The previous waves of mechanization provide little guidance for what is ahead for us as a culture or an economy. This time really is different. Not only will every strata be effected, but the numbers will be astronomical: many estimates put the obsolescence of current jobs at 40% of all jobs within the next 10 years. The hobby aspect of people who continue to do something because they like it has little relevance to the greater picture of the nature of this wave of mechanization. It is removing the human interface from many strata where we need to have human beings to maintain our humanity itself.
Everywhere I look in my daily life I face a bank of computers. I go to the grocery store and am expected to bag my own groceries and scan them and check out with zero human help. I am expected to do all my banking with a computer screen instead of a teller. And when I need help with something like how to use my computer, or pay my taxes, or get my health care, I am expected spend hours and hours on hold and in voice mail hell, entering numbers and waiting for robotic circuits to send me to the right menu and if I am lucky, maybe, just maybe a person who knows something.
This is supposed to be “efficient.” It is supposed to be “progress.” It means the company behind the bank or the computer system or the HMO can save money they might have spent on a human employee. But I, the human, spend my own time doing the job formerly done by an employee, and I slowly lose the ability to even communicate with a human being when I finally reach them, so frustrated after hours on hold that I am incoherent with rage.
We need to redefine the purpose of technology. The engineering schools need to insist that students take political science and sociology and consider the effects of innovation instead of blindly doing what ever “can” be done simply because it can. The same goes for the MBA’s and the CEO’s. We need to see the metric for corporate success changed from how many jobs are erased to how many are created, and how the community culture and health are improved (or destroyed) as a result.
If there are in the end going to be oceans of free time saved by the eradication of jobs we need to ask what we as a society should encourage people to do. Because right now the default for that free time is to sit down with a computer and play a video game or consume entertainment in front of a screen, perfecting the loop of the robotic relationship. The leisure time, particularly when focused on video games, then continues the training for future engineers who will find yet more ways to erase the human presence from daily life.