This week’s topic of discussion is Part II of Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The End of Work. In this section, Rifkin covers his thoughts on artificial intelligence and how it has effected African-Americans and Fordism. In my previous post, I established that Rifkin’s claims on the evils of automation have been met with much skepticism. As you will discover, as I further discuss his reflections on the subject, there are certainly two sides to every story, and, depending on who you talk to, there could be even more sides to an argument
Crossing Into the High-Tech Frontier
According to Rifkin, we are now living in a “near-workerless society” which is the direct result of “a great shift in economic paradigms.” (Rifkin, 1995) Basically, he blames automation for the transition into our dependence on non-renewable resources, such as the machines that were essentially created to make our work much easier. While it is true we have become very dependent upon technology, I have to wonder if this is such a bad thing. Marianna Glynska, contributing writer for Huffington Post and a teacher, would probably whole-heartedly disagree with Rifkin. In the article, Can Technology Make Our Lives Better?, she discusses how the Lazertouch mini projector has changed how people deliver presentations. These handy gadgets can help users create a presentation without the hassles technical issues and without having to lug around a lot of heavy equipment. (Glynska, 2017) This example seems to deflect Rifkin’s claims a bit, as the device still requires human interaction to create the finished product.
Technology and the African-American Experience
In this section, Rifkin talks about how automation created a “permanent underclass in the inner cities.” (Rifkin, 1995) It is his belief this all started with the creation of the mechanical cotton picking machine. Although this invention was imperative in the downfall of slavery, it created another problem for African-Americans who were unskilled to do anything else. While the freed slaves were finally allowed to live a life free of oppression, Rifkin argues that automation is the reason for a continuing economic racial divide. These new workers did find solace in the manufacturing industries, however, as Rifkin puts it, once “automation began taking its tole on the nation’s manufacturing sector, “ those workers found themselves displaced once more. When looking into this subject a little further, I found there is a growing African-American presence in the technological fields. According to Wayne Sutton, an African-American entrepreneur, “there are tons of African-Americans throughout the country doing amazing things in the field of technology, but a lot of people just haven’t heard about them.” (Dickey, 2013)
For a list of The 25 Most Influential African-Americans In Technology, click here.
The Great Automation Debate
In the mid-1960s, there was a huge debate over automation. There were those who were against the “cybernetic revolution,” citing it required “an immediate government response,” and there were those who “argued that technological displacement was a normal outgrowth of economic progress and would eventually be absorbed by a robust economy.” (Rifkin, 1995) In other words, one group wanted the government to intervein and put a stop to the technological advancements, or at least slow them down dramatically, while the other group argued that the people who were being displaced could learn new skills and be integrated into a new industry. While this latter may be true, is it really that simple? The article, How Technology Creates Jobs for Less Educated Workers, by James Bessen, uses the example of LPNs to show how technology has changed the field of nursing. Bessen points out that “employees gain much critical knowledge about new technologies through experience on the job and such learning often does not require a high degree of education.” (Bessen, 2014) Meaning, one could argue that automation is not the downfall of the workforce; it is just the catalyst for changing the way workers are hired and trained.
To read the full article, click here.
First of all, what is Fordism? Brittanica.com defines Fordism as “the system of mass production that was pioneered in the early 20th century by the Ford Motor Company” or “the typical postwar mode of economic growth and its associated political and social order in advanced capitalism.” (Jessop, 2016) On the surface, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, does it? If you were to ask Rifkin, he would say yes. As stated by Rifkin, following the Fordism model led to the development of a work force that allows “less and less room for independent decision-making at the lower levels of the command structure.” (Rifkin, 1995) I do agree that independent thinking is an essential life skill. That said, there is also a such thing as having too many people in charge. You know, too many chiefs in charge. Although we have since moved into the post-Fordism era, one thing is certain, having a clearly defined authority/worker dynamic is still an essential part of today’s work force.
Rifkin’s has touched on some pretty touchy subjects in this section of the book—how automation has made us more dependent on non-renewable resources, how it has created an ethnic divide in our nation, and how it has created a new generation of non-thinkers. These are all very big claims. What do you think?
Bessen, J. (2014, November 02). How Technology Creates Jobs for Less Educated Workers. RetrievedFebruary 26, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2014/03/how-technology-creates-jobs-for-less-educated-workers
Dickey, M. R. (2013, April 04). The 25 Most Influential African-Americans In Technology. RetrievedFebruary 26, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/most-influential-blacks-in-technology-2013-4
Glynska, M. (2017, December 07). Can Technology Make Our Lives Better? Retrieved February 24, 2019,from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/marianna-glynska/can-technology-make-our-l_b_10477870.html
Jessop, B. (2016, May 17). Fordism. Retrieved February 26, 2019, fromhttps://www.britannica.com/topic/Fordism
Rifkin, J. (1995). The end of work. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Putnam’s Sons.