December 5, 2009

Tech is Threatening to Some and A Savior To Others

As technology advances and supplants the “old ways” of doing things, some people are threatened that they are being put “out to pasture” and others find opportunity in the emerging technology—they find in it something new to learn and grow with, perhaps an opportunity to shine and become the resident subject matter expert at work or at home.

As we get older, it’s natural that some people may not be as flexible in “starting over,” learning something new, or changing the way “we’ve always done things.” It’s reminiscent of the sort of unflattering old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”—a saying by the way that I don’t really believe (you should see my Dad on email, Internet, and so on—he’s great!). But at the same time, people, as do all things, have a life cycle, and our strengths and weaknesses go through peaks and valleys at various points on the cycle. For example, “with age comes wisdom.” Years ago, getting the chairman or CEO to use email was a corporate challenge. Now, young people are migrating to Social Media for communications, and email is the technology dinosaur. It’s a constant technology transformation.

In November 2009, the Wall Street Journal reviewed a new book by Sci-Fi author Cory Doctorow, called “Makers”. “This novel is set in a not-too distant future when the creative destruction of technological change has created an economy so efficient, with profit margins so thin, that traditional companies can hardly stay in business.” In this book, the inventor “uses three-dimensional printers to produce copies of machines and most anything else at close to no cost.” Now “good ideas are copied so quickly that they become commodities. Every industry that required a factory yesterday only needs a garage today.” Where this leaves us is in a time with “competition and invention getting easier and easier—it’s producing a kind of superabundance.” And the result is widespread unemployment and stress.

As we are presumably heading out of a major recession now with unemployment topping 10% (and some would say the real figures, including the underemployed and those that have stopped looking for work, at closer to 20%), we must but wonder whether the recession/unemployment is due to the financial crisis alone or is there some element that is due to our new high-tech economy, where everything in the manufacturing sector has either been tech-enabled or outsourced to Asia. And where we are left in a primary “services economy—pushing papers and flipping burgers? Is there a time coming when we become so technologically advanced, like in the Makers, that there is a very real threat of leaving hundreds of millions of people behind, while the few technology mavens “have it all”?

Interestingly enough, with the advancement of technology, the income disparity between rich and poor has grown where the top 1% of Americans own more than a third of the wealth, compared with a fifth of the wealth in the 1970s (according to Robert Reich).

I think it is critical that smarts and performance be rewarded (i.e. performance-based), but that we cannot let things get out of control and unjust. Billions cannot starve while the ultra-rich hop from rural mansion to Park Avenue condo and from private plane to recreational yacht. Technology must be used to level the playing field and not abuse it. Some like Bernie Madoff used systems developers and technology to create and issue phony financial statements to Ponzi-scheme clients showing trades that never occurred. Instead, we need to use technology to educate, communicate, share, and advance the opportunities for all and overcome the technology divide through amazing advancements here and yet to come. To do this, we must focus on continuous innovation and application of technology to the challenges we face—whether alternative energy, health care, world-hunger, global warming, and so much more. There is no shortage of issues for us to apply our minds and technology to—there is plenty for everyone to contribute to.


No comments: