Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Technology, Unemployment. Social Change

 Technology, Unemployment. Social Change

Technology

As the human race continues to advance technological change, we will continue to find ourselves challenged to maintain our current value systems and ways of doing things. This is evident in every direction we look, food, work, love, and money.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. It means change - and it requires some foresight on our part.

The effect of these technological advances challenge our ideas and demand effort on behalf of society to prepare and to lay the groundwork for a happy, content and fulfilled society, wherever you may find yourself on this lonely planet.

We have the strange situation whereby we have difficulty sourcing our food sustainably, while technology is delivering alternative methods for food. As an example I will look quickly at the fishing industry. Stocks have been seriously over-fished, and continue to be challenged. We have alternatives with closed pen fishing, and soon, genetically engineered fish fillets produced right  in your kitchen. What could be better? The only problem is transition.

Yes, there are challenges in achieving safety and environmental standards for this type of food. But, the future will not see traditional fishing as the means of sustenance or provisioning for a growing population. But what does this mean? What are the ramifications of this kind of development?

Well, it means we have to re-assess our understanding of supply and demand, the value of our ecology versus traditional food supply, the effect on work and income structures, the determination to envision our world successfully with these changes in place.

This type of change applies to all business sectors - where traditional methods will be replaced by technological advancements. The energy sector, food, health, everywhere. Less labour needed to meet our needs.

Unemployment


There are headlines every day, all over the world, talking about unemployment rates, and concerns for our youth and next generation successes. These concerns are all framed in the context of maintaining the current values framework. This is troubling because as things go, there will not be the same number of jobs available, much of the traditional work options will disappear with the progress of technology. This has been happening for hundreds of years.

The questions become, "What is employment", "What is the purpose of employment" and "What is the value of being employed".

Employment


For the purpose of this discussion, let's use the Wikepedia definition of employment:  1. The condition of having paid work 2. A person's trade or profession.

This definition fits the generally accepted framework for most people's understanding of Employment today and it is the basis for our system of exchange for goods, services and personal satisfaction. If you work you will have access to housing, food, entertainment to varying degrees, depending on your income.

This framework for employment is a Social Contract, which means that we all tacitly agree to work within the framework and generally agree with the idea and the rates of exchange that have been established. Along the way, it became a bit of a game to look down on people who didn't work, and some do it with more gusto than others, but it cannot be denied that to not be working is seen socially as a kind of flaw.

So, as a society, we do not have to work, but we agree to work because we enjoy the benefits of working in tangible ways. So what happens as technology continues to erode traditional career and income opportunities, traditional work options wreck havoc on the environment and our current youth are faced with the fact that the Social Contract we have enjoyed to now, will not work for them in the future?

Purpose of Employment


Traditionally, the purpose of employment had been to acquire money with which to buy housing, food, health, education and entertainment - each according to means. It was the evolution of the barter system and it has worked spectacularly for the most part.

What will become of this model as employment opportunities start to disappear with every advance in technology - we will have what we need, with very little work required, but where does that leave us?

Value of Being Employed


The value of being employed today is complex: it is the basis of our economy and government, it is currently the basis of our education programs, it is the lifeblood of our banking systems, and it is the basis on which we acquire our basic needs. And yet, jobs and employment opportunities are declining. This should not be unexpected , but alas, we have not done our job in preparing for this change, and now we must figure it out.

Social Change


The only option is to change the contract. And we are seeing many signs that there is a demand for change. There is the Occupy movement, Les Casseroles, and Idle No More as good examples of this demand.

One of the key things that will need development is the work for wages agreements that are currently in place globally. It has passed through my mind that much of the backward slide on Women's Rights and Equality issues, is directly related to the ever declining pool of available jobs. I believe some would see a return to the old days where women were relegated to the background and not a competing force in the workplace. This is not appropriate, and it is a sad option and you will lose if you choose it.

Another option is to go forward without change and establish two types of Social Contract - one for those that 'have' and one for those that 'have-not'. This would work if the two streams were parallel - never touching, never affecting one another, but that is not reality. Not a one of us has ever experienced solitary life in our own exclusive work induced slip-stream.

The challenge of this and following generations is to work to change the terms of the Social Contract. We have the ability to house and care for everyone on the planet, but that will not satisfy human nature. It is only the base from which to start. The big change is to develop social change on how to live in a work reduced society. How to find respect and contentment for a busy mind in that scenario is the challenge.

I believe we will need to change our value systems significantly, which bears on the Social Contract regarding work. The notion that we have to work our whole lives to be prosperous and successful will become more and more difficult to fulfill and to sustain, and yet, we are the same good people.

I think it will become ever more important to educate our students in philosophy, arts, technology, and spiritual ways than in the quest merely for thin dollars that no longer fit the needs of people.

The time to begin the change is now, and the people who will improve and live in that future are at your knee today. Let's get going.