by Jeffrey Richards, Tech Editor
Is Tech ruining our lives?
The radio industry is what I have dedicated by life to for decades, and it serves as a good illustration of just one of the ways technology has impacted what was once a bustling and vibrant industry.
I remember when automation developer Paul Schafer came into my studio in 1987 and showed me what was then a giant metal box capable of recording (converting really) a phonograph record into an audio file that never scratches, never loses fidelity and can be accessed instantly. That was the beginning of the end for many radio professionals. Internet and computer automation slowly replaced humans across thousands of radio stations. It was horrible to watch. Good friends who had built careers had been replaced by cyborg automation.
Today, because of the growth of digital, radio continues to be hard hit with a new advertising competitor, namely Google and Facebook. One the one side you have Pandora and Spotify eating market share, and the other side, digital companies eat into advertising revenue share. Radio is still downsizing, as are many other industries, because of the Internet and because of computer technology. Newspaper is feeling the same pain, which is why the New York Times has had to lay hundreds of people off earlier this year, and why many large papers have already folded operations, unable to compete with the digital universe.
Millions of people have been replaced by technology.
Here is a small list of industries that have been minimized, or jobs have been lost because of the Internet and because of automation:
The radio industry
The home video industry
The record industry (both record stores and recording studios)
Cashiers for all industries
Factory workers for all industries
Tax preparers, and or Certified Public Accounting firms
Commercial camera/optical stores
Certain Farm sector jobs
and on and on…
Now, we can argue that the Internet has been amazingly helpful to us in communications and information access, not to mention entertainment being at our fingertips, but think of the challenges we face as AI continues to creep into almost every industry, replacing people at a greater and more alarming rate. What will people do when all of the computers are doing our jobs? That may be the single biggest challenge facing the next generation. We have 350 million people in America, 162-million of us need a job to keep things going, to feed our kids, to buy things, to eat, to be entertained.
One thing that is becoming a problem is commuting. As commute times grow, roads crumble and time is wasted, one unintended consequence of all of this computing power is the ability now for more and more people to work from home. Heavy traffic headaches is actually persuading employers into allowing people to work from home in order to increase productivity.
More remote employment means more opportunities, so the future teacher may not need to go to class, the future doctor may not need his/her patient to come in to the clinic because many simple tests can be done remotely.
One great benefit that comes from working from home is it goes a long way in reducing traffic congestion and especially does it help us cut down on usage of fossil fuels, not to mention the reduction of carbon monoxide output.
Marketing agencies are farming out more to independent artists. Cloud-based databases make it easy for people to collaborate from multiple locations without issue. A reporter in Tokyo can get his work edited by an editor in New York in real time; a team of remotes sales people can access programs like Salesforce to communicate and to track productivity. Everything on ‘the cloud’ is accessible from anywhere you have a laptop and an internet connection.
It won’t be easy, but older folks need to be prepared, and if you can’t open an email, or figure out how to download software and install it, or install an app, you can learn just about anything on YouTube.
Learn it. It will make a huge difference in your earning power, and most people can learn the computer and internet fairly easy once they get used to the basics. Plus, we’ve come a long way with computers since the 80’s and 90’s. I know I hated computers when they first came out, but user-interface is much more intuitive these days.
Getting paid is also much simpler than it used to be. Remember the days when you had to wait two weeks, then get a check in the mail and then have to go to a bank, deposit the check and wait another day until it clears.?
Most banks will allow people to send and receive money instantly.
Uber, for example, pays its drivers immediately after the customer gets out of the car. Your payment goes right to your bank account. You could literally drop off a customer and get a hamburger before you hop on the freeway to pick up your next customer. But let’s say you sell antiques on eBay. Once you get a purchase it goes right into your bank account or through programs like Paypal; you can pay other people instantly without giving out your personal information.
Technology has no doubt become the great equalizer of people everywhere.
In remote villages in Africa, most adults have smart phones and can buy and trade through eCommerce, making it possible for a farmer to sell his goods, and buyer to buy them. Everyone is happy. Children in Ghana schools can actually be taught english and other subjects by teachers sitting at home in Columbus Ohio. If that doesn’t excite you, it should, especially if you are a teacher.
It is expected that by 2025 more than 5 billion new people will have a smartphone, that’s more than double the number of users today (2 billion). Can you imagine the transformative effect this will have on emerging countries who are trying to build up communities through revenue – being able to buy, sell and trade through the Internet and just a cell phone (I should invest in cell tower companies in Africa. It’s a big country, it will need lots of cell sites).
We are all having to adapt to the new digital paradigm, but human beings are especially good at adapting, that is why we are the ones with cell-phones, we keep adapting and developing better ways to be efficient. It’s what we do.
The challenge is within each of us to adapt and get comfortable with the new shifting economy built upon the infrastructure of AI, cloud computing and hi-speed communications.
And when 5G becomes mainstream, stand back. 5G is 30 times more powerful than 4G. Downloading a video once took a few minutes to an hour, with 5G it will take seconds to download a 3 hour movie, less than a minute to download the entire Rolling Stones discography.
For better or worse, technology is opening many doors, you just have to choose which door you want to enter.
Jeffrey Richards is a tech export, researcher and retired in Santa Barbara, California