Thursday, 23 February 2012

Writing and gamification

I've become a recent convert to Scrivener. It's a piece of software designed to help writers organise everything from their research and random thoughts to the final work.
But it's also a lovely example of subtle gamification (the idea of making tasks more rewarding and more likely to be done by borrowing from the gaming industry). One of the things you can do with it is set a project target (ie how many words you need to write overall) and also a day's target (how many words you need to write that day).
For my current book, I've decided I want to write around a thousand words per day and forty thousand words in total by sometime in April. Up pops the targets window which I can park next to my writing window (I knew there was a use for these new fangled widescreens).  It's a wonderful feeling seeing the number of words gradually increase as you type and the target progress bar also turns from amber to green in colour. Go over the target number of words and you are rewarded with a lower target number of words to write the next day.
It's certainly helping to crystalise my new habit of getting up first thing, sitting at my desk and hammering out some prose while eating breakfast.  Seven days so far - can I make it to the magic twenty one or so days it takes to embed a new habit? I hope so as it gives a wonderful feeling of satisfaction to start your day with a good chunk of words under your belt.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How an old idea becomes a new one: A cynic's view

Here's how an old idea becomes a new one:

1. Someone takes an old idea (or a subset of an idea) and dresses it up with a fancy new phrase. Often by combining something old with something new.  So a spontaneous Friday lunchtime visit to a wine bar with your trendy mates becomes flash-drinking or crowd-boozing. 
2.  Everyone else is bowled over - except for a few jaded old cynics who say this just something we were doing many moons ago ie drinking in their local pub. 
3.  Inventor of fancy new phrase huffs and puffs a bit. Decides to write a book or do a VIP (Very Important Project). The phrase evolves a number of derivatives e.g. crowd-mash-up (the name given to a busy Shoreditch pub where crowd-boozing takes place), flash-glassing (what happens when trendy folk talk too loudly in a local pub) etc. 
4. A few, perhaps even quite a lot, are taken in. Inventor goes on speaker tour around crowd-mash-ups or has a column in a national media outlet. 
5. Eventually, the new idea becomes old, loses its shine and everyone carries on doing what they were doing before i.e. drinking in their local pub. 
6. Inventor still has to pay the mortgage so goes to step 1. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Is hard work a good idea?

There was an interesting programme on the box the other night.  It was all about the poor in America. Now being poor in America is perhaps the unluckiest of situations to be in. You live in an apparently wealthy country, yet the philosophy of undeserving poor is strongly engrained within it.  As a result, those who have lost their jobs can end up living in tents or their car and have no real means of receiving medical treatment.  The sense of a collective responsibility for one's fellow citizens is not strong in the US.

The interviews with people in tent city all seemed to demonstrate the same. These were all people who believed in the American dream that hard work creates success - and yet somehow the success had evaded them.  I guess many blamed themselves.

I flip-flop on the idea of a work ethic. Like morals it often seems to be only for the poor people, and this should make anyone suspicious.

On the other hand, those without sufficient work often do not seem to thrive - whether they be millionaire playboy sons or the long term unemployed. And on a personal level, I've been lucky enough to have a succession of generally rewarding work. I would also consider myself a lazy person; if I can I will avoid boring or seemingly pointless work (even to the extent I'll work harder to create a system to avoid it). Thankfully, with a very few exceptions, people have been understanding.

But the key word here is rewarding. Of course, some of this comes down to your approach to your work.  Even the worst job may have rewards that are obscured to most. But for most people, a lot comes down to the working environment (is the boss a tyrant? do you have some degree of freedom over your work? are you appreciated? is there hope?) and whether you can live a decent existence on the wage available. If work doesn't tick the rewarding box, again you do not benefit from a having a work ethic - although it may make your situation bearable and rewarding on some level.

Also there's a wider context, there's simply less demand for the average person's skills (never mind those who have hardly any) than there used to be thanks to automation,  etc. Under such circumstances, encouraging a traditional work ethic, where hard work equals more pay and a better life, seems perverse and mean (the situation in the US). And yet, the successful people I've met have also been highly driven, often hard working people. But perhaps this is correlation rather than causation or perhaps hard work isn't the catalyst, simply a pre-requisite.

Then there's the idea that your hard work may put others out of work. Unpaid overtime seems to be on the increase in the UK, yet unemployment is also growing.  In such situations, is working harder the ethical thing to do?