I read Tom Friedman’s op-ed “The Do-It-Yourself Society” in Sunday’s NY Times. His observations are correct. His conclusions are not. He sees, as I do, technology increasing productivity and competition. He misses what happens to the other two people when one person does the work of three!
No one looks upon FedEx, VOIP or the Internet in general as evil. Yet to many people they are. Technology has radically reduced the worth of many human endeavors!
Before technology shrunk the world we only competed against ourselves. We only competed with people looking for the same standard of living. No more. We’re now competing against people willing to live at a much lower standard than ours… which is still higher standard than their current one!
It’s a race to the bottom. There will always be someone who has less and is willing to settle.
Today it’s the Chinese. As their standard of living goes up and individual Chinese want more they’ll be undercut by someone else.
We have become a Walmartized world. We are driven by price and not much else.
Technology and advanced industrial processes have removed much of the advantage of craftsmanship. Until recently the best good were handmade. We now mass produce well made goods.
Our cars, our cellphones, our washing machines are better than ever while cheaper than ever. Our American labor has been priced out of the equation. If it’s made here, it’s made with fewer people. If it’s labor intensive it’s made where labor is cheap and plentiful and pliant.
I could easily do my weather job on three or four or more stations in three or four or more markets! I suspect some day I will. Technology removes the barriers.
I remember sitting in front of a TV in Bangor, Maine watching Jim Kosek doing the weather. He was in State College, PA working for AccuWeather. He was much better talent than what could normally be afforded in Bangor. Few watching knew he wasn’t local.
It’s already happened in radio. There are fewer local radio shows than ever. Many stations have no local programming or no programming produced by people who work solely for that one station.
What makes this awful is our society’s long standing tradition of valuing people based on the individual work they produce. We just don’t need as many people to produce what we need. From a goods and services standpoint we’d do just fine today with a significant portion of our society sitting on their collective hands.
Unfortunately, in our society if you’re unemployed or underemployed you are deprived!
Without jobs people have no purchasing power and no benefits. They can’t be the consumers that drive demand. And yet, in many cases, their lack of a job is the fault of our technological age and not themselves!
The Luddites were weavers, put out of work by the mechanical looms of the early industrial revolution. They protested by destroying the new mechanical looms as if destroying them would make them go way.
Recently I’ve had Luddite moments. Wouldn’t it be nice if the efficiencies driving people to the curb didn’t exist? My Luddite dreams are no more practical today than they were for the Luddites.
Our society and way of life is rapidly being dismantled. We can’t stop progress. It’s bigger than we are!
What we have to do is find a way to better distribute the gains of a world where the work of individual humans is less important. I don’t know how to do that, but I think about it constantly.
Until we rearrange things individuals have no choice but to try and be that one who does the work of three. None of us has a real choice. Slow down and you’ll be trampled.