Monday, October 3, 2011

Tommy the Robot

That explains everything, I thought, when I read the headline in Tommy's lastest: "How Did the Robot End Up With My Job?" The tone-deafness, the endless repetition ("the next six months will be critical"), the mangled metaphors, the difficulty mastering syntax, the callousness about human life. Tommy is a robot!*

Alas. The headline was a cruel tease. It's turns out its your job that's been outsourced, not Friedman's:

I’VE done a lot of television book interviews lately, and I continue to be struck at what a difference there is in the technology in just a few years’ time.

Here is a typical evening at a major cable TV network: arrive at Washington studio and be asked to sign in by a contract security guard. Be met by either a young employee who appears to still be in college or an older person who seems to have hung on with tenure. Have your nose powdered by that person. Have your microphone attached by that person. Be positioned in the studio chair by that person, and then look directly into a robotic camera being manipulated by someone in a control room in New York and speak to whoever the host is wherever he or she is. That’s it: one employee, a robot and you.

Tommy's math is a little telling here. He actually describes 4 jobs -- the security guard, the nose powderer/microphone attacher, the robotic camera operator, and the host -- but I'm guessing Friedman only counts his fellow bloviator, the host, as working. But regardless, it's a little touching that Tommy seems to miss his old makeup artist from the last time he made the talk show rounds. Maybe he's even a little concerned about all those Americans who don't have cushy pundit jobs?


It has never been harder to find a job and never been easier — for those prepared for this world — to invent a job or find a customer. Anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, while accessing brains, brawn and customers anywhere.

Tommy goes on to point out that, thanks to sites like, you can make $268 designing a functioning dune buggy! By my calculations, all you need to make $50 K/year is 200 clients who want dune buggy designs. (Where's the Manson family when you need them?).

And dune buggy design isn't the only opportunity out there. If you can come up with 6 formulations of chewing gum for the Australian market, you could make $375. That's $63 - enough to feed your family for literally days! -- per gum formulation.

The point is that if you're struggling, you're not really trying. And that you're getting what you deserve since, more than ever, we live in a global meritocracy.
The term “outsourcing” is also out of date. There is no more “out” anymore. Firms can and will seek the best leaders and talent to achieve their goals anywhere in the world.
So cheer up, jobless! Your job hasn't moved overseas because companies are exploiting a cheaper version of you. It's actually because they've found a better version of you. Isn't it more comforting to know that the system works?

Of course, Tommy's been singing the flat world/technology "wow"/free trade song for years, but there's something about the present moment that makes even off-key. It's telling that on the same day that Friedman filed this piece of crap, his fellow op-eders Kristoff and Blow wrote about the exhilarating Occupy Wall Street movement. But maybe I'm being too hard on Tommy. A robot can only do what it's been programmed to.*

Fire Tom Friedman

*My view of robots is based primarily on bad fifties sci-fi. My apologies to today's robots who are undoubtedly much smarter, kinder, and better writers than Tom Friedman.