Digital habits have significantly improved our lifestyle, in terms of comfort as well as sustainability. We waste less paper. We take a Uber, therefore we consume less petrol. We build less hotels thanks to the boom of Airbnb and other platforms for accommodation sharing.
The paradigm shift we are experiencing is huge, disruptive. Its benefits have been celebrated throughout the media and the public sphere. There’s no denying these benefits, but what about the social costs? Every technical revolution in the economic sphere translates into a radical change in the redistribution of wealth across society. The economic model based on the sharing paradigm and digital networks is no exception.
There are many scholars, journalists and businessmen trying to draft predictions on future socio- economic adjustments. We try here to highlight some bullet points for further considerations.
First, it will be hard to make it if you’re not a knowledge worker.
We are in a transition phase. In the future, some professions will most likely disappear, taken over by robots and AI based machines. There will probably be a drone delivering pizza or sushi at your home. But in the meantime? Platforms like Foodora, Just Eat and other gig economy networks are using human work, that is generally underpaid and under-protected. There are humans doing machines’ jobs. The Amazon supply chain is an excellent example: the quality of service is very high but the working model is based on the exploitation of human force and capabilities to the limit. The digital economy model is not designed to rely on low skilled workers. It’s designed for knowledge workers (managers, developers, engineers…) and for machines guaranteeing the quality of service.
What meaning will the expression “working class” have?
This is a broader question, related to today’s situation and applicable to tomorrow’s scenarios. Today, the fragmentation of the “ steady job” into different “small gigs” is a reality. A person isn’t just an “employee” any more: he can be a freelancer, a part-time librarian, a Uber driver and a Foodora pizza boy to round up the salary by night. All at the same time. What’s his position in the labour market and in the society? It will take a whole new effort to interpret his interest, need and instances in order to translate them into political outcomes.
What about 50 years from now? Mechanisation is going to eliminate a lot of low- skilled professions.
This is no good news either. The disappearance of a number of jobs (cashiers, customer service, pizza delivery boys…) will force us to imagine a way to deal with the consequent social unrest and to imagine a new organisation of society. According to a McKinsey report (A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity) 51% of current employment in the US can be “automated adapting currently demonstrated technology”. The unemployment will raise, politics and society will experience repercussions. Welfare systems and education model will be affected the most.
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