Gonna be a dental floss tycoon

This is an interesting story, and also a disturbing one, in part because of the questions it fails to ask (or answer) and the assertions it makes without supporting evidence.

Writes Claire Cane Miller: “In addition to making some jobs obsolete, new technologies have also long complemented people’s skills and enabled them to be more productive. … More productive workers, in turn, earn more money and produce goods and services that improve lives.”

Since when? Who among us has not been compelled to become more productive, not simply because technology made it possible, but because management insisted that there be fewer of us to produce? How many of us got fat raises to go along with the new chores? I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for mine.

Google co-founder Larry Page proposes a four-day workweek, “so as technology displaces jobs, more people can find employment.” Larry obviously doesn’t get out much, because there are plenty of people working short weeks already, some of them at more than one job, and from what I read there are still fewer jobs than there are people who need them.

“We’re going to enter a world in which there’s more wealth and less need to work,” brays MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson. Maybe at MIT, Erik old scout. But how about where you are, Dear Readers? Who’s going to get this additional wealth, and where’s that work we’re supposedly going to need less of? My mortgage lender would like some details regarding this New World Order, if you don’t mind. Or even if you do.

I mean, we can’t all move to Montana to be dental-floss tycoons. You priced zircon-encrusted tweezers lately? It’s day 12 of Zappadan 2014.




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12 Responses to “Gonna be a dental floss tycoon”

  1. Sharon Says:

    My all-time favorite Zappa tune.

    Not sure how all the people are going to be able to get by on part-time jobs. They may never be able to retire early or ever. I think our generation may be among the last where decent salaries and a pension is in the equation (except for govt jobs).

  2. Larry T. Says:

    Had to laugh at the example of robot surgery. I remember reading awhile back in an article on wasted money in US healthcare that cited those bazillion dollar robots as a big cause of price increases. The article claimed these gizmos are not more effective in the surgery but once the hospital has ’em they do more surgery to pay for ’em. No difference in surgical outcome but more surgeries and much higher costs. Same idea when the hospital gets a fancy new CAT scanner – everybody gets scanned, insurance pays for it anyway so who cares? So “automation” in this case seems great – if you’re the one making and selling the machines. For the rest of us I’m not so sure.
    The other thing missing here is simple human contact. Maybe New Yawkers don’t want this, but having a robot come by with towels in a hotel or running the reception desk doesn’t much add to the experience compared to humans who have a gift for hospitality. And somehow I doubt the prices will be lowered to account for all this so-called efficiency.

  3. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Until they invent the self cleaning toilet, the plutocrats will always need a peon or two around the estate.
    Don’t worry about the mortgages. They have been “securitized” into poker chips to be used on Wall Street. Plus, those traders can bet, using your FDIC insured savings, on whether they go up or down in value based on “complex financial instruments” created by a computer algorithm. You know what George Carlin said about that. Federal workers, except those still working or retired who stayed under the old pension based retirement system, have been without a pension starting in 1987. State retirement systems are mostly underfunded, and ask a Detroit city retiree how much their pension is worth. The best bet these days for a secure future is to get in Congress. That’s where the money is. There, and on the Astana team.

  4. Steve O Says:

    15 years later, still one of my favorite articles. Seems like every conversation about the economy, technology, our future, or anything in between comes down to his main point: for every step forward technology provides, most of us take two steps back.


  5. Jon Paulos Says:

    The only constant is change. Of course automation is costing some people their jobs.

    This is nothing compared to the disruptive impact of the internal combustion engine on the US agriculture industry in the earliest 20th century. Before it kicked in, the large majority of the US population was employed in agriculture. Now? I think its at 5% and falling. My great grandfather homesteaded 220 acres in NW Iowa and my mother has told me about all the hired hands. Now it’s owned by a family that’s farming around 5,000 acres.

    The difference now is that the impact of automation on the office affects the people that write about it, so it’s getting more publicity. When I started my corporate career we had secretaries and most business was done via mailed letters and that new advancement, the fax. Now it’s Lync and email and Sharepoint sites and web meetings. I’ve got little clocks on my computer desktop telling me the time in Berlin and Mumbai. And in five years automation will have wrought more changes. Maybe then I’ll get the implant in my lard ass. My cats have RFID chips, why not me?

    Oy, what’s an old fart to do? Get back on the bike each day, as it moves from 8-speed to 9, then 10, then 11, from rim brakes to discs, from cable shifting to electronic, steel to crabon. I’ll know I’m ready to retire when I can’t take the change anymore. This is why they hire 20-somethings. They aren’t smarter and they are definitely less experienced, but they’re more used to change.

    • Sharon Says:

      And they are lots cheaper, both in salary and benefits.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It is a vastly altered world for us journos too. I worked with Andy Hood at VeloNews for years before I ever met him. We conversed on the job mostly via IM and email.

      Today I rarely interact in person with colleagues. I have ’em in Spain, Italy, Montana, Colorado, California, New Mexico, you name it. I can find any one of them on the Internets faster than I can find Turkish right here in Rancho Pendejo.

      Let’s hope we don’t get holograms anytime soon. I don’t need to see Hoody on the toilet. There’s eight hours’ difference between here and there, f’fucksake.

  6. John Dallager Says:

    Do I sense some musings and philosophizing here that have existed throughout mankind’s cosmically brief meanderings on this orb?

    From the mastering of fire, the invention of the wheel, the advent of “agriculture”, the invention of the printing press, the advent of the internal combustion engine, etc. to the digital/cyber age and all it has produced, generations have pondered, resisted/embraced, and often decried the rate of change …. but to no avail, as change has been and will be, in my view relentless … and sometimes helpful.

    The phrase “adapt or perish” applies to virtually all physical, physiological, business, philosophical, etc. endeavors. You can either ride the wave or get submerged by it!

    So…..rejoice that we’re able to muse on these eternal enigmas…..and GO RIDE YOUR BIKES WITH A SMILE!!!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. Started as a cartoonist, then added “newspaper reporter” to the quiver as a backup plan just in case the whole funny-pictures thing didn’t dollar up on the hoof straight away (it didn’t).

      I learned how to operate a typewriter (on the job), and a computer (likewise). Next step was a stint as a copy editor, which led to page design and some seat-of-the-pants graphics work (mostly ’cause the small papers I worked for didn’t have design desks or newsroom artistes). Too, there were some light supervisory gigs — assistant news editor, assistant city editor, assistant sports editor, feature editor; you get the idea.

      Once I bailed on the newspaper biz it was back to reporting, with some editing and cartooning on the side. Then I taught myself HTML and some other basic web stuff, and hey presto! I’m still earning a living in the 21st-century “news” business, 40 years after I got my first real newspaper job. Adaptation, yo.

      It helps very much that I’m able to do all these things tolerably well — write, edit, draw — and have some basic audio-visual skills for gravy. A very thin gravy, to be sure, but still, it all keeps the income incoming.

      And I pretty much have to do it all, because no one of the things I’ve learned how to do will keep my share of the lights on around here. This is a good thing, I think, because it (a) spreads the risk and (2) keeps me from getting bored and causing trouble … well, more trouble than is good for me and anyone who has to deal with me, anyway.

      But I still feel badly for the folks who weren’t as lucky as I’ve been. Those who wound up in the wrong Petri dish and didn’t incubate as successfully.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Let’s be real PO’G….you (just like me) got saved from living in a cardboard box by marriage. What would have happened to us (and a few other readers out there) if our wives had not taken us in like a stray animal? I’d probably be still scratching out a meager living in a SoCal bicycle shop!

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