If you Google the name Seth you will find that Seth Godin’s blog and some of his other sites are returned as six of the results on page one. That’s huge, and if you don’t believe me then Google your own first name and see what Google returns for you. I usually read his posts regularly and once in awhile one of them resonates with me in a way that makes it difficult to get the concepts and ideas he shares out of my head. Seth’s recent post entitled The computer, the network, and the economy did just that, and I’d like to give you my take on it if you will be kind enough to indulge me in a thinking out loud exercise about technology and the economy.
When I began teaching in 1986 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers had just begun a program of placing an Apple IIe into every fifth grade classroom in the state of California. I’d started using a personal computer several years earlier and quickly learned how to use this new operating system. The next year I wrote a grant that was chosen and received three additional Apple computers. As far as I know, mine was the very first classroom to have four computers in 1987 and I was able to incorporate this new technology into my daily curriculum. Over the next twenty years I advocated for technology to be included in classroom instruction on a daily basis, and considered this to be vocational training for my lower socioeconomic status students from around the world. Technology and the economy dictated how their future would be different from that of their parents, and how opportunities would only be available if they could be on a level playing field with their more affluent counterparts from a young age.
Now at this same time technology and all of its perceived benefits were taking hold across the United States. ATM machines had replaced almost fifty percent of bank tellers and many activities, such as banking and income tax reporting, were far more prevalent then ever before. It was obvious that many jobs would continue to be replaced by machine and systems not even imagined twenty to thirty years previous, even though many people still objected to this reality. Seth Godin states…
“The good jobs I’m talking about are the ones that our parents were used to. Steady, consistent factory work. The sort of middle class job you could build a life around. Jobs where you do what you’re told, an honest day’s work, and get rewarded for it.
Those jobs. Where did they go?
The computer ate them.”
Yes, the computer keeps eating the jobs that you and I grew up assuming would still be around when our grandchildren entered the work force, and we have to face the fact that they are gone forever.
We can’t long for the future without erasing at least some of the past, and this is a prime example of that concept.
Seth goes on to explain the three-part shift brought about by technology…
“First, if you (the owner of the means of production, the boss, the industrialist) can find a supplier who can make a part for less, you will, and you did.
Second, once you can parcel work among your employees, you can measure them ever more closely and figure out how to maximize what you get (and minimize what you pay).
Third, computers make patient, consistent, cheap workers. When you can train a CNC machine or a spreadsheet to do a job better than a person can, odds are you will.”
He goes on to explain how the public school system plays a part in this scenario and how we must be willing to shift gears and think differently if we are to thrive in this new world.The solution, as I see it is to make yourself indispensable, a theory expounded upon by Godin in a number of his writings. People who value their uniqueness often find themselves in a position of great power and responsibility, while those striving to conform to society’s standards must be content with the status quo. Become a specialist in a world of mediocre generalists and the world will be your oyster.
If you’re familiar with the opening scene from a film called Lonely Are the Brave, when Kirk Douglas looks up in the sky to see a jet streak across the sky as he is perched upon his horse in the California desert, then you understand the magnitude of this situation. The only question is “Are you willing to leave some of the past behind to embrace the future?”