Our engagement with digital technologies leave us with also sorts of expectations and delusions about our interface with the non digitally-mediated world. I was having trouble opening a door the other day, and in frustration, and expectation, I made an Apple multi-touch hand gesture at it. You can imagine my disillusionment when it didn’t open, or zoom me through it. Designers of the physical world really need to get consistent in their models with the digital world I live in.
All kidding aside though, common parlance for extinguishing human life among military drone operators is “bug splat”, like the video game.
Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, published in 1936, equipped governments with the intellectual tools to counter the unemployment caused by slumps. In this earlier essay, however, Keynes distinguished between unemployment caused by temporary economic breakdowns and what he called “technological unemployment” – that is, “unemployment due to the discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour”.
Keynes reckoned that we would hear much more about this kind of unemployment in the future. But its emergence, he thought, was a cause for hope, rather than despair. For it showed that the developed world, at least, was on track to solving the “economic problem” – the problem of scarcity that kept mankind tethered to a burdensome life of toil.
Machines were rapidly replacing human labour, holding out the prospect of vastly increased production at a fraction of the existing human effort. In fact, Keynes thought that by about now (the early 21st century) most people would have to work only 15 hours a week to produce all that they needed for subsistence and comfort.
Developed countries are now about as rich as Keynes thought they would be, but most of us work much longer than 15 hours a week, although we do take longer holidays, and work has become less physically demanding, so we also live longer. But, in broad terms, the prophecy of vastly increased leisure for all has not been fulfilled. Automation has been proceeding apace, but most of us who work still put in an average of 40 hours a week. In fact, working hours have not fallen since the early 1980s.
At the same time, “technological unemployment” has risen. Since the 1980s, we have never regained the full employment levels of the 1950s and 1960s. If most people still work a 40-hour week, a substantial and growing minority have had unwanted leisure thrust upon them in the form of unemployment, under-employment and forced withdrawal from the labour market. And, as we recover from the current recession, most experts expect this group to grow even larger.
What this means is that we have largely failed to convert growing technological unemployment into increased voluntary leisure. The main reason for this is that the lion’s share of the productivity gains achieved over the last 30 years has been seized by the well-off."
— Robert Skidelsky, “Return to capitalism ‘red in tooth and claw’ spells economic madness”, The Guardian
When I read Friedman’s piece “One Country: Two Revolutions” my response was as follows:
Interesting piece. Friedman is giddy about the potential of a new wave of technologies to empower and connect individuals and groups, helping them to create value for themselves and society more broadly while avoiding the old middle-men and traditional barriers-to-entry. I share that same hope, and am cautiously optimistic (on a 10-year time frame).
That said, it seems problematic that he doesn’t commit even one sentence to acknowledging that the record of Silicon Valley in the past 10+ years, has been mixed at best. I suspect that the net effect to date of many of the technologies and trends he cites, has been job loss and significant wealth concentration.
And as many commenters on the op-ed point out, Silicon Valley’s most successful ventures (almost by definition) create very few net jobs compared to their valuations (even when you consider their broader value-creating ecosystems).
Maybe we need to go a little bit beyond the “salvation through entrepreneurship and tech” mantra, and actually put some parameters around what sorts of entrepreneurial activities are “socially productive”, perhaps even going so far as to account for the robbing of talent and mindshare by things that are frivolous (as many Silicon Valley produced products are) from things that are essential.
Reading Rodnitzky’s piece in Tech Crunch today “Here In Silicon Valley, Are We Killing Jobs And Making The Rich Richer?”, I couldn’t help but think that, like Friedman, he comes across as a little out of touch in his exuberance. To his credit he spends half his words outlining how the businesses that have made Silicon Valley rich have, so far, mostly destroyed jobs and concentrated welath:
Think about it. The success of most tech companies’ products is predicated on delivering scale and efficiency, also known as the ability to do more with less. That “more” typically means more wealth generated. And that “less” typically means with less and/or less expensive labor. In other words, the primary export for many Silicon Valley companies can be simplified down to labor substitution. In the near term, there are a variety of unfortunate ways in which this is manifesting itself as a social fabric-eroding, wealth-concentrating job killer.
In the second half of the editorial, however, he sounds much the same note as Friedman does, arguing that in the longer term these companies decentralize, dis-intermediate and put more competitive, wealth-creating power back in the hands of individuals and small businesses over large corporations. This paragraph sums up the core of his argument:
Professionals whose jobs were eliminated due to automation and outsourcing can now outsource themselves on automated marketplaces. Many of these skilled professionals are finding new homes as independent knowledge workers connected to a broad base of smaller organizations via evolved crowdsourcing marketplaces like oDesk and Trada. Once again, this is creating employment and redistributing wealth back into more hands.
The problem is that in the short term, these technologies and business models empower some narrow swatch of pretty highly educated/skilled knowledge workers (people like me and Rodnitzky) but leave the broader American workforce out. And the “short term” is probably something like five or ten years, which leaves a lot of people struggling for a long time. Further, in the long term, it is not at all clear that we’re preparing workers to compete in this new economy.
Wow, that’s a hoot. Maybe it does rival the development of language, in the sense that it will destroy language.
What is it with girls and taking pictures? At my Senior Formal the other night it seemed like every girl had a cute, compact digital camera - most of them canon and many of them pink. In contrast I didn’t see a single guy with a camera.
This seems to be more or less representative of a general trend where young women tirelessly document their social lives - from randomly trying on outfits to sleepover antics to conspicuously posed party pics.
I have some musings on this phenomenon, particularly as it relates to Facebook as a sharing medium, but could really use some help getting my head around it. What’s up with the gender dynamic around digital photography?