I’ve written on a few occasions about some of the dangers that I see approaching with technology changing at such a rapid pace. Most recently, I wrote about dating sites excluding people who were no longer beautiful. While I am hardly a Luddite, I do see problems with where things are going and am reading a few books about the subject. (More on that in future posts.)
Along these lines, I recently watched the excellent film Up in the Air. I can see why this film did so well last night at the Golden Globes. Really well done. Like most of my favorite movies it made me think.
In a nutshell, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a professional traveler and corporate assassin. You see, he goes from company to company, city to city, laying off employees deemed unnecessary by their employers who lack the courage–or will–to do it themselves. He eventually has an epiphany about his lifestyle, but I really don’t want to give too much away.
For a proper review of the movie, check out Roger Ebert’s here.
I know that technology has always destroyed jobs while creating others, aka creative destruction–a term originally coined by German economist Joseph Schumpeter. I have seen this first-hand as an IT consultant, as one of the chief reasons that many employees resist new technology is that they fear that they will become expendable, that a computer will make their position irrelevant.
Additional examples abound:
- ATMs made bank tellers a virtually extinct species
- Sites like Travelocity had a similar effect on the travel agent profession
- Ever see a switchboard operator (outside of Mad Men?)
- Nobody makes typewriters anymore
I have been wondering, though, has technology been doing more destroying and less creating? Of course, the housing meltdown and Great Recession make it impossible to determine the exact role of technology in explaining why unemployment exceeds ten percent, a figure that does not count the “underemployed.” Economists would have to use some pretty sophisticated statistics to begin to address that question. I’m certainly not going to attempt it here.
All of this brings me back to Up in the Air. Clooney’s Bingham resists his company’s plans to “automate” the terminate process by using hi-tech terminals aided by impressive videoconferencing technology. Again, even the displacers are being displaced. This is more than a little ironic.
What do you think?
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