The other day I received a notification that our energy supplier EDF, had created a smartphone app. Not just a basic one though. This one lets you submit a meter reading with your camera, change your monthly amounts and even send an alert if you’re moving out. The point is, suddenly, I was given the power of doing a lot of stuff that other admin people used to do for me.
Me and this phone are now a meter reading person, as well as accounts and customer service executives. It made me wonder how far is this stuff is going to go? No-one will argue with the benefits of technology, but it seems as though we haven’t as a society really thought through the situation where huge chunks of general administrative jobs suddenly disappear because they’re not needed any more.
We’re not the only ones asking the question of course, as this article from Technology Review shows.It started with manufacturing and robots, and we kind of were OK with it, since it seemed such an obviously beneficial change – for the consumer. But the spread of this trend has gathered pace over the years, and now it’s becoming a significant feature of the landscape. The list below – taken from this Reddit thread – shows the percentage and type of jobs lost to automation over the past two years from 2010 to 2012. The thread makes for a fascinating, if scary, read.
Once upon a time there were secretaries, who took meeting notes, fielded calls etc. Now there are PAs who are only for the higher echelons, and they’re typically shared in smaller companies. It looks like technology is going to radically re-define how we get these types of tasks done, and it’s clear that more of the burden will move to the consumers themselves. But these ‘consumers’ meanwhile will have a smaller pool of jobs to choose from as the list reduces. Does anyone spot a problem there?
I’m now voluntarily taking up the role of meter reader and customer service admin with my phone, but how soon will it be before it’s mandatory? This is more than just an issue of a digital divide, eventually it will be a complete paradigm shift, and if you can’t cope with the change, how will you manage to live a reasonable life? Progress is progress of course, but there’s going to come a point where there’s even a machine for doing your hair which replaces a salon, and then where will we be, eh?
So what is the future, if these jobs disappear never to return? How are we expected to consume, if the robots are grabbing the roles which deliver our financial resources? I’m not sure anyone has an answer to that, but it looks like we’re soon going to have to come up with some sort of idea, otherwise things could get messy.
Frederick Pohl’s novella, The Midas Plague, pictured a world where everyone *had* to consume to quotas, and that’s how we earned our living. In fact the really wealthy were identified by how *little* they had to consume to meet their monthly quotas. It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and it’s hard not to believe this could be where we’re heading, unless something drastic happens to avert the possibility.