Op-Ed

Bring on the machines; more technology means more of a life

Michael Rivage-Seul 
of Berea is a former  Catholic priest.
Michael Rivage-Seul of Berea is a former Catholic priest.

Recently Zeynep Tufecki, a scholar who focuses on Internet and society, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that "The machines are coming." Hers was a warning about the devastating effect of technology on the job market.

Machines have eliminated jobs across the board, she lamented, from secretarial positions to auto workers to medical diagnosticians and college professors.

I see this as good news — a promise of more free time and leisure. In fact, many more jobs than Tufecki indicates might also be eliminated, and probably should be. Think weapons manufacture, the advertising industry, call centers, insurance companies, fast food and, above all, Wall Street jobs connected with financial speculation.

None of these occupations are truly necessary or even productive. Face it: they are mere busy work. Still other jobs are on their way out. Remember what happened to Encyclopedia Britannica that didn't see Wikipedia coming. Think of the music industry involuntarily "downsized" by file sharing.

And what about newspapers? They are currently in crisis because of the adventof free news websites.

Similarly, "distance learning" is having its own impact on higher education as bricks and mortar campuses sunset whether or not their trustees see the coming train wreck.

Again, all of this can be good news. Energy industries will be especially affected. According to Jeremy Rifkin in The Empathic Civilization, new technology will soon drive climate-changing oil and dirty coal out of business too.

This is not a pipe dream. Surplus energy can already be stored in hydrogen cells. And the energy produced will soon be shared person-to-person across a "smart grid." Again, the model here is file sharing.

The European Union's ideal is to turn every building's rooftop into a solar energy power plant.

Think of the jobs that will be eliminated as a result — including those required by the energy wars that will be rendered superfluous. Of course, this doesn't mean that there isn't productive work crying out to be done. Green technologies in general and public transportation are obvious needs.

The number of potential jobs connected with them is substantial. But there are not nearly enough green jobs to replace the ones that have been eliminated by technology and those that should be discarded because they are environmentally destructive and morally unsustainable.

So what should be done about all of this? Here is the hopeful part. Rifkin showed the way years ago. So did Juliette Shor in The Overworked American. J.W. Smith in Economic Democracy: the Political Struggle of the Twenty-First Century was even more articulate about the path ahead: Share the work.

None of us has to work so hard unless we want to. Thanks to technology, we could work four-hour days or three-day weeks, for only six months a year, or every other year. And with military spending reduced by 75 percent, we could still make a living wage, retiring by 40. And this is possible worldwide.

It is all now within our grasp. We just have to recognize that and get the subject on the political agenda. I wonder what Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul think about all of this. Be sure to ask them.

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