Hochschild highlights new individualized service jobs like “wantologist”

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has written a new book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, that explores the rise of jobs to meet our individualized needs:

Don’t know what you want out of life? No problem. Hire a wantologist!

This new profession actually exists in 2012. Just fork over a little cash (a couple hundred an hour or so) and this individual will help you figure out your most important goals in life – and help you get closer to achieving them.

Sound like a bunch of hooey? Consider Esther James, a wantologist in San Jose, California. She has a PhD in psychology from NYU, practiced for twenty years as a Jungian psychologist, trained as an executive coach – earning $250 an hour – and has now transitioned into full-time life coaching in the wake of the economic downturn, as she explained to sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Hochschild, based at the University of California, Berkeley, profiles James and many other personal service providers in an enlightening new book, The Outsourced Self, which describes how the market has risen to meet the needs of increasingly harried and needy Americans…

Hochschild puts these out-of-the-blue service professions in the broader context of a society right now that “undermines community, disparages government, marginalizes nonprofits, and believes in the superiority of what’s for sale.” As she told The Fiscal Times in an interview, “The wantologist’s profession is fledgling at the moment, but it’s very real – it’s its own speciality. I’ve seen the ‘wantology workbooks.’ I’ve talked to the clients. Services like this are only going to proliferate. A lot of things that seemed weird yesterday aren’t weird today.”

The themes of this book sound similar to Hochschild’s previous books, The Managed Heart and The Second Shift, that also address the intersection of individuals and a changing social context. In this new book, it sounds like Hochschild is arguing that we lose something as a society when important individual tasks are outsourced to free up the time for us to do “better” things.

The interview with Hochschild is worth reading in full but there would seem to be another aspect to this shift that is not addressed. Wouldn’t these sorts of services primarily cater to those with the economic resources to pay for it? Hochschild mentions how dating websites could also fall into this category (and these are relatively accessible) but in order to hire a life coach or personal organizer or “wantologist,” you would have to have some extra money. Or, perhaps these services could be quickly becoming “necessary,” meaning that people have to cut back elsewhere in order to achieve certain priorities. For example, this might include a family that feels it is a necessity to hire a college application consultant for their high school student since college is such an important decision and predictor of chances later in life. If these services are becoming more normal, than it could be another marker between social classes: can you afford to outsource some of the mundane or necessary tasks of lives off to others? And who is expected to work in these service jobs? Perhaps this is simply a more palatable, market-based solution to the issue of the wealthy hiring servants in the past.

This also reminds me of two other things:

1. Could this be viewed as an example of extended cognition, the idea that we as humans are effective at utilizing other resources to tackle certain issues for us (even as basic as writing ideas down on paper so we don’t have to devote extra brain space to remembering these things) and freeing ourselves for other things?

2. A.J. Jacobs wrote about an experiment in personal outsourcing (with more detail in his book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My life as an Experiment).

Can the NFL over-hype itself?

As the NFC and AFC title games slowly approach, I wonder: can the NFL over-hype its product?

On one hand, it appears not. NFL television ratings have been excellent this year (regular season stats here). The league has a number of stars that draw a wide range of attention, from the good (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning) to the bad (Brett Favre, Michael Vick’s sage in recent years). Particularly at this time of year, talk about the NFL dominates the airwaves – a number of other sports are mid-season. The final four teams remaining in the playoffs are historic franchises that have passionate fan bases. Even with Bill Simmon’s recent claim that there is “there’s at least one great [NBA] game” each night, other sports can’t match the popularity of the NFL. The NFL even thinks it can sell $200 tickets for a “party plaza” outside of the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, it is A LOT of talk. In the weeks between playoff games, it seems that ESPN can’t stop talking about the next match-ups. In Chicago, everyone has been talking Bears-Packers. The teams already have played twice so how much more is there to discuss? Could it get to the point where fans tune out the week before and are just happy to get the game over with? And interestingly, it only gets worse for the Super Bowl: then we get the infamous “Media Day.” Though the Super Bowl gets tremendous ratings, how often does the game match the hype? In my lifetime of watching Super Bowls, I distinctly remember being disappointed by most of them. (A couple stand out in memory: the Giants-Bills match-up in 1991, Rams and Titans in 2000, the Bears-Colts in 2007, Patriots-Giants in 2008, Steelers-Cardinals in 2009.)

From a broader perspective, there is no guarantee that the popularity of the NFL will be maintained over the years, let alone continue to increase. (Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, points this out.) The first non-sports comparison that comes to mind are presidential elections. Yesterday, the New York Times reported how President Obama is getting his next campaign in order and plans to formally declare his candidacy in two months. From now until November 2012, this is what we will hear about in the news: who will challenge Obama, how much money will be raised, what are the issues, who has the best image, what do the latest polls say, etc. Don’t voters, at least some of them, get burned out by all of this by the time the actual election takes place? The idea that some countries have of holding more defined election seasons, typically announced by the current leader and lasting for a few months, seems preferable to this endless, over-hyped presidential election season.

I am sure someone has done research on over-hyping. For the NFL, the question is when will it saturate its market. Of course, one way around this is to expand your market and head overseas. (They are trying to do this with games in Toronto, London, and Mexico City in recent years. But the NBA is way ahead of them.) In the meantime, the sporting public will get heavy doses of talk, analysis, and replays. I, for one, will be very happy when it finally gets to 2 PM Sunday afternoon and we can actually see whether the Bears and Packers will win.

Google measures inflation by looking at web data

Once again drawing upon its access to  information, Google suggests it developing an alternative measure of inflation:

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks…

The GPI shows a “pretty good correlation” with the CPI for goods such as cameras and watches that are often sold on the web, but less so for others, such as car parts, that are infrequently traded online.

This bears watching as Google can access data and then analyze/summarize it at a much quicker speed than the government. But it will be interesting to see how Google gets around the issue of what is being sold online – the story also notes that Google’s index downplays the role of housing.

This could play out in a number of ways. Could this online index be improved so that markets were responding to Google’s data rather than the government’s data? Let’s say the government decides it likes Google’s approach. Does it develop the same or a similar algorithm within the government? Does it contract the task to Google?