Don’t be surprised the next time you’re riding a bus and you see someone yawn. People are tired, and it might have a lot to do with the fact that those in the work force are seemingly more productive than they ever were before.
The U.S. Department of Labor has only watched as labor productivity has grown, even if incomes have not kept pace. Some experts have cited companies shedding jobs, and shifting those responsibilities to remaining employees who don’t want to suffer the same fate.
But a lot of it also has to do with technological enhancement, tools that are almost science-fiction in nature that help us to do our work faster with much higher yields.
Take someone who processes photos. When Bill Clinton was president, getting an image from your camera to a sheet of paper required physical processing of the film, chemicals, time.
Now, you don’t even need paper. You can show any image you take instantly, not just on the device that captured it, but around the world — instantly. Even if you wanted to print it on paper, the process of creating a photograph in analog form takes a fraction of the time it did before.
That means if you’re processing photos, you spend far less time doing the work, meaning you can create so many more finished pictures.
It is clearly one of the results of ongoing automation that our society has endured since the Industrial Revolution. A machine of some sorts replaces a worker, and then that worker is out of a job. Some recent studies show that the present wave of automation could eliminate as many as 20 million manufacturing jobs in the next 10 years.
And yes, that’s a lot. But these displaced workers are not going to sit in unemployment lines the rest of their lives. Just as has happened over and over again, new sectors — complete with new jobs — surface. Many of them more challenging (and more financially rewarding) than what came before.
Take speed cameras, for example. Many have gone up in recent weeks around Riverdale, Kingsbridge and other neighborhoods. The more automation battles these smaller “crimes” like traffic, the more our police officers can focus on larger aspects of crime, like vehicle burglaries for example.
Sure, fewer cops might be handing out speeding tickets, but isn’t their new focus a solidly positive use of police resources?
There is some fear about what automation will do to society, and some of those fears are indeed justified. What that requires, however, is close monitoring by government agencies responsible for maintaining a solid work force. To help not only create environments where such new opportunities would thrive, but also assist in building the paths displaced workers need to get there.
Change is always coming, and we can’t fear it. As President Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present, are certain to miss the future.”