Advancement - For the Good of the People

Innovation is inevitable; it is the only way forward. In particular, innovation is one of, if not the most significant factor when it comes to making human lives more efficient and easy. However, while a vast majority of people see significant benefits from innovations like automation, self-checkout counters, and the explosion of online markets, a good portion of the population suffers as a result of it and will continue to do so afterwards.

I, like many others, consider online shopping to be extremely rewarding. For one thing, everything is cheaper online. For another, you simply cannot beat the convenience of remaining in your home and having things shipped to you. People think, and rightly so, that juggernauts like Amazon create a lot of jobs. A warehouse worker packages your order. Several mail, or UPS workers are involved in the handling of your package. And I’m sure that there are other personnel involved in the production and transfer of your package that I’ve neglected to mention. 

The problem with all this convenience is that a warehouse worker isn’t usually college educated. They can can find another job doing something else with relative ease. The postal worker can find many different jobs with similar qualifications with minimal education required. My intention here is not to put down these kinds of workers, quite the contrary. They have it easy if things ever get really bad in their industry. They have the ability to shift and adapt that others do not. 

Amazon, as truly amazing and convenient as it is for us, is death for the traditional store. Mammoth department stores, like Macy’s and Circuit City, which were once as widespread as fast food establishments, are becoming increasingly harder to find. Even Whole Foods, the huge super market chain, was just recently bought out by Amazon and the rumors are already swirling about vast layoffs from within the company, as completely automated checkouts will reportedly be tested. 

The real problems will arise when whole industries come crashing down. I’m not talking about warehouses or post offices but entire companies from top to bottom, all the way from the CEO to the Summer interns. What does a CEO and a Summer intern have in common? Most of the time, they are college educated. Most of the time they have at least an Associate degree in their field, usually a Bachelors or even a Masters. These are not people that can truly afford to just go do something else if their industry comes crashing down. The only option; go back to school. Sometimes that just isn’t an option at all. Some might then argue and say that they can always just go do the same thing for a different company, but how long will that last when the opportunities are just closing up shop left and right?

From coal mining to obsolete tech industries, the combination of making life easier for the general public and evolving technologies are putting entire groups of people out of business for good. Book publishing, a huge industry that brings in billions a year is slowly but surely shrinking as people prefer to get all their reading material digitally. The companies that don’t adapt quickly go under. Before our consumer market, labor and product was considered to be one and the same. However, product and labor are now two different animals, operating and performing autonomously from each other. Technology companies from laptops to cell phones to processors must adapt even quicker than most as the technology of today is completely useless tomorrow. People that go to school to do one thing, graduate and find that by the time it is time to look for a job, everything they’ve been studying for the last four years is becoming useless to society. 

More importantly than job numbers and statistics are the individual stories and backgrounds of these unfortunate people that waste their time and their money trying to do something they love only to find that nobody cares anymore. If statistics and numbers are important to you, one Gallup poll says that “unemployed Americans are more than twice as likely as those with full-time jobs to say they currently have or are being treated for depression—12.4 percent vs. 5.6 percent, respectively.”

 What is more important to you as a human being? The livelihood of a whole group of people or the ability to purchase socks over the internet? Do you really care about the guy that just lost his home because he got laid off and his entire industry is going under? Or is that new smartphone just too important to you. What matters more, the products themselves or the people that are viewed as expendable in order to make that product?

And then again, what is the alternative? During this long and divisive election in the United States, coal workers were repeatedly brought up. It was impossible not to hear about coal jobs. How to save them, whether they needed saving, etc. The truth is that coal workers are in serious trouble. Not just because their industry is vanishing, but because they can’t work doing anything else because working in the coal mines so long has made them physically ill, further limiting them in an already competitive labor market. So, whose responsibility is it to care for them? Do we keep pumping poisonous gas into the air for their benefit but at the cost of the wellbeing of us all?

Automation, technology, and higher levels of comfort will come no matter what. It appears as though the drawbacks to this are also necessary, casualties of war. But where exactly does the buck stop? When will we go too far? What will have to happen, how many people will have to suffer in their uncertainty of employment, before we realize that we don’t need all these things anymore? Time will tell.