Posted by: patenttranslator | November 22, 2018

I Felt Much More at Home in the Last Century

When I started my own small business more than 30 years ago, most jobs required a certain level of people skills and the ability to interact well with other people in a world that still relied mostly on humans for most things that mattered. Some people were already using computers or even falling in love with them, but it would take another decade or two for the received knowledge that “algorithms are smarter than the human brain” to sink in.

It’s possible that the word “workflow” existed already, but probably mostly only as a new word in a dictionary, and I am pretty sure that the wording “efficient workflow automation” did not exist yet, which means that the concept of replacing humans by hardware and an algorithm did not exist or was brand new.

Good, reliable and trustworthy employees were very much in demand, treated well and highly valued by smart employers in the old version of our world.

Even my small translation business required a certain level of people skills. I had to be able to talk to people calling me on the phone because some of them could be customers or potential customers. I had to be polite to them, make an effort to conquer my native accent and be quick on my feet to react quickly to what they were saying, while deciding who they might be and whether I wanted to talk to them, or get rid of them.

Back when cell phones were few and even more expensive than they are now, people used to talk to each other on the phone mostly on land lines. When answering machines came into use in the eighties, followed by call ID displays in the nineties, this was a major technological feat and a great advantage for all phone users because we could finally tell who was on the other end of the line even before we answered the phone.

But look what happened in the meantime!

Most people no longer answer the phone now unless they recognize the number of the caller. Unfortunately, the call ID feature does not mean much now because scammers can buy any number in any country and pretend that they are whoever they want to be. The same scammers have been calling my number for years – even though I never answer, just glance at the call ID. The people who do answer these calls must be a distinct minority by now. But apparently, there is still enough of them to keep the con artists busy in their profitable schemes.

So we ignore the phone spam, just like we ignore email spam, including spam from translation agencies that we know nothing about and who know nothing about us. The phone scammers killed the phone as we used to know it, and the email spammers killed email as we used to know it, now that 95% of our email is spam.

Most job offers emailed to me by translation agencies are indistinguishable from plain vanilla spam now. Sometime, a ridiculously low rate is included in the email, but even when it isn’t, I know that the rate is at least three times lower than what I would charge, even to an agency.

Even the wording that translation agencies use in their offers of work is indistinguishable from the phrases that are favored by con artists in the spamming industry. “I am reaching to you” is a rather dramatic introductory phrase, very popular in the spamming industry and in the “translation industry,” that may mean that somebody who does not know you or anything about you would like to sell you a reasonably priced miracle cure for psoriasis (which you hopefully don’t have), or that a translation agency just fired off a dozen emails to find a warm body for a translation project at a rate that I would not touch with a ten-foot pole, often for a language that I don’t even translate, because they found me in a database such as the ATA database of translators.

Because I was born in 1952, I spent most of my life in the last century and it is fairly certain that I will have spent the majority of it in the last century. And I am glad of that. As far I am concerned, it was a much cozier century than this one, at least in the second part of it that I got to experience in person.

It’s not that this century does not have its advantages, it certainly does. For example, it took me only 2 emails and literally just a few minutes yesterday to locate a work contract that I signed in 1980 as I needed to provide evidence that I was employed back then as a translator by a Czech news agency in Prague. So in addition to my American pension, I can now look forward also to a Czech pension, albeit a much smaller one.

But hey, every little bit helps. And unless I am mistaken, Czech pensioners don’t need to pay health insurance payments (because their pensions are so damn small!), so I will probably no longer have to pay for it either.

It would have been much more difficult and it would probably take weeks, or at least days, to do something like that before the end of the last century. But the advantages we have in this century are only or mostly just technological, and most of the time they are probably used more against us than for us or by us.

It is too bad that people skills are not as much needed or valued as they used to be thirty years ago, at least not in my line of work. Instead of relying on inter-personal relationships built over years and decades, people now just look up another database to solve a problem, thinking that they will find what they need in it.

That is one reason why the shelf life of translators and other people who are able to provide a useful, complicated and demanding service is much shorter now than it used to be in the last century.

We are being used basically in the same way as most people use the apps on their smartphones. Those who need us for a while will just download us from a database, use us to perform a task, and once they (hopefully) pay us, we may never hear from them.

The human app is then deleted and replaced by another one next time. In the twenty first century, there is no need to build a personal relationship with a human app, even if the human app does the job and works well.


  1. Ozvi se mi pres email nebo pres skype. Radek Pletka


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