Friday, March 31, 2017

People Left Behind

Decades ago we first started thinking about automation, CAD-CAM, and the like. At the time I was a relatively hard-working Associate Professor.

I remember talking to my students about replacing the people doing simple jobs with machines. What, I asked my students, are we going to do with the simple people doing those simple jobs? Where do they go? How are they to be supported?

Later, we began to see what I called the "McDonaldization" of work. Shifting work from full-time to part-time, permanent to temporary, moving the expertise from the person to the "system" or to the machines.

Retail and food service went from career jobs to incidental or part-time work, other jobs followed suit. Again I asked, what happens to the people displaced, those who made a career out of being a retail clerk or a waiter?

Still later, we began to see large-scale off-shoring, sending manufacturing jobs overseas. Again the question arose, what happens to the academically untalented or disinterested who've staffed our assembly lines and coal mines?

How do they fill their days? Who pays their bills? What provides their identity?

It is fine to talk of us becoming a high-tech society, except human evolution doesn't happen very fast. Many humans lack the intellect to become systems analysts or programmers, engineers or scientists, actuaries or physicians.

How do we organize a society in which those and a few service jobs are the only one's remaining? We can't wave a wand and make the tech-incapable people disappear. We can send their jobs overseas or automate them, but the former occupants are here still and, as a society, we have ignored their plight.

Recently we have seen reported an acceleration of deaths from opioid abuse/overdose, suicide, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Isn't it likely this is no-longer-useful people "solving" the problem described above chemically? It is their version of "waving the wand," seeking oblivion.