Relay: Is Technology Destroying Jobs?

From the “philosophy of technology not-so-deeply discussed” file comes this article from TechCrunch. It’s nice to see some of the ironic nature of technology considered:

Many of us take for granted that technology is the brightest spot in the economy, where most of the innovation and job creation occurs. But if you look more broadly at the impact of technology across every industry, it doesn’t look so great. Technology makes businesses more efficient, often by eliminating the need for repetitive tasks and the workers who do them. We are not replacing those jobs with enough new, higher-skilled ones to make up for the loss.

This, of course, has been happening for a long time, though the author makes the analogy to the workhorse rather than the industrial-age citizen:

Is the U.S. worker in the same position today as the workhorse was 100 years ago when it was replaced by another technology: the engine (first steam, and then internal combustion). Peak employment for horses was in 1901, there were 3.25 million working horses in the England. Those jobs went away with the introduction of machinery, tractors, cars, and trucks.

Another great quote, very relevant to the recent Borgmann blogs I have been writing:

But wait a second, says [Erik] Brynjollffson. His central argument, which he puts forth in Race Against the Machine, a book he co-authored with Andrew McAfee, is that it is not people versus machines. It is people with machines. Technology is just a tool that lets us be even more productive.

The problem is that not enough people know how to use the new tools of the Internet, mobile, and cloud computing. The workforce as a whole does not have the right mix of skills. Hence tech companies can’t hire enough engineers while the rest of the economy suffers from perpetual unemployment.

What a brilliant example of the instrumentalist view of technology! The problem doesn’t have anything to do with technology per se, says Brynjollffson—we simply haven’t adapted as a human race to the kinds of jobs and experiences that await in a thoroughly technological society. This is of course a valid point, but isn’t it more reasonable to ask what human flourishing consists in before capitulating to a technological paradigm? It seems to me we should be asking whether a technological society fulfills (as Borgmann put it in the last chapter I blogged about) our deepest aspirations, and only then decide how thoroughly technologized to become.

Author: Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan is a Director of Open Source at Sauce Labs, leading a team of open source developers to improve the web and mobile testing ecosystem. Apart from being the project lead of Appium, he has worked as a programmer in tech startups for over a decade, but is also passionate about academic discussion. Jonathan has master's degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively. Living in Vancouver BC, he's an avid rock climber, yogi, musician, and writer on topics he considers vital, like the relationship of technology to what it means to be human. Visit jonathanlipps.com for more.

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