Meaning/Nihilism in the service sector

Nicodeamus

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The modern economy is becoming more and more service sector like. I used to deliver newspapers in school and now you get everything on the internet. My 2nd job was packing videos at Videorama, Netflix has replaced that.

In South Africa I used to work on a building site, building some cellphone towers around the country. I had a team with me, most of my job consisted in organizing and optimizing the building team. At times I did jump in and do the physical job myself. Now I fast forward to Europe. As a Civil Engineer, I have been only on the design side. I do complex Finite Element analysis for Nuclear Structures. It allows me to do complex simulations and evaluate safety aspects of the structure. The level of mathematics involved was beyond me when I got here. There is clearly a need for it and it is more efficient than just building a structure and hoping that it will stand. I went to Scotland a few months ago and saw an entire aggregate plant being run by drones and 1 guy. Clearly it is highly efficient.

Despite all this prosperity, I find that Engineers in this sector are not very very balanced. We are looking for something of substance as opposed to pushing paper around all day long. I feel at times that my job is losing its meaning and it is even worse for safety engineers, people who do studies on fire explosions etc. All of the optimizing is making us very nihilistic.

In the modern economy that is trending towards 'de-substansization', how are people going to find meaning? I would give anything at this stage to be working in my grandfather's garage repairing cars or in my father's factory doing carpentry.

My suspicious is that a lot of IT people often feel like this about coding or abstract ideas on computers.
 
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Bobbin

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"IT people" is too broad a category to address. I've been working in the industry for over 10 years and can hardly code a "hello world" in any language without looking it up.

My job is simply to support businesses - more specifically to ensure the enablement of its employees to do their jobs efficiently via the technological/communications tools available. This ranges from simple end user support to complex infrastructure management (i.e. Server, storage, cloud and network). But I don't do coding at all, maybe the odd powershell or script only - or working on Cisco devices.

I'd say I can easily find meaning in that. Without me (or my position) businesses would suffer. So I, like all other employees, play a crucial role in its success. And I firmly believe that IT, broadly speaking, is an enabler and not a cost. So there isn't much abstract involvement on my part. It has a very tangible level of involvement. IT has in some ways become increasingly involved and even taking the lead in crucial business decisions in a lot of industries - there are some blurred lines in terms of enterprise architecture and business strategy at corporate level for example - because of our total dependence on the tools we use for communication and business operations understood only (usually) by those in IT who maintain them.

I can't speak on behalf of programmers though. Would be interested to hear their side :) Even being in the industry for this long I've hardly interfaced with programmers or developers (Unless something is very broken) - and usually that's a frustrating affair :p
 
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saor

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In the modern economy that is trending towards 'de-substansization', how are people going to find meaning? I would give anything at this stage to be working in my grandfather's garage repairing cars or in my father's factory doing carpentry.
Sometimes environmental demands necessitate an alternate perspective, in this case I think an alternate perspective on the source of meaning. We often see meaning as being derived from that which we enjoy doing, like carpentry...of applying oneself toward the effort of doing that which you love doing.

As kids we say things like: 'I want to be painter when I grow up', and we're focused on the what we do and measure meaning as an almost binary function of whether we're doing that thing or not: If I'm a coder but really want to be a painter, does life lack meaning until I'm painting? This framing of meaning feels like food or shelter beyond the horizons toward which our ancestors moved.

It feels like we've framed meaning as a thing toward which we move, but we could also frame it as how we do the things we're doing. If I'm a coder - how well am I coding? What's the attitude I express toward coding and further the attitude toward my colleges, friends, family....random people in traffic. So much of meaning can be derived from the game of trying to live a good life and treat your neighbors with patience and compassion. Deriving meaning in the how, rather than the what, means we begin to play the game of perceiving meaning in the moment of living; of how we orient ourselves to the task of living.

That's not to say we abandon our dreams and goals for the future - we keep those, but we ascribe more meaning to how we do what we're doing; how we treat the moment; how we perceive it, respond to it.
 

Nicodeamus

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Sometimes environmental demands necessitate an alternate perspective, in this case I think an alternate perspective on the source of meaning. We often see meaning as being derived from that which we enjoy doing, like carpentry...of applying oneself toward the effort of doing that which you love doing.
That is a valid point, I think many people are lost in the process are we are clearly a small cock in the machine.
I do still think that humans have this inherent needs to see something of substance. You can see it in the last election in America where people are hammering on about losing manufacturing jobs as if these were ever good jobs to begin with. You are more likely to add value by just installing a screw then actually making a screw for example.

In terms of design engineering, it is long hours. I easily spend 2-3 months in a row coming in at 6 in the morning and leaving at 9-10 at night. I enjoy the job, it is intellectually challenging on a daily basis and to be honest, the pay also makes it worthwhile. At times I do go on the construction site and just walk around, simply looking at how everything was put together. Most construction in Europe is now done in a highly efficient and semi automated way. 90% is planned and 10% is executed. This just simply works better, but I do long for the days where we just dove in and hoped that we figure things out along the way.

That's not to say we abandon our dreams and goals for the future - we keep those, but we ascribe more meaning to how we do what we're doing; how we treat the moment; how we perceive it, respond to it.
That is very true, there is a beauty in doing things better than we used to do it yesterday. The idea of constantly improving.
 
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