Technology – as defined by the US National Academy of Science (cited in Jones 1996, p.17) –
is a perishable resource comprising knowledge, skills, and the means
of using and controlling factors of production for the purpose of
producing, delivering to users, and maintaining goods and services,
for which there is an economic and/or social demand.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution (1780s), the impact of technology has been subject to public debate over its effect on employment – does it cause unemployment or does it underlie the huge increases in standards of living ...view middle of the document...
34). The early 19th Century was marked by a rapid increase in employment on this basis: machinery transformed many workers from craftsmen to machine minders and although numbers fell relative to output – work was replaced by employment in factories (Stewart 1996, p.13).
Nevertheless, many fears to technological advancement have been expressed similarly to that of their predecessors by the ‘Neo-Luddites’ of today (Stewart 1996, p.13). A prime advocate, author of The End of Work and US economist, Jeremy Rifkin asserts that technology is a ‘revolution’ which has taken over the world, posing a significant restructuring of the workforce and quality of life (Wyndham 1997, p.1). In an alarmist tone, he argues that governments worldwide are fighting a losing battle to find jobs for millions displaced by the ‘technological revolution’ and by corporate cost-cutting (Smark 1997, p.47). Says Rifkin (cited in Stewart 1996, p.13):
technology is taking more jobs than it is creating, thus leading the world to
catastrophic global unemployment......Traditional white and blue collar jobs
are being lost to technology at a frightening rate. However, technology is only
creating limited jobs for a small, elite core of scientists, computer programmers,
consultants and entrepreneurs – this elite group being the ‘knowledge sector’.
In confronting Rifkin’s prediction of a “society absent of mass formal employment”, this is possible for while technology is rapidly changing and restructuring workplaces on a global scale, there are stresses which are causing instability in the workforce (Smark 1997, p.47). Fewer people are required in many areas, greatly reducing the availability of work (Gill 1996, p.165). Consequently, when workers are displaced by new technology, there are substantial costs in retraining and educating them for other jobs (Gill 1996, p.167). One of the problems posed by rapidly changing technology then, is that people do not have the required skills to gain employment and although there may be jobs out there, the problem is not demand for labour, but the quality of labour supplied (Clark 1997, p.172). The opportunities for people being re-employed without the appropriate skills are minimal and subsequently, they fall on society for welfare, unemployment and retraining (Smark 1997, p.47). Are these the desired outcomes that flow from technological transitions with which society is confronted?
For all that, perhaps the major turnaround in the nature of work, society, communication and personal experience has been the impact of computerised technology (Jones 1996, p.96). A computer may be defined as a “tool which converts data (raw material) into information (product) by following sets of programs (instructions)” (Jones 1996, p.98). Since the late 1970s, computing has become a transforming technology central to communications, manufacturing, medicine, research, administration, education, tourism and entertainment (Jones 1996, p.99). It has been central...