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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6th edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. IV: TECHNOLOGY AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF WORK. (171-185) CHAPTER 10: TECHNOLOGY AND JOBS: MORE OF ONE AND LESS OF THE OTHER? In the wake of technological change, some workers fear their jobs will be lost. Many production
technologies have been explicitly motivated by the desire to increase productivity. Since productivity
is usually measured in terms of output per worker, the consequences of productivity increases
seem clear — the reduction or elimination of labor (171). American railroads:
•In 1920, employed
113,000 locomotive engineers
and 91,000 firemen.
•In 2002, despite a greater
volume of freight, needed
only 40,000 engineers,
and no firemen. Bell telephone system:
•From 1972 to 1977,
21% more telephone
calls were made,
•The number of operators
fell by 32%. Agriculture:
•From 2002 to 2007,
corn production went
up by 30% while...
•Farm payrolls dropped
by 30%. From the history of the Industrial Revolution there are many examples that demonstrate the social
unrest produced by the introduction of machinery. The fear of the effects of new technology on
employment has on occasion moved public officials to take drastic actions. Example: Consignment
to a watery oblivion was advocated for a mechanical cotton picker by the Jackson, Mississippi
Daily News in the late 1930s: “It should be driven right out of the cotton fields and sunk into the
Mississippi River, together with its plans and specifications. Nothing could be more devastating
to labor conditions in the South than a cotton-picking machine.”1 (171-2).
However, it is not conclusively proven that technological advance is incompatible with high levels
of employment. Even if all available technologies were used to their utmost, there would still be
plenty of work to do. More and better food needs to be produced and distributed, more houses
built, and more clothing manufactured. People need to be educated, healed, and entertained. In
the case of medical technology, the monetary and human resources being devoted to health
care have increased rather than diminished. The rising cost of health care now takes more than
14% of our gross national income and has become a major social and political issue. Hence,
employment projections indicate that the demand for health-care workers has been rising and
will continue to do so (172-3).
It is important to remember that technological change often generates problems which require
that a great deal of work be done. Animal and plant habitats need to be restored, bodies of water
require purification, and victims of accidents and pollution need medical care. Many nuclear
power plants are nearing the end of their useful lives, and safely decommissioning them will
entail years of labor by thousands of workers. The U.S. spends well over a billion dollars each
year to deal with hazardous wastes and old refuse dumps — the basis of many jobs (173-4).
While some technologies destroy existing human jobs, others produce jobs that had not existed
earlier. Example: genetic engineer, global positioning system technician, Web page designer (174).
1 T.A. Heppenheimer, “The Machine That Killed King Cotton,” American Heritage of Invention and Technology 20, 1
(Summer 2004): 39. Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 It is doubtful that any recent technological innovation will equal
the greatest job generator of the 20th C: the automobile. The
automobile is directly or indirectly responsible for at least one
out of every seven jobs in the American economy. Hundreds
of thousands of people are directly employed in the m anufacture of automobiles, and to these add legions of mechanics,
sales personnel, and insurance agents. Add to these the
jobs that are indirectly tied to an automotive culture, suc h as
workers in fast-food restaurants and oil refineries. Non e of
the new industries that have emerged as a consequenc e of
recent technological change is likely to match this rec ord.
The computer, often hailed as the most significant inven tion
of our age, has not added a great number of manufactu ring
and service jobs, and many of the former have been relocated
to the low-wage countries of the Third World. The sam e can be said of the television industry,
and just about any of the industries that owe their origin to recent technological changes (174-5).
The jet airliner itself has not led to the direct creation of many jobs; however, air travel has stimulated a number of other sectors. Tourism has grown d ramatically during the jet age, bringing
with it a great many job opportunities in hotels, restaura
rants, travel agencies, tourist attractions,
and so forth. Similarly, computers have been essentia l to the development of new industries.
Although some jobs are lost as computers increase productivity in cllerical and other occupations,
new jobs are created as computers stimulate growth of n ew or existing industries (175).
Read: The Machines Aren’t Ready to Take Over (175- 7). In sum, the use of robots and other
elements of automated production technology will elim inate some jobs, but there are limits to
how far this process can go. In many industrial settings , people lea faster, are more flexible,
take up less space, and even work cheaper and faster th an robots (177).
Over the last century, many jobs performed by manufac turing workers have been lost to mechanization, yet total employment has undergone a massiv e increase. This has occurred because
the bulk of job creation, especially in recent decades, h as been not in the production of goods
but in the supply of services. Many jobs in the manufact uring sector are actually service occupations. Shoeshine boys perform a service as do neuros urgeons. What they have in common is
that they incorporate a personal element, and this is w hat makes them desired by consumers
who have a surfeit of manufactured goods. For many pe ople, the most sophisticated machine is
no substitute for human contact. The desire for servic es shows no signs of abating and this
sector will generate many future jobs (178).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, betwe en 2006 and 2016, more than 500,000
production jobs (most in the manufacturing sector) will be lost, while another 29,000 jobs are
projected to be lost in farming, fishing, and forestry. All net employment gains will come in the
service sector — some high-paying jobs that require a co
ollege degree or higher, but many others
will be poorly remunerated, relatively low-skill jobs (179) .
By contributing to the drift from manufacturing to service-sector employment, technological change
has been linked to the growing wealth and income ga p that sepa rates the top stratum of the
population from everyone else. In 1975, the top 20% of American families accounted for 40.7%
of income received in the U.S. By 2004, their share h ad climbed to 48.1%. Many social and
economic changes have contributed to growing income inequality — changes in family structure,
economic globalization, reductions in government bene fits for the p
poor, increased immigration,
stagnant minimum wages, the erosion of union power, a nd so forth. (181).
Read: Technology and the Distribution of Income (181-2 ); Benefits, but Disruption Too (182-3).
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