I walked past Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters today.
I looked up at this iconic logo and was again reminded of the reality of what’s happening to us: the machines are here, and barring some post-information Luddite revolution, they will be part of our brains and bodies in a relatively short time.
But the sustainability of these kinds of networks is something I deeply question.
I’m a fan of Jaron Lanier, the author and futurist who’s got some tremendous ideas about how humans and tech intersect. There are a small number of people who get to stand what Lanier calls “close to the servers” and reap the riches, thanks to the millions of us who give up free data expecting nothing in return. Sure, a company can tweet out brilliance and gain a nice following, maybe even make a few bucks. But Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are the central brains. They reap the benefits of the data.
When a handful of companies own everything digital, control everything digital, and own everything about us, what does that mean for you and I? Combined with the fact that the Internet of Things and automation will displace tens of millions of workers over the next decade or two, we’re possibly looking at a world of only two classes: the gilded and the hopelessly, permanently defeated.
If you are a Boomer, if you are a Millennial, we are all in the same boat. But this game is in its infancy.
The things we have to offer our fellow humans are incredible. We have knowledge, experience and wisdom. We have talents and skills. And we can teach each other, without the benefit of what Lanier calls these “siren servers” – the machines who profit from our free contributions to the network.
I have a plan to democratize work for this generation and the ones that follow. This was no pie-eyed late night revelation, no utopian socialist manifesto; it was the realization that with the arrival of the machines, you and I soon will only have each other.
You and I could live among the machines quite nicely. The hardest workers will generate the most wealth, but there will be a digital middle class as powerful as the analog post WWII group. The mindshift millions of us will have to make is understanding that, like the 401(k), responsibility for our personal income generation will shift to us.
The Machines have arrived. Before they become our overlords, let’s do some more thinking about how they can be our co-workers.
John Scott is an instructor and the career services manager for the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University San Francisco.