The big thing about technology that most people don’t understand is that in the process of making things easier, it can make things a lot harder. This was the entire point of the Luddites. These were people who took sledgehammers to textile machines in order to halt the march of progress.
From today’s perspective, they’re seen as a bunch of people who were trying to hold back the inevitable and who didn’t understand the advantages technology brought them. That really is quite an unfair picture. You see, while the industrial revolution started all the way back in the 18th century, wages actually became unequal until the middle of the 19th century as the rich prospered and the rest did not.
No wonder people were upset. Interestingly enough, it took utill these years where there is again a big group of people who again feel disadvantaged and left behind for us to realize that we might have been unnecessarily unsympathetic to the Luddite cause.
Only now do we realize that while technology might well create as many jobs as it destroys and more, it can be hard to see where those new jobs will appear and far easier to see where they’re disappearing. Even if that weren’t the case, just retraining people to go from shrinking sectors to growing sectors is a huge undertaking – one we haven’t been doing particularly good at these last decades (so imagine what it was like two centuries ago).So should companies not rely on technology?
No of course not. For companies to not embrace technology is to deliberately handicap yourself during a race. Technology is cheaper, more effective and highly dependable. Websites, for example, keep selling and offering your wares even while nobody is on your shop’s floor. Similarly, smartphones and computers make it possible to communicate in moments what previously took days.
And that’s not even talking about big data, which is revolutionizing industry after industry. The innovations are coming hard and strong and obviously a company has to make use of them if they want to stay afloat in an ever more connected and smaller world.
At the same time, the consequences of what these changes mean have to be understood and accepted. There are a huge number of people who have been left behind and feel cheated by the current surge in technological innovation. They are angry and they’re looking for scapegoats.
That’s the often unrecognized problem with disruption. For though it might lead to all sorts of innovation, somebody always ends up losing out – just ask the taxi drivers being pushed out by Uber, the hotels suffering because of Airbnb and the governments introducing legislation which hurt the consumer but benefit small interest groups.
The far more effective route is what (once again) the Scandinavian countries are pursuing. Here the government instead of trying to hold back the tide of technological change has taken to taking the windfalls of that change and using them to retrain the workforce. In this way, countries like Sweden are making sure that when a new technology comes along that creates new opportunities, they are ready to embrace it rather than to resist it.
This leaves them at the cutting edge of technological innovation while dampening the disruption caused by these technologies flowing through society, destroying jobs and leaving the workers without a hope or a new job to go into. Instead, they can get to work in new industries and companies as Smart Paper Help service and other such opportunities. This means they’re busy, have far greater self-worth and – just as important for the state and the companies which function therein, won’t take to smashing machines to protect their self-interests.So why is the rest of the world lagging behind?
It’s a good question. It does seem like the politicians are forever running after the facts in most of the world. It takes some serious disruption of the world as it is – with several candidates elected to office who embody this anger – before politicians ever seem to do anything to catch up.
In part, of course, this is because politicians are as tribal as the rest of us and are thus busier fighting ideological battles than they are solving the problems that are actually out there.
That’s a serious problem with serious consequences that need to get addressed. The thing is, we only ever get the politicians that we deserve. With that, I mean that the politicians don’t come from some magical place. Instead, they come from among us and it is the values they learned in our society that they take to government.
And as we learn our values young but generally only get into positions of power when we’re older, that means there is always a lag between the values that we hold as a society and the values that our politicians defend.Is there anything we can do?
The obvious goal is to hold our politicians responsible. This means that as companies it is important we inform them what we need them to do – namely protect workers from the disruption of new technologies even while they don’t take active steps to stop those disruptive technologies from working their innovative magic.
To bring about this kind of focus takes focus and that focus needs to be brought to bear by those that most stand to gain from the technological change out there – the companies. For ultimately, they will suffer most at the hands of angry voters they will have their hands tied by poorly considered legislation. So they should take the steps necessary to make sure people don’t get angry.
If that means making money available to retrain those workers to fit more snuggly into the modern culture so be it. That’s a small price to pay for making sure we remain on the cutting edge of technology as a society.