The Human Side of Automation Pt. 2: Get a Skill
In the 21st-century let's leave mindless things to things with no mind.
In the not so distant future, it will be a chore to not get automated. To do work that matters in a formal marketplace that needs you less and less. This will likely result in a revolution of human-centered, creative work. GDP does not value the stay-at-home parent raising their uniquely abled child nor does 'productivity' include geriatric companionship work, but these are all types of work we will desperately need (Pt. 3 addresses this). Work that requires frequent, creative pivots, good writing, and strong communication. Work that requires you to be heard; do not sit on work waiting for perfection to grace you with her presence; ship & learn. In the era of want that most of the world is now in, product interaction is more important than ever; we're buying purple cows because mediocre things don't give us the same feeling.
There is a human side to automation but it tilts on the axis of our attitude towards work. American culture endemically has an attitude of ownership and protectionism; dirty energy shifting to a clean energy revolution means jobs will be taken from coal workers. But, what are we holding on to? A dirty rock, tough working conditions and the likelihood of developing health problems on the job. The only reason we are attached to the work is that daddy worked coal and daddy's daddy worked coal and we won't allow our livelihood to be taken from us; "People like us work coal." In North-West Europe, the mentality is different and the energy transition index is the highest on the planet. Nothing will be taken from us, this is merely how the future works and we must change and grow as the future demands.
It would be naive to pretend that these initial stages of the fourth industrial revolution will be easy or comfortable. Every revolution comes with some form of protest, this has been true of every industrial shake-up to date. You can't seriously look the Virginian, 4th generation coal miner in their hard-working face and say 'Learn to code.' When we do this we don't speak to humanity, we speak to an illusion. 'Learn to code,' is only useful insofar as it is a way of expressing that we need to transition to future-applicable workplace abilities; learning how to code does not guarantee prosperity. According to Andrew Yang, presidential candidate and proponent of some form of UBI, re-training programs in America have been fruitless up to this point. (We'll touch the Education piece in Pt. 4)
What will be needed is the largest reinvention of skills the world has ever seen. In the 21st century, you will need to develop a skill or area of expertise that you can deliver to customers who love what you make. The marketplace will change in such a way where it needs you far less in the formal economy and needs you far more in the informal economy. Gig work, apps that facilitate entrepreneurship like Uber & Airbnb, distributed workforces like those on Fiverr, Freelancer & Upwork, collectives of skilled workers producing the next great physical products and community builders like Seth Godin and Hemmings House.
Leveling up your future-ready abilities presents an unbelievable opportunity.
As work changes, become great at something and tell the world why the market needs it. Your customers will love you for it.
This is Pt. 2 of a five-part series on the Human Side of Automation. In Pt. 3 we will try to define ‘new work.’
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