Thomas L. Friedman: Speed of job, industry changes in hypermode

02/01/2013 12:00 AM

01/31/2013 5:25 PM

Something very big happened in the past decade. The world went from connected to hyperconnected in a way that is affecting every job, industry and school, but was largely disguised by post-Sept. 11 and the Great Recession.

In 2004, I wrote a book called “The World Is Flat.” It was about how the world was getting digitally connected so more people could compete, connect and collaborate from anywhere. When I wrote that book, Facebook, Twitter, cloud computing, LinkedIn, 4G wireless, ultra-high-speed bandwidth, big data, Skype, system-on-a-chip (SOC) circuits, iPhones, iPods, iPads and cellphone apps didn’t exist, or were in their infancy.

Today, not only do all these things exist, but in combination they’ve taken us from connected to hyperconnected. Now, notes Craig Mundie, one of Microsoft’s top technologists, virtually everyone everywhere has, or will have soon, access to a hand-held computer/cellphone, which can be activated by voice or touch, connected via the cloud to infinite applications and storage, so they can work, invent, entertain, collaborate and learn for less money than ever before.

Alas, though, every boss now also has cheaper, easier, faster access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. That means the old average is over. People who want a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.

When the world gets this hyperconnected, adds Mundie, the speed with which every job and industry changes also goes into hypermode. Because of the way every industry – from health care to manufacturing to education – is now being transformed by cheap, fast, connected computing power, the skill required for every decent job is rising as is the necessity of lifelong learning.

In their terrific book, “Race Against the Machine,” Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology note that for the past two centuries productivity, median income and employment all tracked one another nicely.

“So most economists have had this feeling that if you just boost productivity, the pie grows, and, in the long run, everything else takes care of itself,” Brynjolfsson explained in an interview. “But there is no economic law that says technological progress has to benefit everyone. It’s entirely possible for the pie to get bigger and some people to get a smaller slice.”

That’s why, while the Great Recession took the biggest bite out of employment, it is not the only thing affecting job loss today. It’s why we have record productivity, wealth and innovation, yet median incomes are falling, inequality is rising, and high unemployment remains persistent.

How to adapt? It will require more individual initiative. We know that it will be vital to have more of the “right” education than less, that you will need to develop skills that are complementary to technology rather than ones that can be easily replaced by it, and that we need everyone to be innovating new products and services to employ the people who are being liberated from routine work by automation and software.

The winners won’t just be those with more IQ. They will also be those with more PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.

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