Handymen Vs. AI: A South Park Reality Check

Recently, a South Park special came out subtitled “Joining the Panderverse”. The main subplot of the feature revolved around the men of the community being educated professionals yet completely inept in performing handyman tasks. Concurrently, there is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), making the education and skills they’ve acquired increasingly obsolete.

But such is not the case for the handymen, i.e. those skilled in plumbing and glazing. To the contrary, they start charging ridiculous prices for their services, since the educated professionals, even with the assistance of AI, cannot perform manual tasks as relatively simple as fixing an oven door.

So by the time all is said and done, the two local handymen become extremely-wealthy businessmen and are apparently used to parody the likes of Elon Musk.

That’s South Park for you – a show based on real-life issues though fictionalized to the point of comedy. But this particular episode struck a nerve, because it mirrored some of my own experiences and observations.

My Challenges

I recently lost a job, one I held for five years and had come to depend on, largely due to the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). I also, as implied with some of those characters on South Park, have a degree from a prestigious university.

Furthermore, I possess IT skills and experience which far exceed the norm. Despite all of that, amidst my employment woes I had to deal with days and sometimes even weeks of feeling idle, frustrated and worst of all, like someone who’s not generating any income.

Such is not the case with the local welders. There’s a house with a welding workshop a couple of plots from where I live, and those guys are constantly on the grind. Or as Rick Ross would say, they’re “getting work, hallelujah”.

Handymen Vs. AI
This young man, alongside his associates, works practically all day, every day. So sometimes, watching them hustle reminds me of this episode of South Park where, due to AI, all of the highly-educated guys found their knowledge and experience obsolete, while the likes of handymen prospered.

The way I see it, those welders only take days off when they want to, not, as I’m sometimes forced to, when there aren’t any jobs available. And whereas I’ve never had any type of deep conversation with them, I think it’s safe to presume, all things considered, that I’m a lot more educated, in a book and computer sense, than they are.

Skilled Handymen make good Money in most Developed Countries 

Here in Ghana (Africa), those types of workers don’t make a lot of money. It isn’t like the US, where skilled handymen under some circumstances tend to be more appreciated.

It’s as if Americans have grown averse to performing physical labor. I had a mentor who once said ‘it’s better to work hard with your mind than with your body’. And I agree that most people would prefer, say, a comfortable office job as opposed to being a laborer.

But in some of the more extreme cases, such as in Western, service-oriented economies, that dynamic then drives the value of manual labor up, and handymen who have the right types of certification, experience and/or organization can make a lot of money. For instance, unionized construction workers in New York City make about $100k annually, i.e. more than most people, even many professionals.

By contrast, here in Ghana where manual labor is a lot more abundant and a lot less organized, such workers tend to lie at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

How I wish I could turn back Time! 

If I could go back in time, I would have gotten a handyman certificate myself, maybe in plumbing or electricals or even computer hardware, back when I was in the US. Currently, I’m considering undergoing barber training.

I know that being a barber isn’t a high-income profession, but it’s another one of those fields where the clientele is always there, meaning that I should be able to consistently make money on the side.

There are certain skills people patronize whether computers or highly-degreed professionals are around or not. And it’s a shame that it took the devastation of AI and the likes of South Park to remind many of us of the practicality of that fact.

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