Throughout human history, people have always worked. We had to build our homes, plant our crops and develop our small communities. The full expression of the industrial revolution(s) metamorphosed our sense of work. As people labored to produce goods and services for others, the rules of work matured to create the 40 hr. workweek, vacation, unions, etc. The tools of our society improved, jobs diminished, and certain periodic depressions sprouted. Out of these tumultuous periods, a new, improved professional class arose re-educated in the modern machines of its time. What the United States and the world are experiencing is not new. These evolutionary transformations occur as a society grows as long as these societies are not interrupted by cataclysmic interruptions.
Like past societal evolutions, America is going through another change… It’s walking into uncharted territory of a new way of living. Advances in technology have pushed us into a new form of labor that we haven’t quite learned how to deal with. And it’s happening at a pace where people have become comfortable using a new invention advertised to them on TV only to be replaced by a better tool in a matter of months. Let’s be honest… manufacturing in America is done. We are well into a brain-oriented service country. We all know that by now. We are dealing with computerization, automation, 3-D printing (which is expanding to house size proportions… literally) all wrapped inside a free trade package called globalization. It is through these means that our society is becoming faster and smarter. America has efficiently streamlined the activities of today’s business, communications and trade amongst developed countries around the world. We are turning the corner into a new way of living.
The downside of these advances is the reduction of worthwhile jobs so many Americans relied on. For instance, coal mining. As natural gas (which is environmentally cleaner) becomes cheaper and the culture of an unpolluted environment takes hold in our society, the use of coal increasingly becomes more unfavorable to many in our society. Gas companies like Exxon Mobil, a transnational oil and gas corporation, have been forced to change their business model to include clean air and adhere to low carbon regulations around the world. The eventual disintegration of this industry means a whole community of people will be without jobs. No jobs, no money. No money means you can’t support your family or contribute to your local economy. An economic depression will settle back in. This will breed anger, frustration, stress, isolationism and drug use. In 2016, NPR published an article on the heroin epidemic in small Pennsylvania town and the concern coming from the locals on how to deal with the invasion of opioids. It is happening. And government (local and federal) elected officials has no idea how to deal with the collateral damage that comes from an evolving society.
Coal is not the only affected industry. Tech progression is happening in every field imaginable. It’s happening in retail, medicine, construction, food services, hotel accommodations, postal services, etc. Recently, businesses on Wall Street are proposing computerizing trade analysis because computers are capable of handling complex financial behaviors within the markets. There is no place technology is not invading our livelihood. Again, this affects workforce numbers. What took 10 people to do yesterday now only requires 2 or 3. What does this mean for Americans? The rules of our capitalist society dictates that we work to make money. The money we make will provide our food, clothing and shelter. If technology is reducing or completely leaving people jobless, then how will people provide for their families and community? This equation is increasingly becoming more complicated and the current social framework is gradually becoming more unsustainable.
Mind you, this is not an argument to create fear and loathing against technology. We should not dust off the ol’ horse and carriage for travel. What it means is we have to honestly deal with the ignored unsettling implications of an advancing society. It may mean we have to rethink the way we, as humans, live and interact? How will we define our society in the next 30-50 years? How do we deal with famine? Jobs? Work? Our economy? War? Everything is becoming easily accessible and the solutions to what affects us today is staring us right in the face! The CEOs and executives that stand by these technologies benefit from these improvements. In their mind, it’s not their responsibility to be concerned with the side effects of more “efficient business”. It’s the responsibility of our intellectuals, scholars and elected officials. It’s the duty of the civil servant to be involved and guide the people towards a better way of life.
If we can’t come to an understanding and honestly deal with the changing characteristics of our world, we will be doomed to suffer from it. It will be that very moment where we will be asking ourselves: Why didn’t we change things? Where and when did it start? How come the people before us were not capable of handling the coming chaos of a changing world? Yes… and by that time, it may be too late.
Written by Nova Phoenix