Progress! Advancement! Improvement!

Everyday I marvel at what the world has achieved as a collective of minds operating together, for either the greater good or simply to beat the other guy. I marvel but I also lament this reckless approach towards “improvement” that seems to have picked up many developed cultures and is sweeping them towards the precipice of their undoing.

I learned to program computers when I was eight – I was a freak and that’s how it should be. These days kids everywhere seem to be doing the same, if not breaking records and causing a stir on various application stores throughout the marketplace. It’s brilliant; it’s amazing that computing has become so accessible such that it can now influence young minds to the level by which we previously used to think it great that kids knew how to use a TV remote. I wonder if any of them know how to climb a tree or is that beyond reach for the 20+% who are classified obese in Irish society

Beyond childhood wonder, our “progress” has seen huge change in the workplace too. Most factories have now automated to the extent that labour truly is the only cost to be worried about and they have managed to resolve that issue by uprooting and resettling in a different country to keep the investors happy. It was recently said to me, with respect to a pharmaceutical plant, “it’s amazing, you walk in and there’s almost nobody on the factory floor, everything is automated but they do have a large IT department”. Well, that is amazing. A situation whereby dozens of shift workers would have been employed on a continual basis, usurped by the almighty transistor and its human button pusher. Somehow though, it’s good for the economy…

Third level qualifications are all but taken for granted these days but where are they leading us? Academic outfits have adopted the line that “we need X% of PhDs within our staff” – why? Are your current staff unable to do the job that has raised the money to pay for PhD programmes, etc? No, of course not. It’s just a metric. It shows “advancement” and helps others to compare organisations on face[less] value. However, many pursuing PhD ambitions consider it to be “slave labour” and various other unpleasant associations. Do I wish I had a PhD? Hell yeah. Everyday of my miserable life. The problem however in this world is that finding a unique idea that interests you, when everyone else already has one, is kind of difficult. Plus for some reason or other, to get a PhD these days you need to travel – sadly not something I have been able to bring myself to do for many a year now. Apparently the internet that has given rise to such great levels of research is in fact useless when it comes to publishing your work and gaining appreciation for it. I wonder if Newton flew Ryanair…

So, where are we then? Progress! Advancement! Improvement! I may be guilty of being somewhat glib here but from a cursory glance, it appears that these 3 chants of the developed world have given rise to workplaces that employ less people, business practices that demand higher entry levels keeping people in education for longer, and brainbox kids that will quite possibly soon be the breadwinners of the family unit because Mommy and Daddy are unemployed because of Progress! Advancement! Improvement! or whom are stuck in long term education with no disposable income. It’s hardly surprising that we have an unemployment crisis in this country at the moment, is it?

I know, I hear you. Progress! Advancement! Improvement! – it will solve itself. This is only a glitch as we migrate towards new capacities and occupational ways of life. I hear you, I really do. I am certainly not a technophobe; in lesser societies I would be locked up for my inappropriate and frequently public relations with technology – a technophile through and through. However, in the vane of Progress! Advancement! Improvement! ponder this if you will. If one person operating a computer can replace the need for 20 people on a factory floor, just imagine what you could do with a computer controlling their terminal…