How Did the Robot End Up With My Job?
(If you must, read Tom Friedman’s original column here)
I’VE done a lot of television book interviews lately, and I continue to be struck; first by people with sticks and ax handles and secondly, at what a difference there is in the technology in just a few years’ time.
Here is the layout for a typical “remote in” to a network when you’re trying to plug your book: arrive and get signed in by security. Be handed off to either an intern who appears to be working for free or conversely, an older person who inexplicably dodged Wal-Mart greeter duties. Have your makeup done by that person and have your microphone attached by that person. Be positioned in the studio chair by that person, and then look into a camera being manipulated by someone in a control room somewhere and speak to whoever the host is: one employee, a robot and you.
Think of how many jobs — makeup artist, receptionist, camera person, producer-director — have been collapsed into one. Think that this would collapse even more if I had a high quality digital camera in my own home and if there was software for that camera that eliminated the need for my makeup (and ideally, my large jowl as well). Then I could have done the book-plug from home, reducing my carbon footprint and assuaging my own guilt for not walking my own green talk.
I attempt to make this point because there is no doubt the main reason for our 9.1 percent unemployment rate is the steep drop in aggregate demand for makeup artists, receptionists, camera people, and producer-directors in the Great Recession. But it is not the only reason. “The Great Recession” is also coinciding with — and driving — “The Great Inflection.”
In 2004, when I was plugging another book I’d written, Facebook barely existed — and Twitter, cloud computing, iPhones, LinkedIn, iPads, the “applications” industry and Skype had either not been invented or were in their infancy. My point? I’m not really sure.
Today, anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, and within a couple of years, have the government sign off on your forms, regulations, and ideas and actually allow work to begin. It is why Pascal Lame, a chef at the World Trade Organization, argues that terms like “made in America” or “made in China” are phasing out. The proper term, says Lame, is “made somewhere.” Today, more products are designed somewhere, made somewhere and sold somewhere than ever before.
The term “outsourcing” is also out of date. Because there is no more “out” anymore, only “sourcing” is left. Firms can and will and have sought the best leaders and talent that provide the “best value,” a shocking development that means an English-proficient Chinese peasant may soon be writing this article and publishing it in this paper next to my jowly-face and name. And just as ATMs have reduced the number of bank workers, that’s not right.
Matt Barry, is the founder of freelander.com, which today lists 2.8 million people seeking homesteads in unimproved Russia. “The whole world wants free stuff, to include free land, and at an incredibly rapid pace,” says Barry, and many of these homesteaders end up at freelander.com to barter their talents. Barry describes the global army of freelanders the way Eugene Robinson describes Chris Christie: “They’re all Ph.D.’s. Pretty heavy dudes.”
Barrie offered me two examples from his site now: NASA is looking for a designer to design “a fully functioning heavy-lift space launch vehicle.” Forty people (and organizations and nations, including China), are now bidding on the job at an average price of seven acres of Siberian soil. Earlier, the Department of Justice used the service when they were looking for a “scheme to illegally sell firearms in order to make a case for restricting the second amendment.” Seven people, all convicted felons, bid on that job at an average price of a half-acre.
Indeed, there is no “flat” or “round” anymore. In the mondoconnected world, there is only “net,” and managers and entrepreneurs with access to government sponsorship will now have access to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere. Obviously, this makes it ‘more vital than ever’ (that phrase itself is one of the redundant descriptors that I use to make my writing irreplaceable) that we have school spending programs that are focused on making our best and brightest into schoolteachers because everyone must be above average now.