What are the real problems?

I was recently reading a blog post called Bread And Circuses. The post is mainly a rant on how most of the recent (tech) startups (Twitter, Facebook, Hulu, etc.) are websites that are only providing entertainment and not solving real problems. Actually she goes further to say that if a product’s purpose is to distract or entertain a user, then it’s not only keeping the creator from working on a real problem, it’s also keeping the user from working on a real problem.

The irony that the message was delivered via a blog post…a nefarious time sink for many nowadays…and that I’m perpetuating it with another post…is not lost on me.

Nonetheless, this particular viewpoint resonates with me. We should be trying to solve real problems, and not just ones that feed the appetite for “bread and circuses”.

So I’m looking for a real problem to solve, or a solution to a real problem that I can implement.

The blog post mentions a few problems as “real problems”, specifically homelessness, affordable education, and affordable healthcare. But I think we have to be careful of working to fix a symptom, instead of working to fix the underlying problem. If we just fix the symptom, then the problem will usually just cause a different symptom later on.

Homelessness

I can’t get on board with homelessness as a problem. I’m pretty sure that’s a choice that the homeless person is intentionally making…or the result of a mental illness, which is a different issue entirely. This guy tried out being homeless for a bit and found that most of the people in the homeless system are chronically homeless by choice and have no intention of “getting back on their feet”.

Affordable Education

I’m not sure this is the actual problem. Why does a person need a formal education? In this day and age, the answer would be to get a job. But if everyone had an education, would that mean they all would get jobs?

My guess is no. It used to be that you needed a high school diploma or a GED to get a job. But now you need a college degree. What happens when we make education affordable and everyone has a college degree? Are you going to need a master’s degree to get a job?

So my guess is that what’s really going on is employers are using education level as a way to keep the number of job applicants down to a manageable level. They can’t interview everyone, so they need a way to filter out most of the applicants.

The problem from the employer’s perspective is how to figure out who would be best for a given job without spending lots of time interviewing every available applicant. And even with interviews, I get the feeling that most employers still aren’t sure if someone will work out or not.

And the problem from the potential employee’s perspective is how to be able to get a job when jobs for that employee’s skills are scarce.

Maybe the real solution here is to change the mindset of potential employees from that of “how do I get a job” to “how can I provide a service”? To get them to think of themselves as a business and to hire themselves out, rather than waiting for someone to give them a job. Then businesses could buy the services provided and not need to interview each person.

Affordable Healthcare

This one I can agree with, but I think it’s a problem of an inefficient system and restrictive legislation (meant to be protective).

If you know the antibiotic you need to take for a given illness, can you just get it at the store? Or do you have to go see a doctor, wait in the waiting room with other sick people, possibly catch something else, pay a co-pay, have the insurance company process the claim for the visit, go to the pharmacy, stand in line with still more sick people, possibly catch something else again, pay another co-pay, have the insurance company process that claim, and if you don’t get better, go through it all again?

I used to work for an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) company, so I’m familiar with the games that are played by insurance, doctors, and patients. The emphasis in the system is on making an income, not on getting people healthy, and unfortunately with the way the system is setup, those two goals are at odds. I’ve been thinking about this one in particular for a while, and I do have some ideas, but I haven’t done anything with them yet.

I’m Listening

So, back to my original statement, I’m looking for a problem to solve. If you know of a symptom of a problem (like the ones above), a real problem itself, or even have an idea for a solution to a problem, let me know what it is. Leave a comment or email me. Maybe I can actually do something about it. If the problem is something that you struggle with personally or at work, even better, since you’ll know it intimately and can point out the issues someone else might not see.

In a similar vein, although not solving a “real” problem, I recently added a new feature to Dividendium that was requested by a user in a recent comment.

Know About Dividends Before They Are Declared

Predicted Dividends is a new service I just added to Dividendium. It looks at a stock’s dividend history and projects forward over the next 3 months to guess when the next dividend’s ex-dividend date will be.

If you are a subscriber (and are signed in with your email address), the projected dates are included in the downloadable spreadsheets, as well as in the regular dividend calendar.

There is a 60 day free trial, after which, if you decide to subscribe, it’s $4.95/month.

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