just because they don’t beat you.

If their tag line is at least I don’t beat you, they aren’t worth your time and your effort. If they ask you if you saw last night’s The Office and then ask you to come in on Saturday, they don’t get it.

I am not lucky to be employed. I earned my employment through my experience and my persistence and keep my job as I’m contributing to the company. Yes, people are hired every day who do not know how to do their job and they’re even kept on by companies. But it’s not luck, they’re obviously giving an employer something they need, even if it’s not actually doing their job.

Vacation time, sick days, and health insurance should not be considered benefits I need to grovel to a company for and praise their holy name for. In my prosumer workplace, I am not an indentured servant, and one day, these are either going to be rules enforced by OSHA (and some already are to an extent) or we’re all going to be losing, except that 1% at the top. I would note that I do not trust corporations to do this on their own and know that they will need government incentives or penalties to get their acts together.

Likewise, as a web designer, having the latest technology and access to the materials needed for my job is not a luxury. I should not be hunting down standard fonts on BitTorrent because a company doesn’t want to shell out $30 a font when annual net profit is up. I should be considered an expert in my field, as that was why they hired me, and when I mention that the company should take advantage of the latest and greatest web marketing technology such as Facebook, Twitter, social bookmarking, or even revamping the site to make it rely on CSS, I should not be ignored or treated like the internet is a passing fad.

Every prosumer requires something different in a job and to make a prosumer workplace. Someone may need a company softball team to make them happy. Someone else may think that free beverages and Friday breakfast make the company as a perk that takes the job from just another job to a career. Someone else may need flexible hours or the work from home to take care of children, parents, partners, or themselves.

The biggest career mistake I ever made was compromising my standards and not doing my research about the company. (For full disclosure, I’ve worked for five different employers full-time since I was 17-years-old, and no, I’m not going to tell you which one I’m talking about.) It was not listening to the tiny voice in the back of my head. This has set my entire career back about 25% from my peers, who are my age and in my field. It was not having the voice of experience to give me a better idea what the workplace was like; it was not knowing what I know now. Part of the reason I have this blog is to grow, learn from my experiences, and retain what four years of expensive elite private college did not teach me.

So what does an employer get out of creating a prosumer workplace? An excellent employee who will be happy and excel at his/her career. An employee, who might not come in on Saturdays, but will maybe stay a little longer during the week. An employee who will not feel the mighty self-esteem blow of fear and will feel empowered by the workplace. Having confident, happy employees that tell people they love their jobs is so much better for everyone, and it just might, actually be better for our economy and well-being as a nation and world. Imagine that.

The Measure of a Man Woman: Prosumer Success

Success in the prosumer world has somewhat moved beyond what you own. Consumers must have the newest and greatest thing, bigger and shinier than the Jones, as a measure of their success. Or as Iggy Pop sings in his song Success, “Here comes my Chinese rug.”

So what do is success in the prosumer world measured by? Satisfaction, plus a steady income? (Because you can’t be a prosumer without your income keeping up with cost of living and inflation.) Is that satisfaction just in your career or is it in all aspects of life? Is it that mythical job/life balance we all try so hard for?

As a prosumer, what do you measure your success by?

Prosumer Goals: Analyzing the Walk

I want to put my words into actions and make prosumer goals. Things that I care about include supporting local businesses, supporting small businesses, buying products which last, buying online to support my industry, and buying “healthy” products for both the Earth and my body. Eventually, I want to try to make every purchase I make have at least two of those qualifiers.

I want to start with looking into buying from local small independent businesses. Small steps for big changes. Continue reading “Prosumer Goals: Analyzing the Walk”