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Archive for February, 2015

Value of time, Japan vs Germany

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In Japan, other people’s time is valuable. In Germany your own time is valuable.

This may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but there are significant differences.

The other day at the doctor’s office in Germany, I was picking up some documents. When I first arrived at the reception, the receptionist informed me that I needed to talk to the doctor before receiving the document that was sitting right in front of her. I then waited for an hour, only to be called by the same receptionist who then told me that the doctor doesn’t have too see me. She gave me the documents… An hour of time, wasted, for nothing.

Ask expats from US and Japan in Germany and they will tell you that waiting is a way of life here. Public offices can easily suck up half a day (though sometimes they can be really fast), waiters and waitresses are never there when you want to pay the bill, even buying a train ticket from a human being can be a thirty minute wait. When I have an appointment with my dentist, I still usually have to wait 15-30 minutes. While people like to stereotype German efficiency with on-time trains, they are not that punctual. The S-bahn I take to Ultimate Frisbee practice on Mondays have been on-time once in the last three months. Germans believe that if you want or need something, you are willing to wait. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in Germany say “Thank you for waiting.”

On the other hand, Germans are very precious with their own time. They draw clear boundaries between working hours and non-working hours and meticulously count the working hours. Overtime must be paid out or converted into vacation days (common for lots of professionals). Germany is the only country where my boss told me I should be taking more vacation days. Germans work hard and play hard, really well.

Japan is the exact opposite. There is an unhealthy overtime culture where people stay at work far too late to look like they are working hard. I read a story once where the office had to shut down in the evening because of some maintenance work but it was announced only thirty minutes prior to closure. As soon as the announcement was made, everyone quickly finished up what they had to do and left the building on time. Japan also has a terrible track record of people not taking their vacation days. There is talk that the government is now trying to solve the problem by making everyone use all their vacation days, by law. I have no idea how that would work.

Punctuality and services, on the other hand, are Japan’s strong suit. Other people’s time are valuable, and one should make sure they don’t take up too much of it. Waiters and waitresses are incredibly attentive (many restaurants have buzzers you can use to call them), queues, if any, move rapidly, and you would never have to wait more than five minutes if you have an appointment. In 2012, the average delay for the bullet train, amongst the 120,000 that ran, was 36 six seconds. To make up for the Paris-Frankfurt ICE that I rode on the other day that was delayed for 30 minutes, Deutsche Bahn would have to run 50 trains on time. No way that is happening.

There is a Japanese phrase “お待たせしました” which translates to somewhere between “Thank you for waiting” and “I’m sorry for making you wait” that is a way of greeting anyone who has waited. You go to a restaurant, the waitress has to check which tables are open, you wait ten seconds, she will say this. Even if you are EARLY to an appointment and waited in the lobby, you will here this.

In an ideal world, people would value both their own and other people’s time. I would love to live in a country where personal time was protected as Germany and service was as punctual as Japan, but that’s probably Narnia right now.

If I were to place these two countries in a cultural spectrum, I would put the United States in the middle but slightly closer to Japan and France in between but much closer to Germany. How about your culture? How is time valued?

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Darkest age in the history of mankind

This is second of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looked at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.


What if we live in the darkest age in the history of mankind?

The early 21st century is considered to be the darkest age in the history of mankind.

At no other time in history did people exploit the resources on Earth at such a grand scale. For the first time, people were able to ecologically impact their world but did not fully understand the damage being delivered at a global scale. Instead, people were too busy wasting limited resources for individual gains in the name of capitalism. Government and political action simply did not have enough power against the capitalistic dogma that dominated the generation, and the future was disregarded for the present.

To make things worse, most of the resources were being spent for the benefit of a select few in what people called “the developed world.” For once there were enough food in the world to feed everyone but people starved in the millions while others wasted food. Life expectancy and child mortality varied drastically around the world while many people suffered and died from diseases that were considered curable at this point.

Even within the developed countries the chasm between the rich and poor grew as massive complex financial systems were built to ensure that the wealthy collected more wealth. Despite becoming a much more efficient society, many people worked too much while those less capable weren’t able to find jobs, and cutthroat behavior dominated professional culture. This became so endemic in some countries that generations of unemployed and underemployed people left a lasting scar on its culture.

On the other side, rampant commercialism dominated economic activities as companies competed to access and control the minds of the consumers. More money were spent communicating and promoting products and services rather than improving and manufacturing them. The cost of products and services rarely matched the actual (and not perceived) value, and yet this was seen as normal. The unquenchable thirst for the new was instilled in the minds of consumers while ideas like planned obsolescence and celebrity endorsements thrived.

Culture was also heavily dominated by commercialism as those challenging the status quo simply could not compete against the exposure of those putting forth easily digestible and forgettable content. Personal image and branding of “artists” were heavily controlled by the companies that backed them, and this was not considered mass deception.

Ultimately the early 21st century became known as the age of modern slavery. While traditional slavery of bonds and shackles were mostly eradicated, a new form of economic and commercial slavery arose. Those with power and wealth built and used financial and political tools to contain those below them, and corporations spent incredible resources to manage the mind of consumers.


 

Compared to part I, writing part II felt darker but more optimistic for the future. Hopefully we can question the world we live in and radically redesign it for something more in line with our innate values.

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Greatest age in the history of mankind

This is first of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looks at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.


What if we live in the greatest age in the history of mankind?

The early 21st century is considered to be the greatest age in the history of mankind.

At no other time in history did technology evolve so fast. New communications technologies brought the world together at an unprecedented pace and rapidly increased the collaboration between people, nations, and cultures. These communication technologies also connected industries and other technologies to bring forth exponential growth in efficiency and capability. Data and algorithms replaced people’s unreliable experiences and intuitions so that better decisions could be made faster.

The early 21st century was also the golden age of culture. The abundant resources available meant that not only did people have the time to create, they also had the means to do so. This coupled with the interconnecting world meant that everyone and anyone could be a cultural center, free to project out into the world. With the abundance of leisure time and resources, industries for entertainment flourished, further spreading culture around the globe.

The interconnectedness of the world also lead to increased international travel, both for leisure and work. Increased competition in the travel industry and disappearing borders meant that more and more people were traveling, learning about and understanding each other. This lead to one of the most peaceful times in the history of mankind with no major wars and minimal deaths from human conflict.

The connection between people brought forth the great age of philanthropy. The richest people of this age gave generously to improving the lives of those less fortunate. There were more foundations and NPOs than people can keep track of, each trying to improve the world in their own ways. Even those without money contributed their time and expertise. The internet was full of people providing help and advice to those whom people never met.


Not surprisingly, writing this paints a dark view of the future, as we all like to believe that the best is still ahead of us. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.

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