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Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor, by George Grosz (1919)
"Irrelevance no longer seems the enemy …"

I want to be remembered as one who resisted the breakup of The Bell System, a regulatory change which eventually drove everyone using a leased phone to purchase one for themselves. The choices were predictably dissatisfying, cheaply built and expensive relative to the few dollars the sturdy leased one had set me back. I had been more than satisfied with the green Princess wall model hanging next to the basement stairs, its extra long cord allowing me to stretch the handset clear into the entryway and perch on the lower stairs when talking with someone. The phone I bought to replace it never hung properly and stopped working in under a year, starting an odyssey which left me doing much more for myself while paying more for that privilege. My concerns seem as irrelevant now as those of any master carburetor mechanic or revered buggy whip manufacturer for cars no longer employ carburetors and what passes for buggies these days no longer require their operator to ever employ a whip.

The first part of life seems centered around solidifying identity. Once one nails down who they are, what they are to become assumes a more prominent role, seeking relevance.
Will I be fancy? Will I be rich? What sort of difference might I make? We're each encouraged to change the world we were born into, hoping to make it better and perhaps to achieve some notoriety in the bargain. We study hard, work hard, take risks, and collect our winnings. Then what? Once the dream's come true, what happens then? Do we live happily ever after, after a lifetime of striving for identity and relevance do we simply retire satisfied with an existence no longer inconveniencing us with any necessity to strive? Whether we've achieved the dream or not, a What's Next? might continue to haunt, for we inhabit an endlessly upwardly mobile culture where no sky ever fully defines any limit. World dominion without end, amen?

This train ain't so much bound for glory as irrelevance. As John Sebastian noted, all of our generation's worries become the next generation's cartoons. My steadfast moral opposition to deregulating the telecommunication industry seems like just so much meaningless nattering now. Nobody the age that I was then would today engage in investing even a first thought in considering who should own their phone. Everything's DYI now, however poorly suited the majority might remain for assuming the consequent obligations and responsibilities. We seem more tenaciously dependent than we ever were before, freedom purchased with ever more insidious indentures. We're even our own slave drivers now.

My field was project management, a profession rooted in slave driving traditions. Slave drivers tended to be landless second sons with the practical education that comes from having been raised on a farm, some with added military experience. None were born gentry, and were only allowed in the manor house on special occasions when elites have always extended a seasonal sense of equality and good nature to their lessers. Likewise, project managers work between executives and contributors, of neither class, some actually driving while others coaxing and cajoling. They performed inherently dirty work, as much slaves themselves as those they were hired to drive. They enforced a curious morality, one which presumed an inherent inequality, that one could command another and get away with it over the long term. Nobody ever gets away with this for long.

The project management profession attracts process improvement experts like rotting fruit attracts flies. Good ideas abound, and it seems that each generation founds a fresh basis upon which to construct their houses of cards. They remain houses of cards sitting upon a long history of enforcing subjugation. It's inherently dirty work which has successfully resisted reformation for longer than anyone can remember, a condition which dissuades no one from proposing how to fix the problems, which seem more like features than problems to me. I had my day in that sun, contributing as the one who'd gained some potentially useful insights which would be destined to become my most prominently mentioned slights. I'd clamored to the top of the profession for a time before finding myself over-run with a fresh ignorant uncivilized hoard convinced that they'd discovered better. God bless their audacity. They're bound for irrelevance, too.

Cynicism is self-inflicted early onset irrelevance. Once the meta-game comes into clear focus, nobody can continue to engage 'as if.' One remains free to continue engaging to their heart's content, though each might increasingly find their heart no longer engaging in it. Then, one might continue simply for the inherent joy of engaging but without the notion that any significant lingering difference might result. Irrelevance need not encourage discouraged resignation, but suddenly more meaningful play. Absent the obligation to change the world, the world utterly changes all by itself! One might wonder then after the purpose of all that proselytizing and never find a satisfying answer. After the pursuit is through, after conceding that it's no longer your passion to improve anything but your own performance here, something might eventually become clearer. Relevance finds a frame worthy of its presence. Irrelevance no longer seems the enemy but the friend.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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