Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

What Motivates You?

Dan Pink explains it all for you. Think money’s the best motivator? That the bigger the reward, the better the performance?

Autonomy, mastery, sense of purpose: research shows that these oftentimes undervalued notions are greater incentivizers than simple cash. From studies on some smart kids at M.I.T. to the purpose-filled mission of the founder of Skype, the ability to work under one’s own direction–or the joy in accomplishing a task (no matter if it’s brain surgery or fixing a drain)–or the sense that our work results in more than a simple monetary equivalent: Pink notes that autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose are far more powerful tools of motivation than either the carrot or the stick.

One of my favorite bits in Pink’s talk is the anecdote about software developers who are given free reign over their project, their collaborators, their time management–as long as they can present the fruit of their labor within 24 hours.

This lively animated video, courtesy of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, is only one of their fantastic archive (I love the British organization’s tagline: “21st century enlightenment”). Great ideas presented in a lively, eye-catching form.

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Filed under: business, labor, pop culture, science, work, , , , , , , , , ,

Looking for Work, Weary of Terror

William, a young migrant worker from Honduras, relates the nightmare of being held hostage in Mexico. His story is only one of many; last week, seventy-two migrant workers were killed in Mexico as they sought work.

Kidnappers will often blackmail the families of these migrant workers for ransom; some families have sold what little they own for their loved ones’ lives. “The journey can make poor farmers even poorer,” reports Jason Beaubien for NPR’s Morning Edition.

I’m reminded of an excellent feature film I saw a couple years ago called Sin Nombre, in which a young Latin woman hitches her way from Latin America to the U.S. on a dangerous, thieve-ridden freight train. What may seem like a noble pursuit–setting off in search of money to send back to your family–is riddled with violence, police and thieves, and extreme natural conditions. The plight of these workers is often an overlooked aspect in the long debate over illegal immigration.

Filed under: global justice, immigration, labor, , , , , , , , ,

Is College Worth It?

I am a proponent of higher education.

In general, and removed from modern connections to financial success, the idea of higher education is one that pleases me to no end. I’m thinking about higher education–for an intellectually curious student, not just someone who attends college as another rung in the life ladder–as something that feeds the soul, introduces great thinkers, teaches us to question and reason for ourselves. Rebecca Mead meditates on the utilitarian value of higher ed in this week’s Talk of the Town. Separating college from money, she writes:

Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

I could not agree more whole-heartedly. The merits of higher education can be seen, if I look at my own place in life: Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? And if I had chosen a state school in the Midwest as opposed to the private, liberal education I ended up choosing on the East Coast? Would I have encountered and met the same diverse community? I think of certain friends whose taste in music, whose real engagement with good books, whose desire for travel all helped nurture my own passions. I think of my partner and his intellectual passions and deliberations, and how his powerful life of the mind impacts (directly, through our conversations, and indirectly through his actions) my own.

How has higher education influenced me? Above: Horsing around with friends my first year of college in 1990; Below: Addressing students at the university where I teach, earlier this spring.

Mead writes in response to recent talk that college just ain’t worth it. “Don’t go to college,” argue many, like economist Richard K. Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Mead cites Vedder’s line of thought, including “eight out of the ten job categories that will add the most employees during the next decade–including home-health aide, customer-service representative, and store clerk–can be performed without a college degree.” The conclusion? The number of college degrees awarded statistically does not match what the economy needs for workers.

But this line of thought seems to ignore Mead’s, and my own, thinking that a college education can not be measured merely by post-collegiate salaries alone. And I’m not going to the other extreme, of the Steve Jobs and Ellen DeGeneres, famous folks who never received their diplomas. I’m trying to assess how college, as a total experience, both the in-class and out-of-class, makes us more whole. I think about how lucky I was to have spent six years as a student of higher education, and how this has led me to my current position within the academy. In a series of small, perhaps serendipitous, moments my college years provided the incubation period for me between adolescence (and adolescent thought) and adulthood. I think of the mess I would have been going straight from high school into the working world.

Filed under: economy, education, work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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