One downside of disruption: next-generation unemployed tech zombies

next-generation unemployed tech zombies
Credit: Tinxi /

It must be getting close to the holiday season. I don’t say this because I’ve noticed decorations popping up in stores – I hardly get out these days – but because of the increased activity on professional social sites like LinkedIn.

It’s the sort of activity that has an ulterior motive, for want of a better word. Out of the blue, someone from your network that you haven’t heard from for years suddenly endorses you or sends you a message asking how you are going. It’s a sure sign of what will follow. That is usually something like – “oh I’ve just decided to move on”, or “my company is restructuring” or “I’ve got bored and I’m looking for new challenges”. Why is there such a stigma about saying “I got retrenched” or “I lost my job”?

What follows next is: “if you happen to hear of anything going would you please keep me in mind”. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t mind getting messages like this, and I truly do try and help out where I can. The real issue I am having problems with is the timing of company retrenchments that always seem to happen just before what should be a joyous period.

I regularly report about technology companies downsizing and I constantly bleat about CEOs that command exorbitant salaries that could keep hundreds if not thousands of their employees employed – if they were not so valuable themselves. It is also disturbing that the very people that are developing new technology may not be aware that even though their jobs are safe, for the time being, those of the generation following may be in jeopardy.

The manufacturing industries with the increasing use of robotics are prime example of how lower cost, blue-collar labor can be virtually eliminated, while industries like banking and finance have steadily reduced their public facing establishments and drastically reduced their workforces with the use of technology.

It’s only a matter of time before the big telcos start eliminating their shopfronts, too. After all, everyone is buying things online thanks to the very connectivity and devices they are supplying to the mass market.

Of course, people will say that this is all part of the fourth industrial revolution we keep hearing about, but nobody seems to want to discuss the outcome of the revolution which is basically putting many people out of work.

What seems to be overlooked in these cycles of great upheaval is that those underlying masses buy the majority of goods that are being manufactured by the very technology that is replacing them. If they don’t have jobs they probably won’t have the money to buy these things and the companies that are supplying them will, in due course, meet their own demise.

I know this gloomy picture is a little simplistic, idealistic and may be even labelled socialist, but shouldn’t we be thinking more about the outcome of today’s disruptive technologies and what impact they will have on our social fabric in five, ten even 20 years time?

In the last ten years we have seen high-cost manufacturing from the Western world relocated to mass labor markets in the East where low cost labor could be found in abundance. But those markets are now leading the world in the development and deployment of robots in order to keep costs down and remain competitive.

What will all these displaced people do? Go back to the land to grow the food that they will all need to survive? Not likely, agriculture is well on the way to becoming totally automated itself.

I’m not painting very rosy picture, I know. And how I arrived at this from increased activity on LinkedIn is beyond me.

But it does provide much food for thought (no pun intended). I’m sure every generation has occasional thoughts about the world they are leaving behind for the following generation, but I doubt that any have had to deal with the thought of passing on a technological maelstrom that will create a generation of technological zombies with nothing to do but sit around all day playing with their smartphones.

Think I’m kidding? Look around, you probably see some already!

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