Thursday, June 29, 2017

Saving Jobs. For What?

What will be the jobs of tomorrow? There is a simple answer to that: nobody knows.

Meanwhile people are all upset about jobs leaving for Mexico, or the replacement of expensive American-born workers with immigrants from South and East Asia.

So what will we be doing with our lives in 2050?

Perhaps the most baleful influence is the smartphone. On the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, Scott Rasmussen reminds us that all the stuff you could buy from Radio Shack, "personal stereo, AM/FM clock radio, headphones, calculator, computer, VHS camcorder, mobile cell phone, regular speed dial phone, portable CD player, mobile CB radio, desktop scanner, phone answering machine, cassette tape recorder and radar detector," plus camera, GPS, and language translator.

Rasmussen calls the iPhone a "revolutionary consumer product," but that is the least of it. Smartphones and their associated technology are transforming business and the economy at the speed of light. And what about politics, where a politician like Donald Trump or Emanuel Macron can win the presidency of his nation over the heads of the existing political parties and all the pompous producers of conventional wisdom?

When we talk about jobs we have tended to focus on the jobs destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. There were the Luddites that ran around destroying machines. And the left in the late 19th century talked about "deskilling," the replacement of skilled craft workers with machine minders. And yet country people ran, not walked, from the countryside to the city, as the people of China are doing today. Just how satanic is work in a mill and a house in an industrial slum compared to toiling and starving in the countryside?

You can make the argument that the progress from hunter-gatherer to agriculture to industrial to information revolution has been one long de-skilling process. Jared Diamond, of Guns, Germs and Steel, pointed out that a hunter-gatherer in New Guineas knew 800 plants and when each produced fruit, and which were edible and which poisonous, while the agriculturalist knew how to grow a couple of grains for food, and we know how to drive to the supermarket. That is progress?

Well, we have just gone through the Great Enrichment with income increasing by 30 times, and nobody had a clue it was coming.

The oldsters complained that writing would mean that people would lose their memories, that printing would remove the need for learning, just as cars remove the need for horsemanship. And Google Search removes the need for library card catalogues.

What are we going to do when all the skills of the world are programmed into a smartphone?

The answer is simple; we will live in Jane Austen's world where everything came down to the right marriage, and people did nothing except worry about the next competitive social event.

Of course, the significance of Jane Austen's world is that it was the last hurrah of the agricultural age, where wealth and status depended on the ownership of good rich acres.

So are we living in the last hurrah of the information age, after which everything will change and the absolutes of information age life will seem like a costume drama?

In another half century we will know that answer to that, and most likely nobody will have had a clue what was coming.

No comments:

Post a Comment