Technology concentrates power.
In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it, no one designed it, it was just kind of assembling itself in an appealing, anarchic way. The companies that first tried to centralize the Internet, like AOL and Microsoft, failed risibly. And open source looked ready to slay any dragon.
But those days are gone. We’ve centralized the bejesus out of the Internet now. There’s one search engine (plus the one no one uses), one social network (plus the one no one uses), one Twitter. We use one ad network, one analytics suite. Anywhere you look online, one or two giant American companies utterly dominate the field.
And there’s the cloud. What a brilliant name! The cloud is the future of online computing, a friendly, fluffy abstraction that we will all ascend into, swaddled in light. But really the cloud is just a large mess of servers somewhere, the property of one American company (plus the clouds no one uses).
Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored. An Xbox One vision of dystopia.
But we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone here carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.
I know I sound like a conspiracy nut framing it like this. I’m not saying we live in an Orwellian nightmare. I love New Zealand! But we have the technology.
When I was in grade school, they used to scare us with something called the permanent record. If you threw a spitball at your friend, it would go in your permanent record, and prevent you getting a good job, or marrying well, until eventually you’d die young and friendless and be buried outside the churchyard wall.
What a relief when we found out that the permanent record was a fiction. Except now we’ve gone and implemented the damned thing. Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased and that we’re not even allowed to see.
The things we really care about seem to disappear from the Internet immediately, but post a stupid YouTube comment (now linked to your real identity) and it will live forever.
And we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked and has to be tracked or the edifice collapses.
What upsets me isn’t that we created this centralized version of the Internet based on permanent surveillance.
What upsets me, what really gets my goat, is that we did it because it was the easiest thing to do. There was no design, forethought, or analysis involved. No one said “hey, this sounds like a great world to live in, let’s make it”. It happened because we couldn’t be bothered.
Making things ephemeral is hard.
Making things distributed is hard.
Making things anonymous is hard.
Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—I get tired just thinking about it.
So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing.
"High five, Chad!"
"High five, bro!"
That is the design process that went into building the Internet of 2014.
And of course now we are shocked—shocked!—when, for example, the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, in order to try to keep them off the streets. Bad people are using the global surveillance system we built to do something mean! Holy crap! Who could have imagined this?
Or when we learn that the American government is reading the email that you send unencrypted to the ad-supported mail service in another country where it gets archived forever. Inconceivable!
I’m not saying these abuses aren’t serious. But they’re the opposite of surprising. People will always abuse power. That’s not a new insight. There are cuneiform tablets complaining about it. Yet here we are in 2014, startled because unscrupulous people have started to use the powerful tools we created for them.
We put so much care into making the Internet resilient from technical failures, but make no effort to make it resilient to political failure. We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are.
And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.
— An extract from Our Comrade The Electron, a talk from the Webstock Conference by Maciej Cegłowski, which is worth reading in its entirety. (via new-aesthetic)
THE “PILOT SHORTAGE” FROM AN INSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE
By MICHAEL SCHNEIDER
February 13, 2014
CHICAGO— The regional (or Fee for Departure) segment of the airline industry is comprised of over 25 airlines, operating over 50% of all departures in the USA, and flying into the world’s most complex airspace, and largest (and sometimes smallest) airports, in some of the most challenging weather conditions on the globe.
This means that, at any given time, you are more likely to be flying on a regional airline than the mainline airline through which you’ve purchased your ticket. In fact, it was not until just recently that the airlines were required to tell you the name of the regional airline on which you are actually flying. Most people think that if they buy their ticket through United.com, for example, they will be flying on a United airplane, with United pilots, and United service. Many times, however, this is simply not the case.
You may recall the fatal crash in Buffalo, NY in February of 2009. Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of this crash. It was Continental Connection flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air. Many friends and family members of those who died in that crash had never heard of Colgan. They were wondering why their loved ones were flying on Colgan when they thought they were flying on Continental. Much attention was focused on fatigue, and flying proficiency (rightly so), but there wasn’t much talk about pilot compensation. At the time of the crash, the First Officer earned about $20k/year. For her flight from Newark to Buffalo, she would have been paid about $30-$40. Total. For the entire flight.
Little has changed up to now unfortunately. Regional airplanes are painted in mainline colors, your flight is coded as a mainline flight, ticket agents, gate agents, and ground workers might all be employees of the mainline. But once you cross the threshold and board that regional jet, or turboprop, you can often hear passengers’ exclamations of how much smaller the airplane is than they’d expected. The trend now, however, is to replace these smaller regional jets with larger, more sophisticated aircraft, carrying many more passengers. Instead of receiving raises, pilots are offered only concessions. Take it or leave it. Leave it, and we’ll place the aircraft at a cheaper airline and shut you down. This is the reality of regional airlines and its dangerous downward spiraling of pilot compensation at a time of record profits, as well as a scarcity of qualified pilots. We believe this is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.
We are: highly technically skilled, highly trained, highly competent, professional airline pilots operating some of the most complex equipment in and out of the busiest airports and airspace in the world, during all types of meteorological conditions.
But compared to our mainline peers, we are grossly undercompensated.
And chances are, we will be piloting your next flight.
The starting salary at a regional airline for First Officers (Co-Pilots) at one of the largest regional airlines is $23,256/yr. Broken down hourly, that’s a mere $12/hr, based on a 40-hour workweek.
You might hear the media and airline managements proclaim that we make a great hourly wage, but that’s entirely misleading. While away from home more often than at most full-time careers, airline pilots don’t get paid anywhere near 40 hours of pay a week.
Preflighting, flight planning, weather data gathering and interpreting, boarding, deplaning, configuring the cockpit before departure, maintenance delays, weather delays, inbound aircraft arrival delays, “sit” time between flights, and any other time that the door is not closed with the parking brake released is ALL UNPAID.
Imagine only being paid at your job for performing specific tasks, while some of the most important parts of your work go unpaid. That is how airline pilot pay structure is set up.
Let’s do some quick math. Consider this: You’re flying from Chicago to (insert any smaller city within about a 1-2 hour range) let’s say Cleveland, Ohio. You purchased your ticket on AA.com and paid $150 for your one-way flight. You arrive at the airport and head to the American Airlines terminal. You get to your gate, and see AA flight 3575 to CLE will be an hour-long full flight. You board the airplane, and find your seat on the 50-seat Embraer painted in American Eagle colors. You hit some turbulence en route as the pilots navigate around some winter storms. You are confident in your pilots’ ability to get you safely to your destination. As a professional airline pilot, your first officer is more than capable of completing the flight safely. But for his troubles, for this example flight, he will earn exactly $25.84, about $0.50 - yes that is fifty cents - per ticket. From your $150 ticket, a mere half a dollar will have gone to pay your First Officer. Chances are, you tipped your shuttle van driver more than your pilot made from your ticket.
In most industries, one can take their skill-set with them to another company or employer. Skills and experience do not lose value over time. If anything, their value increases.
But not at the airlines. A mainline Captain with 30 years of experience and tens of thousands of flight hours, who leaves for another airline, will make the exact same pay as a new-hire First Officer with the minimum qualifications. If Sully Sullenberger decided to come out of retirement tomorrow and fly for American Airlines, he would earn roughly $39,000 his first year, regardless of his very famous experience.
BUT WHY DO THEY PAY SO LITTLE?
The regional airline industry has experienced tremendous growth, as mainline airlines have essentially outsourced shorter flights to smaller cities to these traditionally entry-level regionals. While this may have worked early on, 9/11 changed everything. Whereas before pilots expected to spend only a few years at the regional level, able to move on quickly to mainline airlines, the post-9/11 industry experienced a period of extreme pilot career stagnation, resulting in an extended era of low wages, and inability to move on to the mainlines.
In short, the regional model is broken. The regionals are unsustainable, and everyone in the industry knows it. But instead of effectively managing their industry by offering competitive wages to attract new-hire pilots to staff the regionals, airline managements have decided to lower labor costs to the point of near-poverty level wages. This has only exacerbated the glooming pilot shortage.
To answer the question though, they pay so little because they can. As was previously mentioned, pilots cannot simply switch airlines if a competitor offers a better future. On the regional level, there are over 25 regional airlines providing passenger feed for the mainlines.
Mainline executives demand regional pilots agree to concessions, or the feed they provide will be awarded to the next lowest bidder, and your airline will be shut down.
This, in combination with the Railway Labor Act’s extreme restrictions on the ability for pilots to strike, has culminated into what we are seeing today: the erosion of the pilot profession, as airline executives realize record profits. We feel that near-poverty level wages has an adverse effect on safety, and that corporate greed will unfortunately be to blame for the next great air disaster.
We want our pilots focused on operating their aircraft, not wondering how they’re going to pay their bills.