The Internet, the Middle Class and the Jobless Future


On May 12, Salon published 'Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class' since that time I've had the article sent to me about a half a dozen times from people who thought I might like to comment. Sadly, most of those people do not seem to have read the entire article and somehow missed its point. The internet has no doubt cost some people their jobs and economic stability, examples are cited in the article. However, the point was not that the internet is bad, the point is that the economy has been skewed in a way that does not benefit the majority of the population. That has been a recurring theme and concern in a variety of publication for quite awhile now.

The history of mankind has been a history of technological advancement. For the most part though 'labor saving technology' has benefitted the monied classes. The technology 'saved labor' in that less work was required but that has meant less paid work for people to do and the savings went into the pockets of those who invested in the technology. For a time there was other work that people could shift to, but those days are rapidly coming to a close. In the 21st century the concern for workers isn't that their jobs will be outsourced to less developed countries, the concern is that the work will be taken over by machines. Rapid advances in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence are threatening the existence of any jobs at all in many industries, including some very highly skilled professions.

Even the automation takeover may only be a baby step. The rise of 3D printing threatens to do to all manufacturing, shipping, distribution and retail what Napster did to the music industry. (Napster by the way dramatically changed but did not kill or substantially injure the music industry, just to be clear.) What all of this adds up to though is a future that requires substantially fewer workers and that includes unskilled labor, highly educated executives and everything in between. The only way to bring jobs back would be to stop using our current technology or go backward technologically, but it defies logic to stop using bulldozers so that there are more jobs for people with shovels. Human society simply doesn't do things like that.

Returning to where we started, the point of the Lanier article wasn't that the internet is inherently bad. The point is that the current state of our technology has broken our economic and political systems and we need to find a way to fix it.
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