Everyone’s going to be out of a job, and it’s going to be great.
Ok, no one’s really going to be out of a job, but a lot of people are going to be changing jobs in the decades to come and we really need not to panic. Working for a living is a state of perpetual change. How we react to that change is the over-arching factor.
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Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. In 1979, if your 18-year old said he was interested in working on carburetors, you would have been fine with that. Because carburetors were a thing back then and going to be around forever, right? Well, the inventors of the fuel injector apparently had something to say about that.
Vinyl records? Film? Floppy Disks? We could fill books if we listed iconic products which are now obsolete. Now don’t try to tell me books are obsolete. There are a few hundred sitting on shelves behind me. I know the little whippersnappers are all about their little Kindles, Nooks, e-Readers, or whatever. I’ll stay with my books, even if the day comes when we go all dystopian Fahrenheit 451 and I have dig a bunker where I can enjoy them in peace.
The point is…
…things change, particularly working for a living.
Not everyone who began the 80s working on carburetors moved smoothly to fuel injection. But then in 1980, no one had any idea that by 1990, 50% of all meals would be eaten outside of the home.
Industries change. As some industries close down, other open up. Technology develops and relentlessly imposes higher living standards. The economy cycles through the complementary phases of manufacturing, service, and information management.
Fear is the enemy.
Automaton – processors transmitting instructions via micro-circuitry or wireless signal – is good. No scratch that. It’s not merely good, it’s magnificent when one reflects on the journey that started centuries ago with levers and pulleys.
Yet, with every technical advance applied to industry, there is a temporary adjustment. Not a cost, because the net effect is always positive. But an adjustment. Instead of laying out oats from one’s horse, one pulls up to a pump and sluices fuel into the tank of an automobile. Rather than place a manilla folder into a drawer, one simply right-clicks, and chooses a virtual folder in which to record information for later retrieval.
What do all these adjustments have in common? They put people out of work. Temporarily. But the “temporarily” part is often overlooked. Overlooked, discarded and apt to send policy makers into fits of stupid meddling. And if not meddling, rejecting innovation altogether. Even when they “mean well.”
Vespasian, a perfectly good Roman emperor, meaning he wasn’t a sociopath, regarded technical innovations with suspicion. One of his engineers was known to present him with at least one tremendous labor saying invention. The good emperors response? “What will happen to my poor?” A good man, but not exactly a visionary.
But let’s not get too full of ourselves. Vespasian did not have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. A brilliant tactician, and an able administrator, he still lived 1,700 years before the industrial revolution, and 2,000 years prior to the information age. In short, he missed the epic failure of managed economics and the commensurate slaughter of 110,000,000 million souls during the 20th century.
The more things change…
Vespasian’s fears are alive and well today. Yes, even among those who have the benefit of following the thread from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong.
If you work in a cubical in a typical office, then you work for people who are governed by their own fear. Fear of losing control, fear of treating you like an adult. Regardless of the benefits to time, money, and human capital, your paymaster is afraid to allow you to work from home. This in spite of the increased efficiency in both production and accountability. In spite of the benefits that would naturally accrue to the company which employs you.
Now there are industries which still require one to show up. For example, Energy (for now), Food Service (for now), Food Distribution (for now), agriculture (for now), and transportation (yes, for now). This is not going to last long. Think self-driving cars and airborne drones.
But at this moment – at this very moment, if you work in an office environment, you don’t need to. Education? The school house model has been obsolete since the invention of the television, and every school that does not benefit from tax dollars already has a muscular online presence. Because everything you do, you can do from home.
Your boss is hoping that just maybe you haven’t noticed yet.