Career Calling

August 7, 2011

Job Killing Technology

Writing in Huffington Post, Jeff Jarvis argues that the future will be “jobless.”  Technology and efficiency will make traditional business models as extinct as dinosaurs.  He cites several industries and demonstrates that fewer people are needed to do “job” work.  Instead, Jarvis puts his faith in entrepreneurs in a way that is similar to Seth Godin’s arguments in Linchpin.

I’m a big fan of Godin, and I agree with most of what Jarvis says.  However, my outlook is much darker when it comes to technology and employment.  Even entrepreneurial models are employing fewer people.  Compare Subway to McDonald’s.  The sub shop runs with a much leaner crew and lower overhead than does the king of burgers.  Better still, let me talk about two businesses where I live, Andersonville, one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods. 

George’s Ice Cream will employ 4-6 employees at any time, and they are hustling to make cones, sundaes, and shakes.  Yogurt Avenue opened a few months ago.  It is located three blocks north of George’s, and its business model is self-serve.  Customers pour their yogurt, top it as they wish, and put it on scale where the only employee in the store weighs it and rings up the sale.  What could be more efficient?  What could be more deadly for an economy in which people need to earn cash?

The story of John Henry is a great fantasy.  When a human competes against the machine, put your money on the machine.  Before they were laid off, several of my clients have been creators of automated systems and software that help companies be more efficient and profitable.  These innovations do nothing to create work.  In fact, their success can be measured in this happy image: “reduced head count.”  Call it jobs or entrepreneurship, the opportunity to earn a living has become harder because of technology.  In the future, it will be worse, much worse.  “Soylent Green is people!”

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