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Octocopters, Early Adopters and the Worm in the Bottle

December 14th, 2013 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, is technology about to cross the invisible line between enabling us to live better and disabling our ability to earn our living?

If you’re a fan of the television show The Big Bang Theory, you’ll remember this episode. Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj send a signal via the Internet around the world and back again to turn on the lights in their apartment. When asked by Penny why they would so such a thing, Leonard replies simply: “Because we can.”

The because we can school of thought makes for good comedy. But I’m beginning to think that its practical application in our lifetime has pushed the envelope a bit too far.

Case in point #1. Canada Post (for my U.S. readers, Canada Post is the crown agency that operates the national postal service) has been bleeding red ink for years because of declining volumes of snail mail. Communication methods via digital channels are pulling the rug out from under the agency.

Canada Post execs have come up with a five point action plan to return the agency to solvency. One of the five points is, no surprise, “addressing the cost of labour”. The agency has reduced its workforce by 18% since 2008 and expects to reduce it by another 10% in the next 10 years. These percentages are daunting given that Canada Post employs approximately 68,000 people.

Digital technologies have made amazing strides in streamlining our communications. But I have to wonder: At what price? Is lightning fast communication so important that it warrants putting thousands of people out of work?

Pundits will argue that the jobs are not disappearing but rather shifting to the highly skilled technology field. But even casual observers can see the worm in that bottle of mescal. I am willing to bet my left arm that there is a ratio of at least 3 to 1 in the equation – i.e. for every three jobs that disappear, one high tech job is created.

Case in point #2. The CEO of Amazon is reported to be working on a way to use small aircraft – self-guided drones – to get parcels to customers in 30 minutes or less. These octocopters will not need humans to operate them. (Read more job losses.) Each one will receive a set of GPS co-ordinates and automatically fly to the designated location.

Flight technology apparently makes this radical vision feasible within five years. Working out the logistics, including the need for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to create new rules and regulations, will likely push the go-live date out a bit further for those early adopters already waiting in line.

Again, I have to ask: Is 30 minute delivery for books and CDs that important?

Technology mavens will always fall back on the because we can rationale for forever pushing forward our horizons. But I would counter argue that in more than a few cases, when we add up all the pluses and minuses, we end up in the red.

The Amazon octocopters are a fitting metaphor for technology that has raced ahead of and beyond human need. It is time for wiser minds to stand up and say: Yes, we can. But perhaps we shouldn’t.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at www.mdyetmetaphor.com or the novel online companion at www.mdyetmetaphor.com/blog.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gene Dec 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I remember listening to an older native man who had been offered some new technology to do what he was happily doing because it was faster. His simple reply was no thank you, faster doesn’t make it better. Given that change is inevitable and we often don’t see what step 3 is until we have taken step 2, we are a resourceful lot, doesn’t mean it wont be difficult for some. Never boring that’s for sure. Thanks for your thoughts Michael

  • 2 Michael Dyet Dec 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks, Gene. I am prone to technology rants – a bit biased to the negative side. Maybe I’ll try do a post on the positive side to balance the equation. 🙂