Friday, July 1, 2016

To Code or Not to Code, That is the Question. aka Worrying about the Future.

I'm being provocative in my title.  Douglas Rushkoff, the author of
Learning to Code Yields Diminishing Returns doesn't actually argue that we shouldn't learn to code.

Instead, he argues that our post-industrial world has a problem to figure out, even formally bullish economists realize that we need to give something to workers to do. There are just not going to be enough jobs and education can't solve the problem. President Obama pointed out just the other day that we produce just as much steel in the USA as we ever did. The problem is that because of automation and technology, only a tenth of the workers are needed to produce just as much steel. For most of my lifetime, I'm 47, this phenomenon has been largely relegated to blue collar work and industry. For instance:

Jobs that I remember people having that my kids haven't seen:
  • Elevator Operators (I remember when people use to control the elevator)
  • Milkmen (and bread)
  • Couriers
  • Gas Station Attendents
  • Travel Agents
Jobs that are quickly disappearing that my grandkids won't see:
  • Mailcarriers
  • Toll Both Collectors
  • Supermarket Cashiers
  • Drivers- Taxi, Trucks, Delivery, Etc.. 
Jobs like these helped produce a solid middle class which is being hollowed out. Our leadership class and those holding white collar jobs have yet to be massively affected and thus haven't really developed policies to address this problem. But they're next. I have a colleague who just left to form his own business. If he is successful, he will have basically developed technology that will put paralegals out of work. At Google Training, +Rich Kiker boldly predicted that much of what lawyers do will be replaced by digital technology. Though my teaching profession has been remarkably resilient to change, I fear that if schooling continues to primarily be about fact acquisition, I'm sure there will be fewer teachers as well. 

The Trump phenomenon and the Brexit are both manifestations of the insecurity this transition has created. Rushkoff's point is that everyone learning to code will not make a difference. There will be only so many of these new jobs to go around. We need a new model. Rushkoff points to one in his new book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.

We really do need to figure this out. Otherwise, we are headed to leading meaningless lives as portrayed in WALL-E or we will be like the Roman mob in ancient Rome, hoards of displaced workers who were kept under control by bread and circuses. 

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