The Elephant in the Room

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

January 13, 2014

By Tim Haight
Desperate for something to say in my scheduled blog post, and since I was working at home, I turned to my bookshelf of old papers and found a pioneering essay on the “Social Implications of Computer/Telecommunications Systems,” by Edwin Parker and Marc Porat, written in 1974.

1974 was a long time ago. There was no personal computer and no Internet, no HBO, not even music yet on MTV. People thinking about the Information Age were squinting at a horizon with the faintest of outlines. And yet, they got some of it right. Here’s a passage (shortened a bit for the sake of discussion) that got me:

“The shift to an information society is changing the distribution of occupations, as the data presented earlier indicated. Perhaps not so obvious is a possible shift in the distinction between work and leisure…. The distinction between production and consumption is harder to maintain when the activity is information processing…. With lower costs and a more affluent and more educated population, production of information is growing as a leisure activity….

“Many people in information processing jobs requiring responsibility and originality enjoy their work not just because of the financial rewards but because of the intrinsic pleasure of their work…. Before the industrial revolution many ‘industries’ were cottage industries with people working in their own home….

“For the immediate future we’ll see small blurrings of the distinction between work and leisure, home and office. In the more distant future that we don’t have to worry about yet, we may find that we can somewhat decouple the physical reward system from the workplace and provide all citizens with the minimum of food, clothing and shelter needed to meet their physical needs, whether or not they work in the usual sense of the term. The rewards that drive a fully developed information economy may be intrinsic satisfaction and a kind of cooperative barter economy in information such that exchanging information is not a direct economic transaction.”

Well, here we are in 1974’s distant future, with the Internet, mobile devices, social media, open source, Wikipedia, 3D printing, makers and a zillion pundits talking about information entrepreneurship and cottage industries. Meanwhile, the social issues in the headlines are about whether or not to cut food stamps, the minimum wage, social security, who should get health insurance, and how long the unemployed should be helped. We have arrived at the future we need to worry about.

Wouldn’t it be simple if we could provide a floor of support for people, as we move through this transition to a radically new economy? But no, there’s an elephant in the room, who thinks people who support that idea are jackasses.

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