On Learning How to Fish

An updated parable
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fishfishfish.jpgReuters

One day, I was sitting on the street, not even asking to be given a fish, when a guy came up to me and said, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." So, he taught me how to fish, and I learned. I got good! And for a while, I made a pretty nice living, got a condo out by the Home Depot, and started raising a family.

But a price war broke out to supply the fish finger market, and highly mechanized fishing fleets, driven by the relentless pressures of profit maximization, depleted the fish stocks I'd been depending on. A single fisherman couldn't survive with his pole and his wits. So I learned the new way of fishing and got a job on one of the boats.

But then with all the fish in the ocean all gone, it got cheaper to farm similar fish in poor countries with lax environmental regulations, which could be sold under the same name here and at half the price and to consumers who probably couldn't taste much of a difference.

I retrained to become a fish logistics specialist, learned all the software, but so did everyone else, so wages are really low, and that's if you can get and hold a job.

Now I'm underemployed and go fishing on my off days. We shouldn't eat most of the fish, but we do anyway.

I'm learning to code at night. I'm hoping to make a fishing app for the Android operating system.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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