The intergenerational technology divide

Photo Credits: VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE

VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE
VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE

headshot_SMAs technology advances, a generation of workers is left behind

Technology has the awesome ability to connect me with my friends halfway across the world. I can record every second, every minute of my day and have everyone know about it without expending any effort.

But technology and grandparents are another story. I must’ve taught my grandfather how to use Skype a million times, but he is just never able to grasp  it. He is way ahead of my grandmother, though, who simply refuses to learn and dismisses modern technology as something she will never need.

Today, there’s a whole generation of people nearly as old as my grandparents who are still working but are on the verge of retirement. They grew up without social media, at a time when not every home had a computer. Now, they’re losing their jobs because of the loss of industries that technology has rendered obsolete and this has only caused bitterness among this generation. They consider themselves too old to go back to college, gain new skills or adapt to new technology, but at the same time also too young to retire because they don’t have enough savings for the future.

The decline of the Rust Belt significantly changed the U.S. economy, and some people still haven’t recovered from the transformation. What was once a powerful industrial sector has deteriorated due to increased automation, an overall loss of US coal and steel industries and outsourcing. The internationalization of American businesses, as well as liberal foreign trade policies related to globalization, has only caused further bitterness among people who once held jobs at these factories. While some cities have adapted to new technology, many haven’t — and they suffer from high poverty levels and crime rates, poor education and a weak economy.

The city of Detroit, for example, has undergone a complete change in the past few decades. What was once the center of the world’s automobile industry has now become a landscape of urban decay. The population has decreased 61 percent since 1950. As global competition grew from countries such as China, Germany and Japan, companies were forced to reduce production costs by outsourcing jobs to other countries. In doing so, they could uphold their position in the global market. Slowly, the center of industrial activity moved away from Detroit, along with most of the population, who left to look for jobs elsewhere.

Amid all the noise regarding Trump supporters being racist, misogynistic and xenophobic, we should also be looking deeper at the various issues that have been revealed by this election. Many Trump supporters were victims of the sharp decline in Rust Belt manufacturing and wanted to return to a normal, financially comfortable life. Feelings of discontent start to develop when you see others getting opportunities that you feel you should’ve had, and instead of thinking rationally people search for a scapegoat.

What can we do to fix this issue? Clearly, the jobs that have left aren’t coming back. Progress is inevitable. We might be at the beginning of a new phase in which everything is automated and human labor may not be required at all. As we come up with new technology faster than ever before, even our recently acquired technology may become obsolete. When was the last time you used an email to communicate with friends? Yet a mere two decades ago, emails were revolutionary.

The best option to help those affected by automation is to provide them with adequate social security so that they may retire if they so wish. Otherwise, we must provide pathways for them so that they can seek out a different profession and live fulfilling lives.

But the real focus should be on children who will go on to shape the future. The presiding government should make sure that students can get a well-rounded education so they are able to venture out into new areas that will allow for unique jobs to be created.

Progress waits for nobody, and moving backwards only means that the rest of the world will leave us behind.

Written by: Shohini Maitra — samaitra@ucdavis.edu

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