What About This? By Wayne William Cipriano

As you remember, when we were in school, we wrote a lot of book reports, and we usually ended them with a recommendation to read or avoid the book. It’s been a long time since my last book report, but I thought just recently that it might be time for more of them.

Two books that I’ve come across that seemed to need reporting and especially the recommendation at the end, are Martin Ford’s sequel to his book “Lights in the Tunnel” entitled Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and President Jimmy Carter’s umpteenth book called Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis.

Before anyone freaks over a required reading list, let me say I advise only School Board members, school curriculum designers, vocational counsellors, and parents concerned about their students’ long-term career opportunites to read Ford’s book. I energetically advise everyone to AVOID President Carter’s book. 

Ford’s work, following in the vein of Tofler’s Future Shock, which just about all of my contemporaries read while in school, carefully explains how machines are now (or really then, since it was written several years ago) quickly replacing many, if not most, muscle and repetitious jobs and are (or were then) poised to move into many jobs we thought would remain exclusively human for essentailly all time.

When we have machines that can read and write, speak and listen, and be “connected” to other machines, that can move objects and materials, operate and even design “new” machines, and most thought provoking of all, learn and then adjust programming and designs to become “better” at what they do – and do so as an interconnected group and at the speed of light, the need for human workers, Ford suggest, was even then quickly disappearing.

Technology advancing in speed and girth, like a snowball rolling downhill, will surprise us with what it can, what it must do.

While Tofler’s book (available in our library) took on the future from a perch in 1970, and gave a lot of us the shakes, Ford’s book quietly and authoritatively does much the same, but more “practically” I would say. If you read Tofler, you will see a lot that did not happen, a lot that he flat missed. Ford will no doubt do likewise.

I am eagerly awating the next two or three decades to see what challenges and what marvels we will experience, and how we will acclimate to both. I am also happy that I’ll be a sedentary spectator for the most part, watching the movers and shakers who will be runing our show and wishing them the best.

President Carter’s book is just plain sad. Written about fifteen years ago, and dealing with what he saw at the time as the horrific failures (and a few wonderful triumphs) of our culture, it is certainly dated. What seemed to us as monumental problems then, seem now, perhaps with the benefit of experienced hindsight, as not that horrific at all. But with a guy like President Carter, always striving to see us in the best potential light possible, one can understand his position when he knows, as do few others, exactly what was going on while he was writing.

Don’t read his book. You will leave it generally saddened, somewhat frightened, and perhaps, as I was, angry. Angry in that we have so many opportunities to do the right thing so often and choose not to. Perhaps even sliding into that baseness more often rather than less. Who knows why? There are always “good” reasons –rationalizations we trot out, but it is always us, doing what we do. President Carter points that out directly and by inference over and over throughout his book, and even the most casual reaader can’t miss it, won’t be able to forget it. 

Like I said, don’t read the book.