Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Computer Age, The New Brick Wall

Computers have changed the way the world works beyond imagination. Just as in the early 1920, the industrial age transformed the United States from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. The 80% farming the land in 1910 didn’t give up willingly, but the number of farmers dropped drastically as the Great Depression progressed. That was the “New Age” of; incandescent lighting, the telephone, electricity, the airplane, radio and the automobile. This new technology was going to make life better, and that was 1929. And it did for some.

Our present economy is in bad shape. Raising the minimum wage is not going to make better hamburger flippers, minimum wage jobs are already filled to beyond capacity. People need to realize that the work place has change dramatically with the introduction of computers, many jobs are gone for good. Try going to the Unemployment office to file a claim; you have to get on a computer and fill out the forms, and god help you if you can’t type. Just entering your data for a claim yourself, eliminates about 4 people that use to work in the unemployment office; the receptionist, the data collector, the interviewer, and the guy to match you up with a job. Type in your claim and the computer will search the data base and print out possible job positions and at the same time, determine if you are eligible for unemployment.

People without computer skills are the new frontier of unskilled laborers. Surprisingly college grads also enter into the unemployed mix. Many field have no jobs waiting for them, this includes lawyers, dentists, and health care techs. There are jobs in those field, but not tens of thousands of them. Colleges don’t guarantee jobs, they only enable the student to pursue the career selected. It is not their fault that more people will graduate this year as lawyers as there are people already practicing law.

Then you have middle management who have lost their jobs because of the computer revolution. One worker with the right software can now replace twenty people. Many people over 45, even with retraining, can’t expect to receive half of what they were previously earning--it probably took them 10 years to get to their present pay level. So they collect two years of unemployment and retire early at age 62.

This new age of technology has caught everyone flat footed just like it did in the roaring 1920’s. You could even go back to about 1906 when the mechanical calculator went into production and discover that the hundreds of thousands of accountants employed by the banking industry disappeared overnight. One person with a calculator replaced 80 workers.

Jump forward to today. The internet supplies us with many services we used to pay for. With Google, you can fix a washing machine, replace a garbage disposal or replace the brakes on your car. You can sell odds and ends to the rest of the world from the comfort of your own home.

Computer technology has made all sorts of tasks simpler and easier to accomplish. So it’s not surprising with all of the software, around, entrepreneurs have figured out that it is more cost effective to move simple repetitive jobs overseas. So in effect, we have a double whammy, a new work paradigm that revolves around computers, and an out sourcing of jobs that can be done cheaper in the third world.

The frustrating thing about the new technology is that you can spend a whole day on the phone trying to get a live person to talk to. And when a real person answers, you'll discover that you're talking to someone in India with an extremely limited English vocabulary; -- which proves you can work in this country without even being here. Theoretically a person in Hong Kong could robotically flip hamburgers in the US at 40 cents an hour---That has to be easier than flying a drone half way around the world and launching a stinger missile into Afghanistan. Let's see, I'll have one drone-burger, hold the onions and the missile.

Computer technology is the future. The trouble is, it's has transformed the labor market without telling anyone, leaving many people ill prepared or too old for tomorrow's jobs.


Joseph Oppenheim said...

Sorry, but globalization and the digital revolution 2.0 has changed everything, like never before.

For example, wearable tech monitoring vitals and instantly reporting to remote doctors, nurses, etc. Plus, IBM with its Watson, sophisticated artificial intel.

The world is the most peaceful (% dying in war), prosperous (% above poverty), healthy (life expectancy - yes life is always worthwhile), literate, etc, etc.

Progress is tough for some, but benefits most.

BTW, because of tech and globalization, starting salaries for HS graduates in TX are $70k with Halliburton b/c of the energy boom, and entry McDonalds jobs in ND are $18/hr.176

The key now for young people is to be flexible and mobile. Even education is changing, can get college degrees remotely, and free college/tech learning on YouTube/moogs.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Joseph

Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. And 80% of the world earns less than $10 per day.

There are 24 McDonalds in North Dakota and your close, starting wage is $14/hour. Halliburton has a lot of jobs advertised on their employment page ranging from $12 to $22 per hour. They do pay 70k in war zones like Iraq.

Unemployment in this country is around 14 percent, Just be glad you don't live in Spain where it is 27%.

Life expectancy has increased only because we don't have millions of 6 month old babies dying. We now have adults starving to death at an older age.

Your first sentence without the "Sorry" is a summarization of my whole post.

What I was trying to communicate is that most people are unaware of how changed the labor market is. We can only use so many Wal-Mart clerks or McDonalds hamburger flippers. Over half the people that want jobs are too old to start over at the bottom again or are over educated for the job they are applying for. The computer has literally eliminated middle management in our society. The unemployed want their old job back, and they haven't figured it out, that it is gone forever.

dearieme said...

My daughter was considering doing a PhD: I talked her out of it.

I paid for some tuition for her on Excel and Powerpoint - money well spent.

Mind you, I learnt to program in Olden Times, when doing mathematical modelling meant analysing the physics of a problem, representing that by a model, choosing a technique by which to compute it, and programming it all up myself. Fantastic fun, but a combination of skills that nobody gives a hoot about today. Division of Labour, don'cha know.

By the time I retired I was pretty thoroughly bored by most things to do with computers; endless wrestling with the stupidities of software providers was, you may say, no fun at all.

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Our new k-8 public school in San Diego which opens in August, all teachers are required to know how to code, plus all students will be given HP Chromebooks to use. One of the school's missions is to prepare students to change the world.

Bill Gates does have a home nearby.

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi dearieme

It sound like you and your daughter did AOK. A PHD you can always take your time on.

Computers today in retail are a different animal. When they scan the item you buy, the computer orders another to replace it. It eliminates the buyers reordering product.

Excel and PowerPoint are good management items to know. The ability to collate the information the computer reports, and disseminate it, is where the jobs are today.

Hamburger flipping doesn't train you for tomorrows jobs. But sometimes some good advice can make all the difference. Our kids are willing to believe anyone, and that's not necessarily good. Glad it worked out OK for you.

Take care

Anonymous said...

As a society, we need to learn how to divide our wealth more evenly, as technology gives us more free time. Yes, I can see all fast food becoming automated. So much for the teenage summer jobs.

When we reach the age of robotics, will everyone be able to enjoy it? Or will there be a few mega rich that control everyone else?

Jim in San Marcos said...

Hi Anon 6:41

Picture a sealed jar with a banana inside and two fruit flies named Adam and Eve.

As our population increases, we become more vulnerable to disease, starvation and exhaustion of resources.

It's hard to contemplate mankind working together to survive. There are always those who want to cut in line. "Rules are made for other people."

"Inviting someone over for dinner," could have a whole new meaning a century from now. Let's hope that technology can save us from ourselves.