Looking into the ebb and flow of our appreciation for technology.
With news of a new vaccine on the horizon, we’re proudly looking towards modern science and technical advances with a refreshed sense of appreciation. I’ve delved into our past to see how this same appreciation of technology has ebbed and flowed.
Technology: Friend or Foe
In 2015, famed economist David Autor posed the question we have heard in many variations: “Will automation take away all our jobs?” “Technology: Friend or Foe?”
The short and sweet of it, no—automation won’t take away all our jobs.
We can’t ignore the short-term downtrend that follows widespread technological advances replacing simple functions. On the other hand, this period of flux can result in amazing solutions that far outweigh the brief period of discomfort.
The Tractor Takeover
When referring to the advent of the tractor taking over much of the agricultural work at the turn of the century in the US, Autor further explains the societal progress that spread as a result.
Families of farmers did not have enough work for their kids to also live off. The solution by the government was one of the largest investments—financially and infrastructurally—the US had ever undertaken: the high school movement. The standard of the time was turned on its head, and kids were then required to go to school until they were sixteen.
“It also turned out to be one of the best investments the US made in the 20th century. It gave us the most skilled, the most flexible and the most productive workforce in the world,” he concludes.
Technology Combatting Loneliness
This amazing approach to problem solving may be happening in your living room right now.
At the beginning of this school year, six-year-olds had their first days of school over Zoom with dining room tables as their classroom. Equally impressive are the elder adults who have sharpened their technical skills to help combat loneliness.
This pandemic would have been unbearable for most without the new attention given to mental health, home office opportunities, and teachers rising to the task of molding minds through fiber optics. Without the jobs that never existed thirty years ago, we can thankfully only speculate.
A New and Thriving Job Market
Here is a conversation that may sound familiar:
Grandpa: So, what’s it you do for work now?
You: Explains job.
Grandpa: (politely nodding like he understands what you said) That’s nice. Sounds like it pays well.
To reflect on the job market of his era, for every job like being a milkman, switchboard operator, or typist, a hundred new jobs have risen to drive the technology behind everything we do today.
There are lists all over where you will find the next series of “soon to be obsolete” positions, but I have a keen sense of hope for the human factor that will always be required even when surrounded by technology.
At the end of the day, sometimes a computer just needs to be turned off and turned on again, and I’ve yet to find a Mac or PC that does that automatically.
Children of Millennials
Covid-19 is our tractor, our 21st century catalyst for change.
We should take heart in knowing that the same kids who had their first day of school on the internet will be the same kids entering the job market twenty years from now.
The children of millennials (less commonly known as Gen Y) are called Generation Alpha, and what an apt name. They will be entering a work world where we have addressed equal opportunity and diversity. •