Lives run by technology

It is nothing new for people’s lives to revolve around technology.

I can remember half a century ago my mother talking on the phone for an hour or more.

In the 1960s television started to dictate people’s lives – it wasn’t uncommon for meetings to be scheduled to avoid clashing with programmes like ‘Peyton Place’ (incidentally a programme I have never seen, my family were late acquirers of a goggle box).

In the 1990’s cell phones and texting started to play a part in many people’s lives. I remember when conducting an IT training course in the early 1990’s and a Telecom employee had to show how indispensable he and his brick phone were.

By the turn of the century teenagers and young adults of my children’s generation ran their social lives by text. The old practice of going to the pub to find out where the parties were became obsolete.

Gradually smart phones took over many people’s lives, transfixed to Facebook or Twitter. Dating apps replaced socialising as a means of hooking up with someone.

Then ‘activity trackers’ became popular. Now you don’t have to remember what you have done, it is recorded for you. Recently I saw someone post on Facebook not just how far they had walked and how long it took, but how many calories it had used, and it included a route map. They also posted a sleep map – instead of just saying ‘I had a crap sleep last night’ they showed virtually every toss and turn in detail.

How long will it be before we see root maps? Probably already popular somewhere in social media.

These activity mappers are now also activity prompters – not just telling you what you’ve done (or haven’t done), but also suggesting what to do next.

I’m not sure that handing over your life that much to technology is funny. It may have some benefits, but it also has dangers.

How long will it be before devices say ‘it’s half a day since you have bought some junk food, act on your craving NOW at xyz‘. Maybe they already do.

It could just as easily be used to sell alcohol, drugs, toys.

People would probably buy the latest craze for kids even if it kept popping up prompts like ‘It’s now time to pester your parent/s for gizmo#35, series 11′.

It would only be a slight variation on common marketing techniques for apps to learn parents’ weaknesses and tell kids how best to coerce their latest fix.

Robots may be already slowly taking over, disguised in many forms of technology.

All this technology is making us antisocial

Via The Dipster @nzthink

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This has been expressed in many ways before. Like:

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And:

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“Anyone have plans to stare at their phones someplace exciting this weekend?”

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The future of work – what’s the alternative?

An interesting comment by Incognito at The Standard on employment and unemployment, work life balance and the move towards more internationally transient labour and the increase in shorter careers for many of is.

Employment and unemployment (both classical and structural) are two sides of the same coin; the one cannot exist without the other. This ‘coin’ [no pun] forms the central pillar of our culture as well as our society. Everything is centred on employment or “work”. Money must be earned (or borrowed) to pay the bills, to afford a roof over your head (whether owning or renting), to pay for schooling, holidays, gadgets, etc. However, a job also provides social status (low or high, regardless) and respect, a place and opportunity for social interactions. In short:laboro ergo sum. Think Maslow’s pyramid symbolising the hierarchy of needs.

We are indoctrinated from a young age that we have to provide (for our family and for our society, through taxes) and become economically-productive law-abiding citizens. To give us all a good/better start on the “career ladder” we are encouraged to send our children to ECE, good/the best (?) schools, and preferably attain a tertiary qualification or two (with a nice grand student debt!). In fact, by law our children must attend a school/schooling for 10 years.

For some it is work to live and for others the motto is more live to work but for both the so-called work-life balance is crucial it seems. It is clear that work and life are pretty much inextricably linked together.

With the globalisation of the workforce and rapid technological changes it has become harder and harder to find secure employment, a meaningful job, or enough hours/pay to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or just to make ends meet. We used to be able to look forward to a semi-comfortable retirement, the “golden years”, but no more. We now have to work longer and harder to build a “nest egg” and we are not even assured of decent provisions for when the inevitable age-related health issues occur; with a lot of luck we might get to enjoy a few twilight years in reasonable health and then leave this plane for ‘a brighter future’ or the shadowy path of oblivion.

Given all this, and much, much more, it is hard to imagine a society that does not evolve around employment as the major part of people’s lives, as their raison d’être. Surely, there is more to The Human Condition than can be summed up by laboro ergo sum? It is hard to see an alternative that allows maintaining and evolving a complex and (technologically) advanced society with the seemingly inevitable division of labour. But I think we are dire need of an alternative given the issues with (structural) unemployment, poverty, inequality, raping & pillaging of the environment, and many other negative outcomes of the current model.

There’s certainly some important modern challenges raised here – but what is the alternative?

It’s not possible to turn back technology, nor practical to slow down it’s rapid advances.

So we have to learn to deal with many of us not having jobs or careers for life. It would be impossible or at least highly impractical to try and guarantee long term employment.

Some careers are still potentially long term, like healthcare, teaching, law. But even those are changing, in some ways substantially, so retraining is often necessary.

It sounds like Andrew Little may be trying to address some of this in his ‘state of the nation’ speech in late January to kick off Labour’s new political year, and year in which they have to make a positive impression on voters.

Labour have been putting a lot of effort into their ‘Future of Work Commission’ .

Those entering the workforce today are likely to have several different careers and many more different jobs in their lifetimes compared to previous generations. Businesses need new models of organisation, processes and different skills from their workers in an increasingly globalised environment.

At the same time many workers have increasingly insecure and precarious work experiences due to casualisation, zero-hour contracts and other exploitative practices. On the flipside of this, many more people are self-employed by choice, with a younger generation of workers desiring to be their own boss or work in more flexible contracting arrangements.

It is essential that as a country we acknowledge, prepare for and adjust to these changes.  We need to understand the drivers of change, the challenges and opportunities, and what policy programme needs to be adopted so we can face the future with confidence.

Their stated objectives:

Develop policies which tackle the changing nature of work to ensure:

•           Decent jobs

•           Lower unemployment

•           Higher wages

•           Greater security when in work and when out of work

•           High skilled, adaptable and resilient workers

How can a Government ensure ‘decent jobs’?

It’s worth looking at the future of work and employment, and what we can do to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

But what is the alternative to what is happening now?

The robot revolution

In our lifetimes we have seen dramatic changes in our way of life and our way of working, largely due to the technology explosion.

Rapid advances in technology look like continuing. Automation and the use of robots is transforming many workplaces and these changes will continue to impact on the type of work people do and how much work is vailable for humans.

TV1’s Sunday has been doing a series on the changing nature of work and last night asked “What will  New Zealand’s coming robot revolution mean for your working life?

This showed examples of the sort of change that’s happening now, like fully automated milking sheds, self drive cars, trucks and trains, and automated warehouses.

Electronics has been a part of most of my working life.

My first career job after I left school was with the Post Office, as a Telephone Technician Trainee. Through that I studied Electronic Theory at Polytech. At one internal course that covered the exchange equipment used at the time, which was electro-mechanical, we were told about the future – electronic switching. I’ve been a part of the transformation to electronically driven communications.

However the Post Office was overstaffed and my actual work was mind numbingly boring. So I quit the Public Service (and because I only gave one month’s notice instead of three I was banned from working for them again).

I changed to a much more interesting and challenging job with Burroughs. I started again on electro-mechanical equipmet, adding machines, cash registers and accounting machines that were programmed with riveted pins of different lengths. I then trained on computer terminals and installed the first branch terminals used by the National Bank in Auckland. These connected to Databank by modem. This was in the mid seventies.

I changed jobs a number of times after that, usually involved in emerging technology. In the mid eighties I managed and programmed the first CNC turret punch (sheet metal) installed in southern New Zealand.

So I’ve been very involved in changing technology, often near the bleeding edge. I worked in IT before it was called IT. I introduced many people to computers and trained many people. That was last century. My work covered a wide range of emerging technologies.

in 2001 I got a new job that was more specialised – it had become too difficult to be a generalist. I’m still in that job, still in technology but a very narrowe field.

I’m aware of aspects of the technology revolution that seems to be building pace, still, but have really lost touch with the degree of change the world is undergoing.

What happens with robots and the workplace in the future won’t affect me much, as I probably only have a decade of employment left at the most.

But my children and especially my grandchildren will work in a world I couldn’t have dreamt of as a child.

The Sunday programme on the robotics revolution didn’t surprise me in that I was aware of the capabilities of electronic machines, but it was a bit of a shock to realise how much robots are already taking over many workplaces, and how that could dramatically change work opportunities in the future.

Sunday: Somewhere to work (15:02)