A blog about the new generation of work

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Tearing down commuter infrastructure

We’ve hit a bunch of controversy in Toronto lately over tabled plans to tear down a small section the Gardiner Expressway. It’s brought to my city a debate over existing highway infrastructure that has raged or is still raging all over these days — from New York to Seoul to Oklahoma City. It can be characterized as new urbanists versus conservative planners, the city versus the suburbs, and livability versus big business. Mostly, though, it’s all about the car.

For those not familiar with the city, the Gardiner is the main east-west highway through the city, and it was built — rather foolishly — right across the waterfront at Lake Ontario. As a result, the city proper essentially comes to an end a few kilometers from the lake’s shore, with mostly industrial and (lately) hastily constructed condo towers filling the space.

Despite the crappy planning that plunked this highway in a prime urban location, it has become a very heavily used backbone to the city’s business infrastructure. If you’re a commuter, you’re likely to use the Gardiner. From the West, especially, it’s the fastest way into downtown.

They’re not talking about tearing down the whole thing — it’s been discussed in the past, but we don’t really have the political will to do that — but rather just a section on the eastern side that is the most lightly used of the whole stretch.

The protests against the plan have been predictable. One of the loudest voices in opposition has been talk radio mainstay David Menzies, who wrote a rather scathing editorial in The National Post, concluding:

Bottom line: tearing down any section of the Gardiner would be akin to dropping a nuke on the thousands of commuters (a. k. a. taxpayers) who depend on it daily. The time is now for all reasonable Torontonians to denounce such ideological madness before it’s too late.

He also sounds the horn for the continuing importance of commuter infrastructure like the city’s expressways on a level I’ve rarely seen. Check this out:

With the GTA’s population continuing to increase, one would think expressway construction, not demolition, would be the order of the day. Instead of tearing down sections of the Gardiner, the city should seriously think about adding a second deck. However, the powers-that-be at City Hall have no desire for projects that improve traffic-flow. Their cure-all advice for beleaguered commuters seems to be this: A. move downtown; B. trade car for bicycle.

Making all highways double decker is a hilarious solution to traffic congestion, isn’t it? Let’s go even bigger with the highways! Sixteen lanes wide! Two stories tall! Let’s demolish buildings to make room! Instead of actually going to an office building, people can just drive around all day, talking on their cellphones, marveling at the spaciousness of the road. Badass.

I’m a commuter. I’ve been a commuter for almost a year now. I rely on that very section of the Gardiner expressway the powers-that-be are proposing taking down. If it comes to fruition, I’d have to drastically change the way in which I do my job.

But still I support the plan. Tear it down.

What people like Menzies and other opponents seem to miss is that we have not, by a long shot, established a ‘finalized’ mode of work. The suburban-to-urban commuter model has become the ‘norm’ only in the last 40 years because of a unique situation with regards to cars, gas prices and a business world based on handshakes, typewriters and the suit-and-tie.

We have changed much over the last decade, and we’ll continue to change. Generation Y is a huge factor, as is the computer and other networked technologies. And the biggest factor may end up being gas prices, as they’re already making people deeply consider their living and working situation in a way they never would have when gas was 60 cents a litre. (That’s $2.30 a gallon, for the Americans.)

In a changing landscape, you don’t just build that which worked before. We need to look beyond what we’ve done in the past and build structures that support new models for working and living — for Gen Y, for the environment, for our cities, and for the lasting success of businesses who will depend on all of those things.

Photo by Reza Vaziri. Licensed under Creative Commons

Facebook & Social Networking as tools for career success (and there’s no such thing as privacy)

I’ve been reading a fair bit recently about privacy on Facebook. This has always been a hot topic, whether it’s because campus security at certain high-minded universities have used the service to keep tabs on student parties (and bust the rowdy-looking ones preemptively) or because employers are, more and more, checking out potential employee’s profiles before making job offers.

Some people find these kinds of things vaguely unsettling in a “Big Brother” sort of way. Local T.O blog Torontoist recently weighed in, after a pseudo-scandal where a university student was brought up on charges of cheating because he was running a study group through facebook:

As we’ve seen demonstrated, the whole frenzy isn’t about fairness. It’s that the rules have changed; Facebook is no longer the domain of the student alone, and students have good reason to be wary of newly watchful universities. With the medium’s shift away from “hot” or “cool” to a lukewarm blend of both, people like Chris Avenir [the student who got in trouble] or anyone else in the business of operating under the radar—for whatever reason—should probably think twice before all but advertising their activities.

“Be careful” seems to be the standard advice when it comes to social networking sites like Facebook and more ‘legitimate’ enterprises like getting a job. I’m not so sure it’s the right advice.

Being careful versus being smart

‘Be careful’ doesn’t quite make sense, especially if that advice comes with recommendations to use Facebook’s own privacy controls, because here’s the thing: privacy is dying. It implies that people have an expectation — maybe even a right — to not have people they don’t know check out their Facebook profile. But all the ideas behind social networking (communication, interaction, expansion of network, new friends, sharing) are contrary to any ideals of privacy. You cannot have both and, as a society, we’ve chosen: we like social networking.

It’s not about being careful. It’s about being smart. You should ABSOLUTELY have a Facebook account1, and a LinkedIn account, and any sort of account that connects you with people in the industry you want to involve yourself in. These online platforms are rapidly becoming the online gateway to people and, in fact, for making introductions and strengthening connections they beat the snot out of old-fashioned conferences and trade show meet and greets.

With your accounts, you should operate under the assumption that everything you post is potentially viewable by anyone. Your boss, your parents, your teacher, and any and all deities you choose to associate yourself with — they can see it all: your party pictures, your favourite films, that quiz you filled out that told you that, out of all The Office characters, you’re most like Stanley — everything.

But that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, nor should you censor yourself significantly online. In fact, I’d urge people to be as honest as they can with their profiles: present your likes, dislikes, opinions, goals, your humour (hugely important). Use the online space to show the world who you are.

Concerns about privacy in the sense that maybe a potential employer will see it, and be offended and not hire you or whatever, are entirely outdated and almost insulting. You need to ask yourself if you’d ever really want to start a career with someone who just can’t handle the fact that you like to drink alcohol on weekends. Or if someone who can’t handle the fact that you occasionally use a certain f-word is really the kind of person you see yourself spending 40 hours a week with.

Selling You

It’s best to think of your online profiles as analogous to the clothes you wear everyday. Sure, you could wear a suit every day and look very presentable in the eyes of a bunch of stuffy older people, but you’ll get really uncomfortable before long (and the summers will be a chore). Or you could go all-out and wear a leather vest and 1993 grunge-era Levis, but people are going to judge you for that too. Best to split the difference, and wear something casual but presentable and at the same time uniquely you — something appropriate for both work and play.

A tortured analogy, maybe, but here we are, and the bottom line is this: your Facebook account is out there, and, just like with the clothes on your back, the only way to avoid being seen is to not show up at all. Generation Y should leverage social media as a way to find opportunities, welcome interactions from all people, but never censor their own true selves in the process.

Privacy is overrated anyway.

Photo by robleto. Licensed under Creative Commons.

  1. I should say that, yes, I have some concerns about the long-term viability of Facebook. I like to ask people if they really think they’ll be using Facebook in five years. Odds are, we won’t be. But there will probably be something else that takes its place. []

News Round-Up

Some interesting Y-related stories from the past week:

Toronto Police Welcome Generation Y

From Toronto Police Services Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee:

So – what do “Yers” want?
An interesting job with many changes and challenges
Work-life balance
Superior training
Access to cutting-edge technology

Where can they find all that? The Toronto Police Service.

Generation Y demands Instant Messaging at Work

From Computer Business Review:

77% of the Generation Y respondents believed that a webcam and access to instant messaging in the office (73%) would help them offer clients and suppliers a faster and more personal response.

Make the workplace fun to retain Gen Y

From The Nashville Business Journal:

Employers who recognize Gen X and Y’s needs will retain them longer and get more and better work from them. Create a “fun” work environment. Employers who embrace a fun, rather than conventional company culture create a higher rate of job satisfaction with younger employees.

What does fun mean? It means converting the breakroom to a game room with video games. It means periodically bringing in a massage therapist for chair massages, an ice cream cart for sundaes or a rolling barista for onsite lattes.

Job Hopping an Option for Gen Y

From Penelope Trunk in the Boston Globe:

So there’s lots of chatter about how people can recession-proof their careers. But what should young people do, when their golden demographics make them recession proof already? Job hop, of course.

The best thing you can do early in your career is move around a lot so you can figure out what you’re good at and what you like. If you compare people who job hop with people who don’t, people who job hop build their network faster, build their skill set faster, and are more engaged in their work.

Tech Infrastructure for Successful Y Working

1533273897_1199f03693.jpgIn the short time since I started this blog, I’ve already talked fairly extensively about Generation Y’s tendency to want to be mobile in their work. (For more, see these posts.) I truly believe that one of the more immediate effects of Generation Y going to work will be the eradication of the long-standing ’9-to-5′ daily schedule, to be replaced with a far more fluid dynamic, where work is done (and, yes, it gets done) at the hours that make sense to the person doing it, as opposed to an arbitrary rigid structure.

And, of course, one of the big reasons that’s an option now is because of technology and web infrastructure. Everyone has computers and high-speed connections. E-mail accounts can be accessed anywhere in the world. Files can zoom around faster than they ever could through those old pneumatic tubes. Our laptops can now, for some reason, fit inside manilla envelopes. Technology is the key that’s unlocked the chains that were holding employees at their desk.

That said, developments like this drive me crazy.

Rogers already has a twisted idea of what constitutes reasonable internet use. Under their BlackBerry plans, they claim that 1.5 MB of data is “enough for tons of picture uploads,” and they ridiculously average web pages at a 4 KB maximum. That would be equivalent to a web page without any images, and consisting of less than 4,000 characters of text. Rogers justifies that measurement by only classifying those sites as ad hoc pages “optimized for mobile viewing.” Under the unlimited data plan, consumers can only visit Rogers-approved sites, like Lavalife Mobile, Yahoo! Search, and Canada.com, lest they encounter the good ol’ 5¢/KB rate again. So, you can search for something on Google, but just don’t visit the link once you find it.

Rogers is the largest cellphone service provider in Canada. They are an awful company and largely the reason Canada lags so far behind the U.S. when it comes to mobile connectivity. Our data rates have been traditionally more expensive than those found in third-world countries. And this so-called ‘unlimited plan’ is just a smokescreen to disguise the fact that we still have less connectivity than Rwanda does.

This bothers me for so many different reasons.

First: governments need to realize that the internet for home users is NOT just another kind of entertainment, like a TV with a keyboard attached. Web connectivity is a utility, one that is rapidly becoming a bigger part of people’s lives than the phone. The internet is a utility, not an entertainment service bringing fun games, hilarious joke and graphic pornography (even if it does those things too) — giving telecom companies free reign to create expensive tiered pricing schemes for it is the equivalent of doing the same to the electric or water companies.

Second: even though Rogers and businesses may not realize this, schemes like this are actively hurting productivity in Canadian cities. Even with the Blackberry — which I would argue is not a very Y-friendly device to begin with, and exists largely through corporate accounts — they’ve created a barrier between users and true mobile messaging.

Third: they’re losing money on deals like this. All Rogers needs to do is offer a real, legitimate unlimited mobile data plan and whatever marginal per-megabyte losses they’ll lose out on will be quickly replaced with a massive influx of customers. They have the iPhone on their doorstep — a guaranteed million-seller in Canada — and they won’t release it because they’d rather charge consumers a dollar to click on a google link.

As testy as this issue can make me, at the very least I can remain confident that what we’re experiencing in Canada now is a mere speed bump before we hit true mobility. Telecoms in the US also balked at customer-friendly pricing schemes, but were eventually forced into it due to competition. We’ve got less competition in our mobile market here in Canada, but we also a government that looks to be getting involved, so hopefully we’re not too far away.

Generation Y is counting on it.

Photo by Blog Story. Licensed under Creative Commons

Transit City in Toronto: Getting Y to work in 2013?

120956652_62a84690df.jpgThe Toronto Star website is hosting a pdf document called “A Streetcar Toronto Desires” which offers opinions from TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, Transit Advocate Steve Munro and long-time rider Janet May on the City of Toronto’s currently-in-the-works Transit City plan.

Mass Transit is going to pop up fairly frequently as a topic on this blog, both in Toronto and around the world, as I think it’s a vital piece contributing to the success of Gen Y in the workforce. Our pattern has already proven to be different than previous generations, especially as the suburban dream home is generally no longer thought of as the be-all and end-all. Younger workers are choosing downtown condos over isolated cul-de-sacs in droves, which puts an increased emphasis on urban and regional rail transit.

And, of course, with a changing job market that looks to feature a shortage of talented workers, your Y employees are going to be less likely to tolerate (or even consider) a 2-hour highway commute.

Toronto has, at least a little bit, started to understand the critical importance mass transit has on business, and implemented the Transit City plan, amongst other improvements. Other cities will definitely need to keep up if they want to attract talented workers and drive economic success.

Photo by ~AJ. Licensed under Creative Commons

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