We live in a fast-paced world that only seems to be moving faster on a daily basis, and this phenomenon can be attributed primarily to the constant improvements in our technology. Only 40 years ago, things like personal computers and cellular telephones were just ideas floating around in the heads of scientists, inventors and engineers, only waiting to be realized. But now here we are in 2013, where it seems nearly everybody is using one of those items on a daily basis. Advances in technology have propelled the United States out of the industrial form of society to a post-industrial society. In other words, where as in the past our economic system was dependent on the use of machinery to generate goods and services, we now rely on technology and information to provide our outputs for income and progress. When examining the economic benefits that have come from our use of technology, the examples can be seemingly endless. Through computer systems we can manage practically every aspect of our society. Areas such as medicine, farming, manufacturing, education and travel have all benefitted tenfold from advances in technology to increase our productivity and efficiency. As extraordinary as all of these technological advances are, it is important to look at some of the diverse effects post-industrialization can have on society.
With the improvement of technology, the laborer or minimally qualified worker can become less and less relevant. In a best case scenario this can lead to a positive form of role exit, where the individual separates from their current position in society in the hopes of creating a new identity for themselves. An example of this would be an auto factory worker being offered a lump sum of money from the company to quit their position, and in turn taking the capital and enrolling in college or some form of higher education. In his 13th year as an assembly line worker for Cadillac Motors, my cousin Andrew was offered close to 2 years of salary to leave his position and he accepted. With the money he received, Andrew was able to go to college and get his nursing degree, which was a dramatic change from life on the assembly line. He enjoys his new career and embraces his new identity within the community. And while this is not typical, it does show how technological advancements can constructively affect workers with a limited skill set.
On the other hand, as employers seek out more qualified workers to hold positions of higher responsibility and choose to either outsource or limit the amount of entry level workers they employ, those who would have typically been able to gain employment are unable to. In this case they can be alienated due to the inability to meet certain expectations. This alienation can come from peers, employers, or even society as a whole. To combat estrangement, the under qualified may resort to resources less than desirable to make ends meet. Fortunately there are social programs to help those in need of developing the skills needed to “make it” in our society, but it is up to the individual to seek out and utilize those programs.
One interesting theory in regard to explaining post-industrialization, while not having appeared in this period, comes from sociologist Emile Durkheim. During the transition from agrarian to industrial society, Durkheim observed what he felt was a consequence of the specialization of labor, comparing through what he called mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. The idea behind mechanical solidarity is that throughout the pre-industrial era, people generally followed a path in life that was most always pre-determined for them due to economic constraints. Occupations such as farming, carpentry and hunting were passed down from generation to generation, and within these families and communities they shared values, experiences and lifestyles. But later, when industry and specialized labor were introduced, Durkheim hypothesized that the unity of communities would be split apart due to the interdependence on one another based on distribution of labor; he called this organic solidarity. Even in today’s advanced society, his theory is still relevant. Take for instance, restaurants. Having been a chef and general manager for the past 15 years, I have been able to witness firsthand the transition from mechanical to organic solidarity in this sense. When ordering products for the kitchens, a purveyor would come by the restaurant several times a week and we would sit down to discuss what was selling and what wasn’t and how I could benefit from what they had to offer; over time we would build a relationship based on a mutual understanding of each other’s commerce. We shared in each others’ knowledge and experience, both benefiting from our relationship. But once technology made competition so cut-throat, the personal relationships began to slip by the wayside and personal connections gave way to profit. Long-gone were the visits from representatives and online and phone orders became standard. The severe distribution of labor made it all but impossible to have a dedicated representative come out to an individual location, get to know the business they were selling to, and help them make the best decisions based on their knowledge and skill level. Technology has taken the inter-personal out of inter-personal relations due to efficiency and profitability.
With the forward progress in technology comes many shifts throughout society. Whether positive, negative or somewhere in between, they no doubt affect us all. As we move ahead from one era to the next it is vital to identify what happens when we as a working species change our means of production, so we can hopefully prevent advancements in efficiency and output from diminishing the best parts of human nature, as well hurting the less fortunate.