Back in November 2011, I posted about the IT industry’s responsibilities in the economic and financial crisis that is affecting most of the world. Unsurprisingly I did not get many reactions, even fewer than I do for my average post. My reading of it is that we (the IT industry) really are in denial,. we keep looking at how IT can improve productivity and create wealth, but we are unprepared to rationally accept that the balance between jobs destroyed and jobs created is not positive, and that new jobs created require skills that are very different from those needed in disappearing positions.
Yesterday I saw a great example in an industry I rarely associate to crisis and job loss, which is the entertainment industry. I watched the last episode of the last season of 24 on DVD, and then I watched one of the extras on the last DVD, about how they shot the entire series. In previous seasons, 24 was featured in L.A: and in DC, and for its last season it had to be shot in NY. However due to cost considerations, authors had to give up on that idea and rather employed CGI to shoot in LA but feature the show in NY: take a look here for a demo of how Jack Bauer and his colleagues are “teleported” to NY.
Besides the amazing use of technology (camera crew could actually see on their screen in real time the scene they were shooting with integrated CGI background, sensitive to camera movement), this made me think about both the significant savings and the loss of jobs: crew usually employed to prepare a scene, divert traffic, plan and implement the travel to the shooting location, local catering and cleaning services, local actors, and so forth, were all gone.
But this is just one example of something that happens every day in our lives, and does so at increasing speed while corporations and governments try to increase productivity, retain margins, contain costs. The irony is that many of the actions that governments are taking to favor a so-called “digital agenda” do not factor in the degree and pace of disruption that ICT is causing.
Last week the European Union organized a major event, involving the European Commission and the European Parliament, called the Digital Assembly. This two-day even looked at various aspects of the Digital Agenda, as its mid-term review is approaching. I followed some of it in streaming and via Twitter, and the climate was positive and energetic. However most players were from or worked in close cooperation with the ICT industry, so they had a vested interest. In particular there was a session on social networking for economic recovery, jobs and growth, but from I can tell it barely scratch the surface.
Reality is that it doesn’t matter how successful different digital agendas are, they won’t be able to make the situation better any time soon. The change of skills required to transform a traditional economy into a digital one, reskilling workers, changing education curricula, updating regulations, and so forth, takes a generation to happen: in the meantime, people being displaced by increasing use of technology may not find another job, and are unlikely to get much support from public sector welfare programs, which are being downsized as governments try to slash public debt. In the meanwhile film crew, blue collars on the shop floor, white collars on the trading floor, secretaries, case workers, customer-facing representatives, bank and government employees, and many others will have to either reinvent themselves or face irrelevance.
Maybe we should start asking ourselves whether digital agendas are really sustainable, and, if not, whether we should slow them down.