Tuesday, 3 December 2013
I recently read Tope Fasua's latest book titled "Things To Do Before Career Disappears". The book called the readers' attention to the fast paced change in technology and how it affects everything we do and how ultimately it will take many of us out of our current jobs. It also advised that individuals now need to be multi talented and be able to adapt fast or else they become dinosaurs.
As a software developer, I know I am one of the people that push changes that automate things that normally would require manual labor, so it got me thinking into how the world would look like when the innovations mentioned in the book become part of our everyday lives. The following are some scenarios I imagine when technology becomes even more pervasive in our daily lives.
Old Methods Turn To Art Or Novelty Instead Of Dying
First of all, though I know new technology almost always brings about some kind of disruption, it doesn't always kill previous technology. For example, in the past people go to theaters for entertainment then the cinemas came into being and then the television. The cinema and the television didn't kill the theater but turned it into some kind of art. Broadway still thrives despite Hollywood and the TV industry but it's seen more as some kind of novelty than everyday cheap entertainment. And if we compare the ticket price of a movie in a cinema and that of a play in a theater we will find that the play costs much higher. This is because people are paying for the art and not just everyday utility.
The same goes for the cellular and fixed line telephones. Though in much of Africa we have little or no fixed lines compared to the millions of cellular lines, it's largely because fixed lines are yet to gain a good spread when the cellular technology emerged. So Africa leapfrogged and largely skipped the fixed line era. The western world in comparison still makes extensive use of fixed lines especially in offices and other business environments. This despite the super smart multi function cellular phones.
Also, though it has been predicted that the smart phones will eventually replace the PC, serious work is still being done on laptop and desktop computers. Most of the information being consumed on smart mobile devices are still created and developed on laptops and desktop computers.
3D printing. This both excites and scares me. If people can print real objects from design just like they can print on paper from an electronic document then the disruption will be beyond our imagination. But then, let's look into the recent past to try to predict the future. Printing used to be exclusively the preserve of the printing press, then the desktop printer was invented. Now we have desktop printers in our homes but that did not render the printing press extinct. It only cut down the printing industry to size. In the near future, we may have 3D printers in our homes and offices but it will not take manufacturers out of business. Because even if one has a 3D printer he/she must be very good with Computer Aided Design and must be a critical thinker in order to print anything useful enough to disrupt the manufacturing industry. I think 3D printing will only lower the bar for entering the manufacturing business by making it very cheap to make prototypes. But regular manufacturing will still be needed for mass production just like printing presses are needed for large scale printing today.
A new industry of manufacturing, repairing and maintaining 3D printers may also emerge creating opportunities for those who prepare themselves for the future. Another scenario might be as follows. With the lower entry bar into manufacturing, big corporations may focus only on innovation and then be outsourcing their manufacturing job to smaller businesses that may be using high efficient 3D printers.
Genetically Modified Food. GM Food may end up disrupting the last resort of poor people and countries for survival; Agriculture. As the book said, there are now experiments to grow different fruits like mango, orange and apple all in one tree. GM food will take the most innovative companies and countries far ahead in food production. But I think that the spread of GM food will make organic unaltered food a highly sought after commodity which may end up playing to the advantage of the small scale organic food grower. The same way a shoe or a bag made from natural leather is more expensive and sought after than one made from synthetic material, organic food will be more expensive and sought after than GM food. And when the poor cannot afford organic food, they may go full cycle back to subsistence agriculture to grow what they will eat. This may hit back on the patent holding GM food growers.
Tools Don't Make People Creative, They Only Aid Creative People.
In general when one looks at the trend of technological innovation we discover that usually it makes it easier to access the tools that were previously exclusive to only a few producers of goods and services. Things like the 3D printer, the smart phone, the DSLR camera are simply tools that enable us accomplish tasks that were previously only available to large organizations. But access to tools doesn't automatically translate to creativity just like access to pen and paper doesn't automatically turns one into a great writer. But absence of a pen and paper will leave many talented potential writers undiscovered. So in the future it is the people that learn to creatively use the tools available to them that will float to the top of the food chain.
When We Pay For Services, We Are Either Paying For Our Time Or Ignorance
Another thing to note is that even if you make the tools available most people will prefer not to use them but just hire someone else, either because they lack the skills or the time to do it. This is the reason we hire a carpenter for minor repairs even though we may have a hammer, saw and nails in our homes. The same reason we go to restaurants to eat food we can prepare ourselves and pay even higher than what it would cost us to prepare it at home.
Bottom line, most humans don't want to learn how to fish. They just want the fish. Many will also prefer not to fish even if they have the tools and skills because they don't have the time. The future will be ruled by the few that go out of their way to learn to fish and actually go out to fish.